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3. Accessing The Inaccessible - Introduction to User Style Sheets

This page explains how to write a "User Style Sheet" for use with Microsoft Internet Explorer. It is one of the series of pages which contain self-help advice to help people who have poor but useful vision to access web pages more easily. Some of the advice may help people with other needs.

The examples are based on Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5, 6.0 or 7.0 (MSIE) running on Microsoft Windows 98se or Windows XP.

Pages in this series:

  1. Introduction to Accessibility.
  2. Adapting the Web Browser.
  3. Introduction to User Style Sheets.
  4. Introduction to HTML.
  5. How to Write a User Style Sheet.
  6. Using Special Software Tools.
  7. Internet Glossary and Guide.

Disclaimer

This information is supplied "as is". Neither Curlew Communications Limited nor the author take responsibility for any loss or damage caused by use of the information.


Page Contents

Introduction

This page explains how to write a "User Style Sheet" in order to gain extra control over the appearance of web pages displayed on your PC.

User style sheets have several advantages over other ways of controlling the web browser. They are more flexible and are easily portable between PCs.

Potentially, style sheets allow control over all aspects of appearance. As well as controlling font size, style and colour; they allow control of line spacing, word spacing, letter spacing and line length as well as many other features.

No special programming tools are needed. A style sheet can easily be written using "MS Notepad®." Also, because it is a plain text file rather than a program, a user style sheet can easily be loaded onto an office computer even when you have no permission to load software programs. If necessary, you can send the style sheet to yourself via email and place it on the PC desktop. When there is a problem or the style sheet is not needed, you can easily instruct the web browser to ignore the style sheet.

Note. Some anti-spyware programs, such as Spybot Search and Destroy, may report a user style sheet as a "potential browser hijacker." Such reports should be followed-up but will probably be false alarms.


Multi-coloured text. Some screen magnification programs can only smooth the edges of a single colour of magnified text. Many web pages use different text colours. A user style sheet can overcome this problem by forcing all text to be the same, optimum colour.


Note. Changing the setting of your web browser only changes the appearance of pages displayed on your PC. It does not change the original pages on the Internet. Changes should not damage your PC and are easily reversible - provided that you remember what you have changed! It is best to make only one change at a time.

Some badly designed web pages can be read only using the web designer's settings. Sometimes small changes of the background or text colours can make text invisible. Similarly, increasing the text size can make lines overlap. Adapting these pages is possible but takes more time and effort. Special software tools can help.


Style Sheets - Overview

Designers have long been keen to separate the content (information) in a web page from the instructions which define its appearance. Potentially this could make it easier to present the same information in the different formats which suit different viewing terminals (such as mobile phones and digital TV) and the special needs of different users.

Modern versions of the Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) include a definition of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Cascading style sheet can instruct the user's web browser to modify the appearance of the web pages. Increasingly, web designers are using the two versions (CSS1 and CSS2) to gain better control over the final appearance of their web pages. It is hoped that all designers will eventually use style sheets for formatting their web pages, in place of the obsolescent formatting techniques such as HTML tables and spacer GIF images.

In addition to interpreting the web designers' style sheets, modern versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer can interpret the user's own "User Style Sheet" to customize the appearance of web pages to that user's needs.

The aim of this page is to provide enough information to allow people to experiment with different settings and improve accessibility. The many bugs, incompatibilities and lack of standardization mean that some experimentation is necessary. However, the results are worthwhile.


Important Plea to Web Designers

The web designer's style sheet can override the user's style sheet. However, designers must remember that their latest "award winning" web site is pointless if people cannot read it!

In particular, designers should never impose their will by using the term "!important" in their web style sheets.


Next Page:


Pages in this series:

  1. Introduction to Accessibility.
  2. Adapting the Web Browser.
  3. Introduction to User Style Sheets.
  4. Introduction to HTML.
  5. How to Write a User Style Sheet.
  6. Using Special Software Tools.
  7. Internet Glossary and Guide.

More Information

For more information, read one of the excellent tutorials available on the Internet. The official standards are also available.



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