1998 Conference Proceedings

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SURFING THE NET: THE THREE KEYS TO UNIVERSAL ACCESS

Beth A. Loy, MS and Linda C. Batiste, MS
Job Accommodation Network
West Virginia University
PO Box 6080
Morgantown, WV 26506-6080
800-ADA-WORK

The Internet has created an opportunity to provide enormous amounts of information to its 35 million users. In its overwhelmingly fast growth, however, the information superhighway is running the risk of overlooking electronic and information technology that can make the Internet accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities.

Accessibility problems have increased dramatically with newer developments in hardware and software. Some innovations actually impede access for many. Consultants from the Job Accommodation Network, an accommodation information service, have looked at a variety of solutions to these problems. In particular, accessible alternatives for blindness, deafness, mobility impairments, low vision, and learning disabilities have been researched. Regarding access to the Internet, consultants concentrated on three areas:

1. Hardware Accessibility: Several different devices other than the standard keyboard and mouse and traditional video monitor and printer can now be used to communicate with a personal computer. Alternative input devices such as voice recognition, Morse code, and optical character recognition (OCR) systems as well as alternative mice are options. The combination of on-screen keyboards with eye, mouth, or head controlled devices in addition to switches, touch screens, and pointer systems such as lightpens also help individuals access their computer.

Helpful alternative output devices include closed circuit television (CCTV) and voice output systems as well as screen magnification software and Braille printers. In addition, the combination of screen readers with speech synthesizers and Braille displays for alternative output can make the Internet fully accessible to users who are blind.

2. Web Page Browser Accessibility: Consultants reviewed four of the most popular Web browsers for accessibility, including Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, pwWebSpeak, and Lynx. Highlights include:

3. Designing for Accessibility: The development of accessible Web pages must take several items into consideration. Areas such as the efficient use of HTML in page layout, including the incorporation of the site's purpose and its audience into page design, are vital. Color, text, graphics, interactivity, linking, testing, and the use of multimedia such as audio and video in accessible page design are also important.

Some of the more general design tips include: Providing HTML or ASCII forms of all documents presented in other formats; Keeping a standard footer that identifies the designer, date of last upgrade, the URL of the page, and a link to the home, disclaimer, and copyright pages; Using HTML tags that are supported by a variety of Web browsers; and Avoiding the use of columns, charts, and graphs.

The Internet provides several tools to test the accessibility of a Web page. It is important to view a Webpage with several browsers. Bobby, a program culminating several sets of accessibility guidelines, checks whatever URL it is given for possible accessibility problems and reveals where possible problems are and how to solve them. Web Techs HTML Validation Service, Webpage Accessibility Self-Evaluation Test 2.0, and A Kinder Gentler HTML Validator are on-line validation services that test for accessibility errors and evaluate HTML tags and attributes.

In accordance with the popularity of accessible Web page design, the Department of Education has released Requirements for Accessible Software Design, guidelines for universal accessibility to electronic and information technology. The Department addressed: keyboard access; icon use; sound; background, font, color, and other display attributes; field labeling; documentation; and use of common accessibility aids.

An accessible Internet means the computer, browser, and Web page must be accessible. All three combine to help distribute information the Internet has available. Increasing accessibility means more individuals have access to information that continues to contribute to excellence in education, work, and social understanding. This, in turn, increases the role of the Internet as a means of effective communication for all persons, disabled and non-disabled.


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