1999 Conference Proceedings

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Doug Geoffray
GW Micro, Inc.
Voice 219-489-3671
Fax 219-489-2608 BBS 219-489-5281
geoffray@gwmicro.com or doug@gwmicro.com

The Internet has rapidly become an essential component in most peoples lives. Whether it be for personal or professional use, the Internet is packed with useful information. Unfortunately, this information has not always been accessible to those with certain disabilities.

Because the Internet is so graphically based, it has traditionally been very difficult for blind and visually impaired people to gain the benefits sighted people have enjoyed for years. The information displayed is not only very graphical but also cluttered on the screen. Simply reading the page left to right, top to bottom is not going to be understandable. Information can be displayed in columns or frames. Both textual and graphical links can be scattered throughout the entire page. Somehow blind and visually impaired people need to be able to discern these very complicated yet informative web pages.

There are many web browsers on the market today both for the general market and for the disabled market. Browsers designed for the disabled are limited and have a difficult time keeping up with the ever changing HTML designs. Browsers designed for the general market, although very impressive with their features, have been traditionally unfriendly to people that are blind or visually impaired.

Adaptive manufacturers such as GW Micro, Inc. have been striving to make the Internet fully accessible with products such as Window-Eyes. Window-Eyes is a screen reader for Windows 3.1x, 95 and 98. The access Window-Eyes has given in the past has been good but complicated web pages have still been difficult to handle.

With the adoption of Microsoft’s Active Accessibility (MSAA), GW Micro has been working very closely with the Microsoft Internet Explorer team. MSAA gives Window-Eyes the necessary information about the HTML allowing Window-Eyes to represent all the information to a blind or visually impaired user with the same clarity that is already available to sighted users.

Since Window-Eyes alone can only guess about the information being displayed on the screen, it is limited. But with MSAA, there is no guesswork involved. Internet Explorer, via MSAA, can give Window-Eyes all the necessary information. This allows fantastic access to even the most complicated web page on the Internet.

Window-Eyes has supported MSAA in Internet Explorer 3.0 for some time. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer 4.0 did not implement MSAA and therefore was totally unaccessible. Microsoft quickly released version 4.01 of Explorer which they claimed fixed all the accessibility issues. It didn’t take long for Microsoft to realize they failed once again.

At this point GW Micro started working very closely with Microsoft on incorporating a full working implementation of MSAA in Explorer. Microsoft welcomed our support and took full advantage of it. Within a few months, all the problems were gone with Explorer 4.01. Microsoft released an update to 4.01 in mid November of 1998.

Not only did Microsoft resolve all MSAA issues, they continued to work with GW Micro to increase the performance. Microsoft truly did everything to make sure Explorer 4.01 accessible.

The good news is GW Micro continued to work with Microsoft on Explorer 5.0. Microsoft didn’t want another Explorer 4.0 disaster so again they sought the help of GW Micro. This means Window-Eyes fully supports Internet Explorer 3.0, 4.01, and 5.0. Bottom line, blind and visually impaired users have full access to the Internet when using Internet Explorer and Window-Eyes. Between the power of Internet Explorer and Window-Eyes the blind and visually impaired user has the same access as their sighted counterparts.

A live demonstration of Internet Explorer and Window-Eyes will demonstrate how easy the Internet can be for those that can not see. Topics such as controls, filling out forms, frames, links, and searching will all be covered in depth. Even the most complicated pages will become totally accessible. Certain web pages will be discussed which show old stumbling blocks and how they can now be overcome. Participants will be asked for web pages that have been difficult for them in the past. These pages will be brought up and shown how easy they are to access with this new technology.

After leaving this session, people should have a good understanding of how the Internet can be used by blind and visually impaired people.

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