2000 Conference Proceedings

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Software Accessibility 101

Rob Sinclair
Lead Technical Program Manager
Microsoft Accessibility and Disabilities Group
Email: enable@microsoft.com 
Web: http://www.microsoft.com/enable

When done properly, the cost of developing an accessible application is no greater than developing an inaccessible application. However, retrofitting accessibility can be a very expensive, time-consuming, and technically challenging task. It is therefore critical to design the product to be accessible from the very beginning. If you are a software designer, developer, or otherwise involved in producing software products, this talk is designed for you.

Your customer base probably includes many people with disabilities, whether you're aware of it or not. According to government figures, one person in five has some functional limitation, and 8 percent of all users on the Web have disabilities. In the U.S. alone there are more than 30 million people with disabilities who can be affected by the design of computer software,
and worldwide the number is much higher. Many countries, including the U.S.,
have laws that mandate accessibility at some level, and new legislation is
in progress.

This talk introduces the fundamentals of creating accessible software, strategies for addressing accessibility problems in new and existing products, highlights some of Microsoft's plans for simplifying this process,  and provides a brief overview of the accessibility design guidelines, the Microsoft(R) Windows(R) Guidelines for Accessible Software Design. After this discussion, you will have an understanding of the requirements for writing accessible Windows applications and will understand how to best
leverage the work that has already been done. We will conclude with a discussion of Microsoft Active Accessibility and the role it plays in making software accessible.

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Basic Principles of Accessible Design

Accessible design is important to you and your organization because it enables you to reach more customers in business, government, and education that need to comply with new regulations that require purchase of accessible applications. Accessible design is also a requirement of the “Designed for Windows and Windows NT” logo; the logo handbook about this program currently lists five requirements designed to make applications more accessible.

There are five basic principles underlying the idea of accessible design:

  1. Flexibility. Provide your customers with a flexible, customizable user interface that accommodates a variety of individual needs and preferences.
  2. Choice of input methods. Provide users with keyboard access to all features and simple mouse click access for common tasks.
  3. Choice of output methods. Allow users to choose discrete and redundant combinations of sound, visuals, text, and graphics.
  4. Consistency. Ensure your applications interact with other applications and system standards in a consistent, predictable manner.
  5. Compatibility with accessibility aids. If possible, build your applications using standard user interface (UI) elements that are compatible with accessibility aids. When it is not possible to use these standard UI elements, add support for Microsoft Active Accessibility(R) to make custom UI elements compatible with accessibility aids.

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Key Points
  a.. Fundamentals of Software Accessibility
  b.. Microsoft Windows Guidelines for Accessible Software Design
  c.. Role of Microsoft Active Accessibility
  d.. Accessible Software is More Usable by Everyone (Accessibility = Usability)
  e.. Relevant Legislation
  f.. Accessibility is Easy if you Plan Ahead

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Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.