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Russ Holland and Tom Morales
Alliance for Technology Access
San Rafael, CA
This session introduces the issues of Technology Access and the strategies and obligations related to increasing that access. By Technology Access we refer to someone's ability to use and interact successfully with computer technology in your organization. Disability continues to be defined as a design flaw in the environment rather than a deficit in an individual. The assumption is that every individual has a set of abilities and certain goals that he or she would like to achieve through the use of technology. The task is to provide the tools in the computing environment to enable success.
One of the primary activities in community technology centers is "surfing," or using the Internet. Additionally, a majority of community technology centers develop their own websites, and many are teaching website design. Both of these activities raise additional access issues beyond those of successfully accessing the computer. The web is rapidly becoming a primary pipeline for all types of information, recreation, education and employment. Those unable to participate in these exchanges of information are being denied full participation in these opportunities, and this situation will only increase over time. Providing access to the World Wide Web will go a long way toward equalizing opportunities for all.
There are two parts to web access: (1) methods of providing material on the web (html coding on the web server), and (2) the tools people use to access it (client interface).
Scenarios illustrating issues addressed in this article:
Anna is 38 and has Muscular Dystrophy. She wants to do some research on her disability. She is a wheelchair user. There is not enough clearance under the desk for her to use the computer workstation at her local technology training center. She is a skilled computer user, but as her disability has become more limiting, she is no longer able to use a standard mouse or keyboard. With less control of her finger movements, she is activating the key repeat function and hitting more than one key at a time. She has difficulty controlling the mouse movement and performing the mouse click and drag. She has to have someone do all the computer operations for her, while she dictates what she wants them to do. She would like to have access to the workstation and be able to be independent at the computer.
What can be done for Anna?
The technology training center installed a manually adjustable computer table which is raised to accommodate wheelchair users as well as people of all sizes. After trying to adjust the speed of the mouse and turning off the key repeat in Control Panels, Anna and the staff tried some of the built-in utilities in Windows 98 Accessibility Options, including Sticky Keys, Filter Keys and Mouse Keys. Anna is now able to control the keyboard and the mouse independently.
When Joe is not at work, he goes all over town using the local bus or walking quickly through the familiar streets. Joe became blind at the age of 24. He is interested in getting on the Internet. He has not used a computer independently since becoming blind, thinking that he couldn't.
What should Joe do?
He approached a local community technology center. With the addition of a screen reader (software that reads any text on the screen), Joe is able to "surf the net" at one of the workstations.
Bill plans to type his resume as a part of a word processing class and pursue some new employment opportunities. His class is held at his local adult school. He has had difficulties completing assignments in this class as he has carpal tunnel syndrome. He needs to have wrist support in order to access the computer successfully and painlessly.
What are Bill's options?
The adult school offers, as part of an assortment of aids, a wrist rest that supports and cushions the users wrists. Any school user can request the use of such items ahead of time.
Rosa moved here recently from Mexico, where she was employed as a secretary. She speaks little English and wants to apply for a new job here in the U.S. She wants to improve her knowledge and use of English, especially in reading and writing.
What can Rosa do?
She uses to the local library where she can use a reading tool that consists of a computer, scanner and software that can read scanned text out loud. The software also has built-in dictionary and thesaurus. Rosa is sure that she can rapidly improve her reading through the use of this setup over the next few months.
Carl is a regular visitor to the technology center in his community. The center met the access needs related to his blindness by installing a screen reader on one of their workstations and learned to use it along with him as they taught him word processing. He wanted to do research on the web and consider the options that it might afford him for education and employment.
He tried the browser that was available in the center and found that he could only use some of the commands independently. The center borrowed a text-only browser and installed it for him. He was much more successful, but still found that he could only access all of the information available on a small percentage of the sites that he visited. This was due to the way in which they had been programmed, and he found that there was no assistive technology available that could retrieve that information. Although he has all of the proper tools, lack of awareness on the part of web designers and publishers prevents him from accessing the information on the site.
Definition - Assistive Technology
The term assistive technology is broadly used to describe any product and piece of equipment used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
Access is about creating an environment flexible enough to meet the needs and desires of a wide range of people. There are a number of things to take into account in designing the accessible technology environment.
All users customize their technology to some extent to meet their own needs and styles. Everyone arranges hardware and connections for maximum convenience, organizes the desktop, adjusts the display brightness and contrast and the sound volume, and arranges files in the way that is most efficient for them. In providing people with disabilities access to computers in your center, this type of personal customization - basic in most standard computer setups - should be the model for accessibility modifications.
Path of Travel
The path of travel to the workstation must be accessible. All participants, including those using walking aids such as canes or wheelchairs, must be able to navigate easily through the building, past any reception area, and to and between any workstations they need to use. For more details on issues related to path of travel, see the Facility Access chapter of the Access Aware Manual.
The furniture for the technology workstation needs to be designed for accessibility. There must be options for different work surface heights and under-desk clearances. The most versatile workstations have adjustable components, which can be customized to the needs of the user.
Lighting must be designed to maximize visual access. Remember that brighter lighting is not necessarily better - excessively bright or poorly angled lighting can create glare that makes viewing a monitor difficult. Adjustable lighting is the most flexible.
There are two main sources for these accessibility modifications or solutions: those built into standard computer operating systems and applications, and specialized solutions provided by third-party vendors.
Third party or mainstream solutions - towards Universal Design
Assistive technology has typically been developed by relatively small, third-party developers and vendors to meet specific needs of individuals with disabilities. They start with the available hardware, operating system(s) and software programs, and modify or add to them to meet specific abilities and goals. Examples are keyboards with larger letters and/or larger keys, screen magnifiers and screen readers. These products are relatively expensive due to high research and development cost and limited customer base, and are dependent on the mainstream technology development cycles and changes. They fill a critical role for many people however, and have an impact on the changes that may be made in subsequent versions of the mainstream technologies.
Mainstream technology is moving in the direction of Universal Design. This means that mainstream hardware and software, out of the box, is useable by or customizable for a wider range of consumer abilities and goals. Standard operating systems are now including options that meet the needs of many people with disabilities and are effective designs used by a large number of consumers. An excellent example is text to speech. For many years, the ability to have the computer "speak" text on the screen using speech synthesis was an add-on third-party feature used primarily by individuals with vision or learning disabilities. Today, all major operating systems have text-to-speech capability built in and used by a large number of software programs and individuals. Another very simple example is the location of a computer power switch on the keyboard or on the front of the computer. This change from the traditional rear mounted switch was critical to independent computer use by many people with disabilities and is a great convenience to every computer user.
The biggest advantage to these technologies is that they are available to everyone. All that is required is the knowledge that they are there and the ability to customize them to individual needs.
The advantages of the mainstream or built-in solutions are cost and ease of access. There is no additional cost to the user - the cost is built into the cost of the hardware, operating system or software. Additionally, although the user may not know of their existence and how to use them, these features are present and available to all on short notice. Many significant access capabilities are now being built into the most popular operating systems and computer applications.
Summary of Operating System Software Access Features
Macintosh: The Macintosh Operating System (Mac OS) comes with two "Universal Access" control panels. These are called Easy Access and CloseView and have many customizable features. These utilities offer a wide variety of keyboard and output adjustments, depending on the version of the system software you are using (currently Mac OS 9). CloseView offers screen enlargement options, while Easy Access includes Mouse Keys, Sticky Keys, Slow Keys and Text-to-Speech. Check the Macintosh OS user's manual for more information. Depending on the source of the computer, these control panels are not always pre-installed, but may be included in a Universal Access folder on the system installation CD. In addition to the Universal Access control panels, the standard Mouse control panel provides adjustment for the speed of mouse tracking and double click as well as mousetracks and the size of the I beam cursor. The Keyboard control panel provides adjustment for the key repeat rate and the delay until repeat.2
Microsoft Windows: Windows 95 and later versions offer a number of accessibility options. Windows 95 contains customizable screen elements and mouse pointer, StickyKeys, FilterKeys, MouseKeys, SoundSentry, and ShowSounds. Windows 98 adds the Accessibility Wizard and Magnifier. The Accessibility Wizard customizes options for vision, hearing and mobility. The Magnifier displays an enlarged section of the screen in a separate window. Windows 2000 adds a Utility Manager to control all accessibility options, a Narrator for limited text to speech and an On-Screen Keyboard for keyboard emulation via mouse, trackball or alternative pointer. Windows ME adds automatic installation of all accessibility options and an expanded Accessibility Menu and Wizard.3
Application software has also become more dynamic and customizable. As in the case of operating systems, many of the features originally developed in the assistive technology field have been incorporated because they have proven valuable to all users. Program elements such as control over text size and color, background color, complete keyboard equivalents for mouse actions, consistent and predictable user interface, auditory and visual cues, and spelling and grammar checking are built into many computer applications and benefit many users. These features should be kept in mind when exploring and comparing software.
Most people interact with the computer with a keyboard, mouse, screen and speakers, relying heavily on reading and writing in that interaction. A disability may impact on the success of one or more of these elements. The technologies presented below are organized according to those categories - the problem a person with a disability has interacting with the computer - that part of the computer that is inaccessible to them.
Within each of these access sections below, operating systems with their built-in options and software are presented first, followed by mainstream and assistive technology software applications and then available hardware solutions. This is a partial list of the most common solutions. For a more complete listing of technologies please see "Computer and Web Resources for People with Disabilities" by the Alliance for Technology Access. Keyboard Access
This section contains information for any user having problems using a standard keyboard to access the computer. Many people have difficulty with the fine motor skills required to use a standard QWERTY keyboard. This could be the result of a wide range of muscle, nervous system or orthopedic disabilities. Some users need modifications to the standard keyboard or its functioning such as larger letters or key repeat turned off; others need an alternative to the keyboard. There is a continuum of solutions to these access needs.
The first place to look for solutions is in the existing technology. There are keyboard access solutions built-in both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems that may be enough for some users.
Windows Operating System
Many of the built-in features in the newer Windows operating system versions can be reviewed and set through the Accessibility Wizard. This utility guides the user through customizing many of the options described in this article. From the Start Menu select Programs > Accessories >Accessibility > Accessibility Wizard.
Macintosh Operating System
The Macintosh operating system's built-in features are accessed through the Control Panels found under the Apple Menu, such as the Easy Access control panel.
For many people, the Keyboard Access solutions built into the operating systems will not be sufficient and they will require further mainstream and assistive technology solutions.
Many mainstream word processing applications contain macro4, abbreviation/expansion5, glossary, spell and grammar checking functions that can be useful for those having difficulty with the keyboard as well as with language problems. These options should be considered when purchasing software.
Assistive Technology Software
For those who need more powerful solutions than those built into either the operating systems or mainstream applications, there is a range of specialized assistive technology software. Sources for all of the assistive technologies described are in the Keyboard Access section of the Sources of Technologies table at the end of this article.
On-screen keyboards are software images of a standard or modified keyboard that appear on the computer screen and may be activated with a mouse, touch screen, trackball, or electronic pointing device.
Voice recognition - There are different types of Voice Recognition Systems, also called Speech Recognition. Voice recognition allows the user to speak to the computer instead of using a keyboard or mouse to input data or control computer functions. Voice recognition systems can be used to create text documents such as letters or e-mail, to browse the Internet, and to navigate among applications and menus by voice. Many allow the user to navigate the computer, that is, control the cursor and execute commands by voice.
Abbreviation Expansion and Macro Programs - Abbreviation expansion programs allow the user to assign a series of letters, words, or sentences to one or more keystrokes. When the assigned keys (the abbreviations) are entered, the program will automatically insert the expanded text. Macros allow users to "record" a long series of commands and assign them to a function key, combination of keys, menu item, or on-screen button. Once a macro is recorded, the user can execute the complicated task exactly as recorded simply by typing the assigned key(s), selecting from the menu, or clicking the button. For example, with one or two keys, the user could open a word processor, enlarge the text and enter a name or address. Another macro might save and print the document with one keystroke.
Word prediction programs- Word prediction programs enable the user to select a desired word from an on-screen list. This list, generated by the computer, predicts words from the first one or two letters typed by the user. The word may then be selected from the list and inserted into the text by typing a number or clicking the mouse.
There are also some hardware solutions to keyboard access that can make a significant difference for many users.
Tactile cues on keys - Most keyboards now come with tactile cues, or "nubs" on either the F and J keys or on the D and K keys to help. Designed for keyboard orientation for individuals with visual disabilities, they are used automatically by all typists positioning. Make sure that all keyboards have these cues.
Easy to read keys - Many keyboards now have large letters printed on the keys with a good contrast between the lettering and the key. These are critical for many with visual disabilities or who type without looking at the keys. Check all keyboards for this feature.
Large print labels - Large print labels can be stuck to any existing keyboard to enhance the visibility of the keys.
Assistive Technology Hardware
Keyboard alternatives - Alternate keyboards offer users a variety of options for putting information into the computer. Alternative keyboards vary widely in type, shape, size, layout and complexity. Some are programmable so that letters, numbers, words or phrases can be entered by pressing custom keys. Others provide a larger-than-standard target area or accommodate a smaller range of motion.
Ergonomic keyboards - Ergonomic keyboards are designed to provide for natural and ergonomically correct hand positioning. Some also have options for varying position during the work period to reduce likelihood of repetitive stress injury.
Wrist/arm supports - Arm supports are devices that stabilize and support arms and wrists while the user is typing or using a mouse or trackball. Wrist rests support the wrist while using a keyboard.
This section contains information for any user having difficulty using a standard mouse to access the computer. Many people have difficulty using the mouse (or trackpad) that comes with most computers. This could be the result of a wide range of physical or cognitive disabilities. Some people need to modify the way the mouse works in order to be successful, and others may need to replace the mouse with an alternative device.
The first place to look for solutions is the technology already at hand. Both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems have options built in to help with mouse access.
Windows Operating System
One of the best ways to start with the built-in features in the newer Windows operating system versions is to run the Accessibility Wizard from the Start Menu.
Macintosh Operating System
The Macintosh options for mouse access are in the Easy Access Control Panel.
For many people, the Mouse Access solutions built into the operating system will not fully meet their needs.
In addition to the operating system features, many computer applications have keyboard equivalents for many mouse movements, including menu selection and editing. Applications that feature keyboard equivalents for all mouse functions enhance access for people who have difficulty using the mouse or viewing the screen; they also make using the program quicker and easier for all users.
Assistive Technology Software
For those who need more powerful solutions than those available either in operating systems or in mainstream computer applications, there is a range of assistive technology software.
see "Keyboard Access" above
Mouse feature utilities - Some provide increased control and adjustment of the pointer and cursor. These may include up to a hundred variations in size, color and shape of the cursor (killer whales, rockets). Some animate the cursor, leave tracks when the pointer is moved, or snap the pointer to various targets.
There are also hardware solutions to mouse access problems that may prove successful for many users.
Some computer systems come equipped with pointing devices other than the usual mouse, such as trackpads, trackballs, game controllers and small joystick-like pointers built into the keyboard. Some of these might provide a successful alternative to the traditional mouse. Trackball - A trackball looks like an upside-down mouse, with a movable ball (1" to 4" dia.) on top of a stationary base and button(s) placed elsewhere on the base. Rotation of the ball causes the cursor to move; because the base does not move on the work surface, this may make controlling the cursor easier for some users. The cursor is activated when buttons on the device are pressed, but the buttons can be pressed without the risk of moving the pointer, unlike a standard mouse. The drag and click-lock features allow the user to operate a trackball with a single finger.
Assistive Technology Hardware
Electronic pointing devices - Electronic pointing devices allow the user to control the cursor on the screen using ultrasound, or an infrared beam.6 Movement of the user's head or body is linked to movement of the cursor on the screen.
This section contains information for any user having problems using a standard computer screen to access the computer. Many people have difficulty using the standard display. This could be a result of any of a wide range of vision disabilities, learning or cognitive disabilities, or lack of proficiency with the English language. Some may need to have the information presented in a larger format or with more contrast; others may need it spoken to them. There is a continuum of needs related to screen access and a corresponding continuum of solutions.
The easiest place to start is to use the elements that are built into the technology already at hand. Both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems have features built into them that help with screen access. Additionally many computer programs have features that can enhance access for users having difficulty with the screen. While these will not meet the access needs of many, they may be all that some need to use their computers.
One of the best ways to start with the built-in features in the newer Windows operating system versions is to run the Accessibility Wizard from the Start Menu > Programs > Accessories > Accessibility > Accessibility Wizard. This is also how to access the Magnifier.
Macintosh Operating System
Most of the Macintosh operating system built-in features are accessed through Control Panels found under the Apple menu, such as the CloseView control panel.
For a great many people, the solutions built into the operating system will not be powerful enough to provide successful screen access.
In addition to the features built into operating systems, most computer applications such as word processing or spreadsheet programs have keyboard equivalents for many mouse-activated commands. Applications with keyboard equivalents for all mouse functions are desirable to provide access for people who have difficulty using the mouse or viewing the screen. Once learned, they are often more efficient than using the mouse for many users.
Also, some mainstream applications on both the Windows and Macintosh platforms make use of the text-to-speech capabilities of the operating system and hardware to read text aloud. It is recommended that these options be considered along with other requirements when purchasing computer application software.
For those who need more powerful solutions than those built into these mainstream applications, there is a range of additional assistive technology software. Cursor enlargement - These are utilities that provide more cursor appearance and behavior options than those built into the operating systems.
Screen enlargement programs - These are full featured commercial programs which provide sophisticated control and enlargement.
Screen readers - Screen readers are programs which read aloud everything on the screen.
Talking and large print word processors - A talking word processor is a software program that uses a speech synthesizer to read aloud what has been typed. Large-print word processors allow the user to view everything in large text without added screen enlargement.
Also see the Reading and Writing Access, Software Applications section of this article for technology to scan and read printed text using the computer.
There are also some hardware solutions to screen access that can make a significant difference for many users.
The most obvious hardware option is a larger monitor. Monitors are now commonly available in larger than standards sizes for all computers. Add-ons for the existing monitor are another option. The new flat panel displays also provide options for people with epilepsy-type conditions who are bothered by the flicker of standard CRT monitors.
Monitor additions - A monitor addition or add-on is any device that enhances or alters the use of a standard computer monitor.
- Screen Magnifiers - Exterior screen-magnifiers fit over the screen of a computer monitor and magnify the images that appear on the screen, but
- Anti-Glare Filters - Anti-glare filters are clear screens that fit over a computer monitor screen and reduce glare and improve contrast. They also reduce ultraviolet rays and other energy emissions.
- Monitor Mounts - Monitor mounts come in a variety of styles and degrees of flexibility and allow adjustment of the monitor position.
This section contains information for any user having difficulty with the standard sounds provided by the computer. Some people who are deaf or hard of hearing have difficulty depending on the sound cues provided by the computer or receiving information by ear, including text read aloud or system alert cues. Some people need to have the information provided more loudly while others need to see it.
Both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems have built-in features to help with auditory access.
Windows Operating System has SoundSentry, ShowSounds. The Macintosh Operating System allows you to control the System Alert.
In addition to the features built into the operating systems, there are some mainstream options to support sound access.
The speaker capacity and volume control varies from one computer to another. In both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems, the auditory volume is adjustable through a control panel.
External speaker jacks
Most computers have external speaker jacks that can be used with headphones, speakers or connected to an amplification system
This section contains information for any user having difficulty with the reading and writing processes on a computer. Computerized reading and writing processes can be a problem on the computer, including individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities, those learning English and those who are not confident readers.
The Windows 2000 operating system has an option that can assist with reading and writing called Narrator.
There is also software that supports the reading and writing process.
Some mainstream applications on both the Windows and Macintosh platforms make use of the text-to-speech capabilities of the operating system and hardware to read text aloud.
Reading Tools and Reading Machines
Reading tools include software designed to make text-based materials more accessible for people who have difficulty with reading. Options may include scanning, reformatting, navigating, or speaking text aloud. A standard computer is modified to read out loud by adding a scanner (hardware) and text reading software.
Reading machines are hardware and software packages that transform printed materials into an electronic data format that is read aloud by a speech synthesizer. A stand-alone reading machine incorporates a scanner and speech synthesizer in a single unit which may be as large as a desktop or as small as a writing pen. Other systems use a standard computer, scanner and sound card with specialized software. These products vary greatly in price as well as in features offered, such as acquisition of text, options for reading, and user customization.
Some reading aids allow text to be read aloud as the user types. Some predict the word the user is trying to type based on frequency of use and on the context of the sentence. Some offer comprehensive spell checking features. Dictionaries which speak the definitions of highlighted words are available; many break words into syllables or spell the word on command, and some include thesauruses. The use of auditory feedback is important in all the reading aids.
Talking word processors
See the Screen Access, Software section for a description of talking word processors
See also Word Prediction under the Keyboard Access, Software section
Scanners See as part of Reading Tools and Reading Machines above.
Closed Circuit Televisions
Closed Circuit televisions (CCTV's) magnify the printed page with a special television camera and display the image enlarged on a monitor. Text can be magnified up to 60 times on some units. The user normally moves or "tracks" the item to be read under a fixed camera, manually with a standard reading table or automatically with an optional motorized table. With some portable units a handheld camera is moved across the printed page. Some CCTV units are stand-alone devices, and some use the computer monitor to display information.
The Internet is the term used to describe the multitude of computers, large and small, around the world, linked by cables, modems, telephone lines and satellites. Many individuals, organizations, and companies offer web sites with information or opinions in the form of text, graphics, sounds and video. To access these web sites on other computers, you must have a browser (software) on your computer, a modem (hardware), and a connection (Internet Service Provider - ISP). There are hundreds of Internet Service Providers available. Some are national or worldwide while many are local. Some ISPs are free; others charge a monthly fee. If you connect with a non-local telephone number, you may also end up paying for the time your computer is using your phone line. Services and connections speeds vary.
Once you have chosen an ISP and configured your computer for access to the Internet, browsers are the software that allow you to navigate your way among the millions of web sites available. Analogous to dialing a telephone number, you can go directly to a particular web site, by typing the web site address (URL), a string of letters, punctuation and/or numbers that often contain "www", ".com", ".net" or ".org". You can also find sites containing key words or phrases using a search engine, "surf" from one site to another by selecting the hyperlinks on screen and "bookmark" web sites of interest so you can easily return to them later.
Like all other computer programs, browsers can pose problems for users with disabilities, in that your methods of giving input and getting output must be addressed in order to use them. The Technology Access chapter of the Access Aware Manual provides a discussion of accessibility and the various input and output options available.
Telecommunications and Internet access hold tremendous potential for people with disabilities because of their power to eliminate barriers. Information can be brought right into the home and read or edited. Messages can be written with any input device, taking as much time as required. A person's functional limitations or disabilities are not apparent or relevant to the process. A wide range of services, from stock market transactions to airline reservations, from educational and library resources to recreational and vocational opportunities area are all available if the web is accessible to the individual.
Most importantly, information has to be posted on the web in as flexible a fashion as possible. We need to provide choices as to how the material will be received, including text, graphics, and sound. These are important to all, but especially those who cannot obtain useful information from graphics due to lack of vision, or from text due to reading or language issues.
If your center is developing a web site, you should take advantage of some of the resources available to help you make your site available to everyone.
Web Design for Accessibility
A full discussion of accessible web design is beyond the scope of this manual, and is more technical than many of your staff may wish. You should become familiar with the basic concepts of accessible web design introduced through the following excerpts from the websites of the Web Accessibility Initiative and the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Then refer those in your organization responsible for web development to the more comprehensive resources contained and referenced in the Website Access Resources in the Access Aware Manual.
The WorldWide Web Consortium (W3C) is responsible for developing standards for web development. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a part of that group dealing with standards for accessibility. These include standards for html and other programming, standards for browsers or user agents, and standards for web authoring tools. Among other materials they have developed are the following QuickTips for web accessibility and Getting Started: Making a Web Site Accessible.7
Quick Tips to make Accessible Web Sites8
Images & Animations
Use the alt attribute to describe the function of all visuals.
Use client-side MAP and text for hotspots.
Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, descriptions of video and accessible versions in case inaccessible formats are used.
Use text that makes sense when read out of context. For instance, do not use "click here."
Use headings, lists, and consistent structure. Use CSS (cascading style sheets) for layout and style where possible.
Graphs and charts
Summarize or use the longdesc attribute
Scripts, applets, & plug-ins
Provide alternative content in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported.
Label with the title or name attribute
Make line by line reading sensible. Summarize. Avoid using tables for column layout.
Check your work
Validate the HTML. Use evaluation tools and text-only browsers to verify accessibility.
The purpose of these quick tips is to emphasize the most important accessibility considerations. They provide choices for the user which will enable successful access regardless of vision, hearing, learning or other reading-related disabilities. They recommend consistent and flexible presentation of information; this will allow the user to use vision, hearing or both to receive information, and will result in more effective programming for all users.
The Web Accessibility Initiative recommends a process for web designers to become familiar with and proficient at developing their sites in an accessible manner. There is more comprehensive information available at each of the links noted and referenced in the footnotes.
Getting Started: Making a Web Site Accessible9
Check out the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) describe what makes a Web site accessible for people with disabilities. A fact sheet answers 20 of the most commonly asked questions about these guidelines in the Access Aware Manual.
Thoughts for the future
Ask the developer of the software that you use to produce your Web pages when that software will produce accessible pages more easily by supporting the authoring tool guidelines.
Web Accessibility Tools
While these guidelines and suggestions may appear somewhat daunting, there are a number of software tools available to support your accessible development efforts.
An excellent starting point for checking websites is Bobby, an evaluation tool developed by CAST; Bobby helps authors determine if their sites are accessible. It does this through automatic checks as well as manual checks. It also analyzes Web pages for compatibility with various browsers. You may either download Bobby and run it locally, or use it through a Web interface on CAST's site.10 The downloadable version is written in Java and takes advantage of the accessibility support in Java.
There are a wide range of other tools referenced on the Web Accessibility Initiative web site11 These tools are classified in 3 different sets:
* Evaluation tools: perform an analysis of pages or sites
regarding their accessibility, and return a report or a
* Repair tools: once the accessibility issues with a Web page or site have been identified, these tools can assist the author in making the pages more accessible.
* Filter and transform tools: These tools assist Web users rather than authors to modify a page as they receive it.
Commercial web accessibility tools are also available. Additionally, the Web Accessibility Initiative has released its guidelines for web authoring tools. Authoring tools developed following these guidelines will encourage web designers to develop more accessible web sites from scratch and alert them if they are about to do something that is not accessible. Some of these authoring programs, such as Macromedia's DreamWeaver, already have evaluations tools of their own available.
All of the technologies described in the Technology Access section may impact on an individual's ability to successfully access the web. People must be able to use a computer that is accessible to them.
The browser program is the primary tool for accessing the web. It must work with other access tools being used. Here are some things to know when selecting a browser:
* All vary in terms of compatibility with assistive technology
* Many come pre-installed on computers.
* Many are provided by the Internet Service Provider along with your subscription.
* Most work best on computers with newer processors (Intel Pentium II and III or Macintosh G3 or G4) and connection speeds.
* Most allow the user to set text size, color and fonts.
* Most have options to turn graphics, sounds or video on or off.
* Most allow the user to choose the web site that comes up each time the browser is opened.
* Some have built-in text-to-speech support.
1 Material for this session is from Access Aware: Extending
your reach to People with Disabilities by the Alliance for
Technology Access, available on the ATA web site at
4 A macro is a single command that can perform a series of actions, such as typing a complete name and address, or save and print a completed document.
5 Abbreviation/Expansion allows the user to enter an abbreviation which will be expanded in the text of the computer application ie: Entering "ctc" would type "Community Technology Center".
6 There are also newer technologies that allow the cursor to be controlled by eye movements, nerve signals or brain waves. For more information and sources on those, please see "Computer and Web Resources for People with Disabilities" by the Alliance for Technology Access.
8 (c) W3C (MIT, INRIA, Keio) For complete guidelines and checklist: http://www.w3org/wai
9 Copyright (c)1999 - All Rights Reserved. W3C
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