The Web has to be accessible to differently enabled people as it offers unprecedented opportunities for overcoming challenges related to communication and collaboration. The `Web Accessibility Testing’ blog series will include:
An introduction to Web Accessibility Testing – Part 1
Implementing Web Accessibility – Part 2
Principles of Accessible Design – Part 3
In this first part, let us envisage a scenario:
One fine day your friend opens his eyes. He is not able to see and everything is dark. He assumes it must be night, fumbles for the switch and turns on the light. However, there is no light! He rubs his eyes, yet no change. He is completely dumbstruck, wondering what happened. It is then that he realizes that he is unable to see anything and he may have lost his eyesight. The enormity of the situation has not even sunk in yet!
His mind is focusing on what has to be done, i.e. he has to attend to his daily chores, go to office, finish up his work to meet deadlines, and has some more important meetings planned that he cannot miss. He is wondering whether there is a way out?
The probability chances are 50-50.
As a software engineer, if you had planned ahead of time and thought of this situation for physically challenged people, then the software developed by you would make things possible for them and make their lives as wonderful as the one you lead. You could empower them to use the internet to access news, email, shopping, and entertainment, at any hour of the day or night.
This introduction should help you to understand how people with disabilities use the web, the frustrations they feel when they cannot access the web, and what you can do to make your sites more accessible.
The Web Offers Unprecedented Opportunities
The internet is one of the best things that ever happened to people with disabilities. You may not have thought about it that way, but all you have to do is think back to the days before the internet to see why this is so. For example, before the internet, how did blind people read newspapers? They mostly didn’t. Audiotapes or Braille printouts were expensive – a Braille version of the Sunday New York Times would be too bulky to be practical. At best, they could ask a family member or friend to read the newspaper to them. This method works, but it makes blind people dependent upon others.
Most newspapers now publish their content online in a format that has the potential to be read by “screen readers” used by the blind. These software programs read electronic text out loud so that blind people can use computers and access any text content through the computer. Suddenly, blind people don’t have to rely on other people to read the newspaper to them. They don’t have to wait for expensive audio tapes or expensive, bulky Braille printouts. They simply open a web browser and listen as their screen reader reads the newspaper to them, and they do it when they want to and as soon as the content is published.
Similarly, people with motor disabilities who cannot pick up a newspaper or turn its pages can access online newspapers through their computer, using certain assistive technologies that adapt the computer interface to their own disabilities. Sometimes the adaptations are simple, such as having the person place a stick in the mouth and use it to type keyboard commands. In other cases, the adaptations are more sophisticated, as in the use of special keyboards or eye-tracking software that allows people to use a computer with nothing more than eye movements. People who are deaf always had the possibility of reading newspapers on their own, so it may seem that the internet does not offer the same type of emancipation that it does to those who are blind or to those with motor disabilities, but they can read online transcripts of important speeches or view multimedia content that has been fully captioned. Many people with cognitive disabilities can also benefit greatly from the structure and flexibility of web content.
People with Disabilities on the Web
Though estimates vary, most studies find that about one fifth (20%) of the population has some kind of disability. Not all of these people have disabilities that make it difficult for them to access the internet, but it is still a significant portion of the population. Businesses would be unwise to purposely exclude 20, 10, or even 5 percent of their potential customers from their web sites. For schools, universities, and government entities it would not only be unwise, but in many cases, it would also break the law.
The major categories of disability types are:
Visual – Blindness, low vision, color-blindness
Hearing – Deafness
Motor – Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control
Cognitive – Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information
Each of the major categories of disabilities requires certain types of adaptations in the design of the web content. Most of the time, these adaptations benefit nearly everyone, not just people with disabilities. Almost everyone benefits from helpful illustrations, properly-organized content and clear navigation. Similarly, while captions are a necessity for deaf users, they can be helpful to others, including anyone who views a video without audio.
More in the next blog: `Web Accessibility Testing – Part 2′.