November 15, 2004 Program Summary
Web Sites for Accessibility
Have you ever wondered how you would use a computer or surf the Internet without the use of your eyes, hands, or other senses? In this enlightening presentation, speaker Mary Meyer explained several of the limitations people can overcome through a combination of specialized technology and complementary Web design.
Adaptive tools make computers in general, and Web sites in particular, more usable by people who can't interact easily with standard keyboards, mice, or screen resolutions, Mary explained. An impressive array of adaptive tools already come standard with newer operating systems. Third party vendors offer a variety of others.
According to Mary, the beneficiaries of these tools are people with limitations ranging from mild age-related sight impairments to profound injuries that restrict arm and hand movements. Anyone can use the built-in assistive technology found in Windows, for example. Many people regularly magnify the size of text, hear text read aloud, and take wrist-friendly keyboard shortcuts, among other things.
But the story doesn't end with the latest adaptive technology, Mary cautioned. We'd have no reason to be concerned about good Web site design if the technology could do everything by itself. The technology works far better when the site design anticipates how it might be used. To learn how these elements work together, see the highlights of Mary's presentation, below.
What is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998?
Mary explained that Section 508, an often-quoted government Web site accessibility standard, is a 2001 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1998. This amendment reinforces the engineering design requirements and features that must be present in telecom and information systems developed, procured, leased, maintained, or used by the government to:
Many non-government organizations also have started using Section 508 as a design guideline. It only makes good business sense, Mary said, to make sure that all of your potential customers, including those who are disabled, can learn about and purchase your products and services.
What kinds of disabilities affect Web use?
an eye-opening study commissioned by Microsoft Corporation and conducted
by Forrester Research, Inc. in 2004. (The findings reside in Microsoft's
section on accessibility.) This study revealed that among adult computer
users in the United States:
Mary highlighted other physical impairments that can affect computer and Web use (this information also derives from Microsoft's section on accessibility):
How does assistive technology support each disability?
Assistive technology products, Mary emphasized, extend accessibility to individuals who have physical or cognitive difficulties, impairments, and disabilities. To be usable, however, they must be compatible with the operating system and programs on a particular computer.
How do you design a Web site to work with assistive technology?
The purpose of designing a Web site for accessibility is to work in tandem with, but not to replace, assistive technology, Mary reemphasized. She recommends considering the accessibility guidelines below as you are designing.
Things to do:
Things to avoid:
Does usability differ from accessibility?
Many people would say no, but Mary's clarification helped put the concepts in perspective. Sites considered highly usable by people without impairments may not be very usable by people with them. Conversely, a site optimized for accessibility should be usable by everyone, with or without impairments. This idea is similar to the benefits associated with curb cuts in sidewalks. Such navigation aids make curbs easier to negotiate for all types of people, not just those with disabilities.
In summary, designing Web sites for accessibility involves factors that go beyond creating usable sites for non-impaired users. Accessibility ensures that assistive technology (such as a screen reader) can convey a clear picture of what is on a site and how to use it. These additional assistive technology design factors include:
Designing Web Sites for Accessibility
|Date:||Monday evening, November 15, 2004|
Designing Web Sites for Accessibility answered important questions about making Web sites user-friendly to people with various types of impairments or limitations. Sometimes the need arises unexpectedly because of workplace injuries, such as repetitive stress syndrome, which can turn the tables on our expectations of ourselves, our colleagues, or our employees.
To put the need in perspective by helping us walk in other people's moccasins, the presentation covered the following topics:
Mary Meyer, M.B.A., M.A.T., is a PC trainer with InDyne Corporation at Vandenberg AFB, a part-time instructor at Allan Hancock College, and a member of our SLO STC board of directors. Her multi-faceted background encompasses technical communication, including Web design; several years in the training field; education of adults and children; emergency preparedness planning and management; bookkeeping; project administration, and more. Mary's Web site is http://Site-scribe.com.