Originally published in Health Care on the Internet 1998 2(2/3):153-158.
The HealthTech column spends a lot of time talking about tweaking and fine-tuning the available technologies to make web access easier. There is a major issue always in the back of my mind whenever access is mentioned that of the technologies which are invisible, simply because we take them for granted, the way a faucet handle can be invisible until you develop arthritis in your fingers or stairs are invisible until you find yourself in a wheelchair. In using the Web, many things can interfere. A slow connection, an old modem, running an older browser on a computer not quite up to downloading the newer versions these are things which can create frustration for any of us. More to the point, by pushing us to limit our own access, for example, by turning off auto-loading of images, they can give each of us some small taste of the issues dealt with daily by visually impaired friends or colleagues. Just think of the phrase "graphical browser." It automatically assumes both that you have vision and load images.
Because this issue is so important (and because this column in not intended to be as long as the entire journal issue), I want to focus on the meat rather than discussion, and give you as much as I can in the way of a quick introduction to the issues and resources for some of the solutions.
Starling: Accessible Web Page Design: Home Page
Yahoo! - Computers and Internet:Internet:World Wide Web:Page Design and Layout:Accessibility
Guidelines & Policies
Guidelines on Universal Web-Site Accessibility
Unified Web Site Accessibility Guidelines
Increasingly, for organizations which have a great number of persons involved with Web page development, standards and guidelines are being developed to define the boundaries of what is acceptable code for pages within that organization. These standard can be clearly defined to cover accessibility issues. These are just a few examples of organizations who have taken the initiative in this area.
Treasury Board of Canada / Conseil du TrÈsor du Canada
CT SHPAC Universal Accessibility Policy
What the Major Players Have to Say
Apple Computer, because of their own graphically based operating system, early on built tools into their system to deal with accessibility issues. This was an issue they were dealing with before most other systems had even thought about it. With the advent of the Web, all major computer corporations have had to deal with these issues. Each of the major companies works with developers and the disabled to develop accessibility products. Usually, they will list a variety of resources and recommended products on their web pages. These are products developed to the specific standards of the platform, and as such should be relatively stable.
Apple Computer's Disability Connection
IBM Special Needs Home Page
Microsoft's Accessibility Home Page
Sun Technology and Research - Enabling Technologies
The original developers of the Web have also confronted the issue of universal access and are working on designing the specifications for the HTML language in order to allow work-arounds such as using the ALT= tag with images or Java applets to describe to the user what the image is trying to say or what function the Java code is trying to perform. More information and links to resources can be found at their web site.
Web Accessibility Initiative [WAI]
DMD Virtual Conference: Home
Center on Information Technology Accommodation
FCC Disabilities Issues Task Force Homepage
National Center for Accessible Media
The Speech Friendly Ribbon Award
Yuri Rubinsky Insight Foundation: WebABLE!
A number of committed individuals and companies have developed products to enable the visually impaired or those with movement disorders to access (a) computer programs in general, and (b) the Web in particular.
ALVA Access Group, Inc. (http://aagi.com/)
The Productivity Works Home Page(http://www.prodworks.com/)
Yahoo! - Society and Culture: Disabilities: Adaptive Technology (http://www.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Disabilities/Adaptive_Technology/)
CAST: Universal Design Laboratory