Web Access for People with Disabilities
By Cindy Powell
Computer technology has significantly altered how people acquire and disseminate knowledge and information. Like poorly designed buildings preventing some people with mobility disabilities from entering, poorly designed websites can create barriers for individuals with limited or no reading skills.
It is imperative that web developers are trained to assure that all people, including those who disclose disabilities, have access to their websites 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without cost, inconvenience or delay.
Assistive technologies are frequently used by individuals with disabilities so they may view webpage content. Some web developers are unaware that though text based formats, such as HTML or RTF, are usable by persons who use assistive technologies, image based formats, such as PDF, are not accessible.
Web designers also sometimes overlook posting documents, videos and multimedia in accessible formats. Providing meaningful audio descriptions with every image and graphic, and text captions synchronized with every video image, is essential.
As technology is changing, the creative and innovative ways web designers present information might result in additional access problems and solutions for people with disabilities. Web developers should periodically enlist disability groups to test their webpages for ease of use. The feedback provided by persons with disabilities is essential in assuring website accessibility.
A website contains a homepage and a collection of webpages. Information and multimedia content are presented on webpages. Accessible websites do not require vision, hearing or a standard mouse in order to navigate the webpages. Therefore accessible websites enable people with limited manual dexterity to use key strokes rather than a standard mouse.
Some individuals with disabilities can only see webpage content if it appears in specific colors. For example, many persons with low vision require high contrast settings, such as bold white or yellow letters on a black background. Other people require the opposite: bold black text on a white or yellow background. Other individuals must use more subtle color combinations. Therefore all webpages must be designed so that changing the color and font settings is impossible.
Basic accessibility features in computer operating systems enable people to adjust color schemes, contrast settings and font sizes. However, assistive technologies, such text enlargement software, voice activated software and screen readers, are also often used by individuals who have disabilities.
Assistive technologies also have limitations. Screen readers permit a person to listen to written text. Screen readers do not describe pictures or other images.
A “Skip navigation” link at top of every webpage is advised. This permits people who use screen readers to ignore navigation links, skipping directly to webpage content. Some webpage users with disabilities require descriptive HTML tags in order to use online forms or tables. Also recommended is a response option for drop-down lists.
It is critical that every home page provide a telephone number and/or email address for webpage visitors who have disabilities to request accessible information and services. Best business practices include a prompt response to those inquiries or requests.
Blinking and flashing could elicit seizure activity and should therefore be avoided. If they must be included, web designers should ensure that blinking and moving can be paused or stopped.
Technology and information access can increase the independence, productivity and quality of life of people with disabilities. It is vital that businesses and organizations post their website accessibility policy, as well as an action plan to rectify content that is currently inaccessible and procedures to ensure that all new and modified web content is accessible.
For information about web accessibility and assistive technology:
Over the past four decades, Disability Educator and Sign Language Instructor Cindy Powell has advised businesses, employers, government agencies and nonprofits about best practices with people with disabilities.
Cindy provides customized training on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), tax incentives and other helpful topics, such as disability etiquette and service animals. Ms. Powell also provides customized sign language training.
Cindy has served on local, state and national disability organization Boards of Directors. Ms. Powell was recipient of International Association of Workforce Professionals' 2006 Services to Specialized Populations award. Cindy’s disability articles appear in print and online.
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