Friday, October 10, 2008

Web Accessibility a Universal Goal!

by: Mr. Nidal A. Bousaleh

Over the last decay, an increase number of research were conducted to determine ways Information Technology can assist in meeting special needs to ensure universal accessibility. Findings to date suggest that by being more knowledgeable about accessibility issues, Web designers and developers are able to accommodate end users with special needs.

As we enter the knowledge age, it is no longer acceptable that people with limited or no vision are on their own when it comes to accessing the web, nor those with mobility problems are on their own when it comes to use a hardware. To ignore

website accessibility raises moral, business, and legal issues. It is morally wrong to discriminate

against disabled people on the web simply through lack of thought, consideration, or awareness. Many business web sites designed without considering accessibility issues result in loss of revenue. Some countries, such as the US, UK, and Australia has introduced legislation that requires organizations to adhere to accessibility issues.

In June 1999, the Disability Discrimination Act (1999) has been used to fight for access rights in

Australia. The 2000 Olympic Site Games, jointly developed by Sydney Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG) and IBM was found inaccessible to the blind users, and SOCOG was fined A$ 20,000 [1].

The purpose of this paper is raising awareness among web designers and developers, to achieve universal web accessibility goal. The paper looks at the disability issues and the existing assistive technologies or methods used by disabled users to assist them in accessing the web.

Afterwards, the paper reviews guidelines for good web site design, and provides analysis for designing an accessible website. Furthermore, the paper highlights on the challenges and gaps in the web accessibility area.

Literature Review:

Two years ago, a Conference was held in ‘London’ and attended by representatives of commerce, industry, government, and the IT Sector aiming to raise awareness of the potential benefits of assistive technology to disabled users. The outstanding number of speakers highlighted through number of cases how technology can transfer lives. ‘Sue Bassoon’ a Business Development Manager at IBM said: “IBM’s goal is to have a speech recognition system as good as the human ear by 2010” [2].

The objectives of this literature is two folds: (1) explain how a particular disability (e.g.

visual impairment, mobility restriction, hearing impairment) can impede the use of the web, and what can be done to accommodate special needs; and (2) show how web designers and developers can construct accessible web sites to end users with disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairment.

(1) Disability Issues

The section begins with a descriptive part concerning disabled user functional limitation

and dependence on assistive technologies.

A- Vision Issues:

A web user who has no sight (totally blind) is likely to use the screen reader technology to reads a load the content of the web page. Other web users, with partial or poor sight need to be able to enlarge the text on web page using a screen magnifier.

B- Mobility Issues:

A web user may have mobility problems as a result of an accident or disease such as:(loss of limb, Injury, or aging process). The technologies used by users with mobility problems are:

- Sticky Keys: For users with one finger typing.

- Filter Keys: Ignores repeated strokes for people with hand tremors.

- Mouse Keys: Permits moving pointer with numeric keypad.

- Serial Key: Permits access to alternatives for mouse and keyboard functions such as Foot Mouse.

- Eye gaze: A video camera that racks eye movement as the user look at an on screen keyboard. It is customizable as how long a key must be looked at to be recorded. When system has identified the key looked at the symbol appears and the user look at next key.

C- Hearing Issues:

A web user may be deaf or experiencing problems with hearing due to the natural aging process. To assist those users the audio or video need to be translated to the ASL (American Sign Language) language of the deaf, in which certain signs represent words.

(2) Design for Accessibility

In the above section, the paper provided readers with a general knowledge about disability issues, disabled users, and the existing assistive technologies. This section is intended for web designers and developers, because it provides them with tips and guidelines on ways to design a good and accessible website. There are two main aspects

to take into account:

I- Look and Feel

Web designers need to present a user friendly interface that addresses specific ability needs. The designer should be able to describe ways disabled users interact with a website, and how they move through the pages and how they achieve their goals. Below, are helpful tips that designers need to consider when designing an accessible website.

- Web Designers & Developers; should follow the four principles of visual organization in the process of designing a website which are: Proximity, Alignment, Consistency, and Contrast.

- Web Designers & Developers; must avoid using HTML tables to control the layout, instead use style sheets.

- Web Designers & Developers; should use legible fonts, and font size to allow disabled users to easily change them from the browser interface.

- Avoid poor color contrast in your design, and do not use color for meaningful description.

- Avoid the use of animation, and flash which may affect users with photosensitive epilepsy.

- Avoid using Frames because it can pose problems for technology used by some disabled users.

- Try not to use graphics for menu and button forms.

- Avoid hiding menu items (using DHTML or applets)

II- Content

Web designers should organize content in a way that can provide ease of use and simplicity. Below, are helpful tips that designers need to consider when designing an accessible website:

- Use a clear language, and write short sentences.

For example, a web page should provide blind users with a short summary of what they can find. A Search Functionality is important because a blind person can’t scan the page, and will generally trust first result he/she receives.

- Add Accessible tags and attributes by using rich set of tags to enhance accessibility. For instance, an ALT tag is used to provide a text equivalent for images within a website. The

ALT text description is what the screen reader or talking browser will read to the blind users .

- Use clear link descriptions, and include links that a user can click to skip repetitive regions of the page.

- Ensure the pages are usable when scripts, applets, or style sheets are turned off or not


- All audio and video content should contain captions, transcription, and descriptive information.


It is estimated that 20% of the population has some kind of disability. The internet opens

a new window of opportunity and independence to disabled users from reading news to banking to conducting business. For example, by using the screen reader technology a blind user can listen to the latest newspaper published electronically. Similarly, a user with mobility problem who can not go out shopping to buy a newspaper, nor use a

keyboard or mouse independently, can rather use the eye tracking software that allow people to use a computer with nothing more than eye movement.

Nowadays, organizations are asking designers to make their web sites accessible and for

good reasons. First of all, the more people who can use a site, the more potential it can

generate. Online stores, in particular have a great deal to gain, since many people with

functional limitation problems, find it much easier to shop online. Most Web designers

are not personally opposed to the concept of making web sites accessible to people with

disabilities. In fact most accessibility errors on web sites are the result of ignorance. A large proportion of web designers and developers have simply never thought about accessibility issues. A small proportion of web designers (4%) do not understand the needs of users with disabilities; another (46%) understand some of the needs of users with disabilities. While only (26%) of designers understand most of the needs of users

with disabilities and can accommodate them [3].

The Challenges and Gaps of Web Accessibility:

In this section, we highlight the challenges and the requirements posed by user needs, to

access the web. We argue the need for a new approach to address accessibility issues, and

include it in each and every web project life cycle.We recognize that the vast majority of disabled users face challenges when accessing the web. Why is this? Is it the lack of technical solutions to meet their needs – absolutely not! You will hear today that there are new technological solutions to address even most extreme form of disability. Is it cost?

Again it is not! Some technical solutions, cost nothing at all, and already exist in software. So, What then? Is it that web applications are being developed that present challenges to accessible design? Is it lack of knowledge and skills to meet their needs?

There does seem a general lack of awareness of web accessibility issues. Web Designers and Developers, need to have a better approach to tackle the problem in each phase of the web development process. For example, during the requirement analysis phase a web developer must define the target audience of the site, and should take into account people with a combination of disabilities. In addition to this, during prototyping phase a web designer must have the knowledge to accommodate end users with special needs, and also the skills to meet their expectations.

Moreover, testing the web site using different

technologies is critical for a successful web site, to ensure it meets the accessibility

standards and user requirements [4].

Therefore, in each phase of the web development process, accessibility plays an important role. Accessibility and Usability should be completely embedded in web design and development cycles from beginning to end.

The future looks bright for web accessibility. It promises to educate web designers and developers about accessibility issues, through training courses offered at universities.


The Internet offers independence and freedom. But, this independence and freedom is limited to certain users. Many websites are not created with accessibility issues in mind.

Whether it is the Web Designer lack of knowledge or ignorance, they exclude a segment of users that in many ways benefit from the internet [5].

In short, designing accessible websites does not require an enormous effort or time. It simply, requires commitment, and accountability, to achieve a universal goal.

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