Millions of people have disabilities that affect how they use the web, and with the web becoming an increasingly important resource for many aspects of life, it is essential that it be accessible to those with disabilities in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to all.
What is Accessibility?
Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. There are several governments, organizations and non-profits currently working to set in place standards on accessibility for sites and software.
Below are some useful sites dedicated to providing web accessibility tools, services and information:
TechMatrix is a product of the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) and Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd) and offers assistive and learning technology products for students with special needs as well as learn what questions to ask and how to make informed tech decisions.
Able Data provides objective information on more than 35,000 assistive products available to consumers, organizations, professionals, and caregivers within the United States. On their site you can research information on assistive products, as well as information about the companies that make and sell them.
The Center for Accessible Technology provides access to computers for people with disabilities so children with disabilities can succeed in school, adults with disabilities can find and keep jobs, and all people with disabilities can benefit from the digital revolution. The Accessible Technology Coalition, a project of the Center for Accessible Technology, launched a website to help people with disabilities, and those who work with them, make informed decisions about assistive technology. The Coalition is training 500 service providers and disability issues specialists to use their website.
Accessibility features on your Operating System
Computers have accessibility options built into the operating system that you can adjust for vision, hearing, and mobility. Below we’ve demonstrated how to access and change these on your computer and where to go to get more information and tutorials.
To access these on a PC, go to the start menu and select control panel. Here you will see an option for Accessibility. This section will walk you through how to optimally set up your computer for your needs.
Two other useful features offered here are an On-Screen Keyboard to eliminate typing and a Magnifier to enlarge your viewing area.
Under Appearance and Themes you can adjust the overall font size and color, the size of your desktop icons, screen resolution and contrast.
To access these features on a PC running Microsoft Vista, go to the start menu and select control panel. Here you will see an option for Ease of Access. This section will walk you through how to optimally set up your computer for your needs including the on-screen keyboard and magnifier options mentioned above in the Microsoft XP section.
Microsoft also offers resource guides for specific disabilities. Below are links to each of these for your reference:
Vision difficulties and impairments
Dexterity Difficulties and Impairments
Hearing Difficulties and Impairments
Learning Difficulties and Impairments
Language and Communication Difficulties and Impairments
Aging Computer Users
Please also visit the Microsoft website where you can learn more and find contacts to help.
Mac OS X
Apple’s Mac computers have many built in features for vision, hearing, physical and motor skills as well as literacy and learning. To access these features choose System Preferences from your dock and Universal Access. Here you can choose the tab that best suits your needs: Seeing, Hearing, Keyboard, Mouse and Trackpad.
For a complete list of Apple’s resources visit their website here.
Adaptive hardware devices can additionally be used to make accessing the computer and navigating the web easier for those with disabilities. Below is a list of such devices available for purchase.
Adaptive Hardware for Vision Impairments:
- Braille Devices such as printers, embossers, readers, portable displays, and note-taking devices.
- Closed Circuit Televisions (CCTVs)provide video magnification of print and other materials. Users can place a book, image, or text underneath a camera or lens and the magnified image is rendered on a video screen.
- Headsets allow users to hear audio text privately, while the attached microphone allows for hands-free use of voice recognition software
- Large Monitors of 20 inch or more provide more room for enlarged text and graphics
- Magnabrite Magnifier is a solid acrylic 4x light-gathering magnifier. It intensifies the light that passes through it, making the magnified subject clearer and nearly four times brighter.
- Scanners with optical character recognition (OCR) software convert print materials in to electronic text which can be read by the computer.
- A Tactile Image Enhancer creates an upraised impression of an image on specially made paper, allowing people with visual difficulties to feel the contours of the image.
Adaptive Hardware for Mobility Impairments:
- Adjustable Height Tables and Chairs can help with strained or injured backs.
- Special Mice, Keyboards and Pointing Devices that are more ergonomic can make it easier to navigate the computer and more comfortable on your body.
- Tablet PCs can capture handwritten notes allowing users to write directly on the screen (with a non-ink digital pen) while the tablet translates the handwriting into keyboard-style text.