Blindness and Disabilities


by Mike Paciello, , WebAble!

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This is the second of a series of articles which will describe many of the barriers people with disabilities experience as they try to use the World Wide Web.

In the first article , I discussed several issues regarding the inaccessibility of the World Wide Web and people who are "print impaired", including the blind and visually impaired. In this article, I will focus on two other major disability categories: the deaf/hearing impaired and people who are mobility impaired. As I previously noted, these articles are not meant to be all-inclusive. The purpose here is to convey information; to build awareness around Web access for people with disabilities. It is also my intention to promote accessibility to Web "investors" and solicit their support for future Web development.

Up front, it's very important that so-called "able-bodied" persons understand some important distinctions regarding those who are typically classified as "people with disabilities". For example, you will note that I purposely differentiate between people who are deaf and people who are hearing impaired. Generally speaking, the deaf do not consider themselves as "hearing impaired"; their hearing is not impaired, it simply does not exist.

It is also important to know that the deaf do not personally consider themselves as "disabled" or "functionally limited". They prefer the distinction of being their own culture that includes their own form of communication, sign language. Of course, my personal argument is that there are no people with disabilities. Rather, all people are "differently-abled".


The World Wide Web, perhaps more than any interface before it, presents an incredible opportunity to people with disabilties. In addition to providing a communication protocol that is inherently accessible and relatively easy to use, people with disbilities find that they can pursue education, employment and entreprennerual opportunities never before thought possible.

However opportunity always implies challenge. One of those challenges is found in the current evolution of the Web: moving it from a text-based interface to a multmodal, multimedia operating environment. It is this environment that presents barriers to the deaf.

For example, each time a web site includes a video clip which also includes sound, the deaf are locked out.

The solution is relatively simple: implement closed captioning. You may know that captioning is now an industry standard for televisions. As a result, you see televisions with built in capitioning functionality. Deaf users are no longer required to purchase a separate captioning box. For general information about captioning please refer to the Closed Captioning Web Additionally, you may refer to which features closed captioning.

Current implementions of "Web captioning" are not the same as television captioning. Rather than captioning within the video clip, Webmasters are including captioning or script indicators on their pages. These indicators are located in close proximity to the video clip hyperlink (or image). When a user clicks on the captioning indicator the script of the clip is displayed.

One of the better implementations of Web captioning can be found at the Web site of Boston-based public broadcasting station WBGH Among many beneficial services provided for people with disabilities, WGBH runs the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), directed by Larry Goldberg. On the WGBH Educational Foundation/Access Instructions web page , you will see an example of web captioning.

There are a couple of guidelines you should consider before implementing captioning on your web page:

Increased accessibilty on the Web for the deaf and hearing impaired can also be improved by ensuring that all emmitted messages (error or information, system or application) are displayed through visual cues as well as audible. This is particularly true for browsers, authoring tools, and public kiosks.


For people with mobility disabilities, accessibility issues can take on a wide range of challenges. Some people have use of their hands, others do not. Some have the ability to use mouth sticks and headpointers, others rely on infrared devices. Still others appear to have no barriers presented when their interaction with the Web is via a personal computer. However, faced with a public kiosk these same users may be presented with inaccessible physcial control options.

As a result, Web pages and Web access do not present any major barriers to the physically challenged. Still, presentation of content should be given some credence. Because of various physical difficulties, head and eye movement are not always easily accomplished. Keep the following guidelines in mind:

If you are designing a web application that runs on a public kiosk (for example in libraries, museums, or government agencies), the kiosk itself should be accessible to a person using a wheelchair. Kiosk height, control knobs or buttons and input mechanisms should be easily accessible

The World Wide Web consortium is very interested in designing the Web for people with disabilties. At the recent Fourth International World Wide Web conference, the workshop, Designing the Web for People with Disabilities on several new developments in the area of Web accessibility. The next and final article will highlight the results of this workshop and provide information on future accessibility workshops.

For additional information regarding Web accessibility for People with Disabilities, please refer to the Web site: WebABLE! WebABLE! is an information repository for people with disabilities and professionals who work in the field. Should you desire to contact me further, please feel free to send me email at:

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