Blindness and Disabilities
THE WEB AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Cutting Edge Developments
by Mike Paciello, firstname.lastname@example.org
, WebAble! http://www.webable.com
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New developments and cutting edge technology are nothing new to the
World Wide Web and it's community of users. So it should come as no surprise
that similar developments are taking place within the realm of web accessibility
for people with disabilities. This very topic, was featured as a workshop
at the Fourth International World Wide Web Conference, held in Boston,
Massachusetts, December 11, 1996. The following article provides an overview
of that workshop.
The workshop theme, "Designing the Web for People with Disabilities"
was selected in order to attract world leaders in the area web accessibility.
Sixteen persons attended the workshop, twelve well-known experts in the
assistive technology circles.
On a sad note, one of the attending experts was the President of SoftQuad,
Yuri Rubinsky. Yuri died tragically this past January 21st. Ironically,
just hours before his death, Yuri and I were talking about building access
protocol into SoftQuad's new WWW/SGML browser, Panorama. Yuri was technical
director of the International Committee for Accessible Document Design
(ICADD) and was instrumental for authoring the current SGML and HTML code
that makes it easier for people with print disabilities to read electronic
information. He will forever be remembered as a person who cared about
the needs of people with disabilities.
The following individuals participated in the workshop:
Bill Barry, Oregon State University
Geoff Freed, WGBH
Jon Gunderson and Tom Magliery, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Chuck Letourneau, Environment Canada
Mayer Max, National Security Agency
Paul Mitten and Robert Grace, Compusult
John Monahan, Associated Press
Mike Paciello, Digital Equipment Corporation
Arlene R. Remz, National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP)
Yuri Rubinsky, SoftQuad
Jim Thatcher, IBM
Chris Wilson and Neil Smith Microsoft
Steve Zilles, Adobe
Web Browser Accessibility
A chief concern among assistive technology engineers revolves around the
ability for browsers to render information in a manner that is accessible
to people with disabilties. For the blind, any aspect of a graphic interface
presents barriers. For low vision web surfers (and in some cases, those
with cognitive limitations), data presentation in different formats, different
fonts, and inconsistent character and word spacing, make reading online
information difficult. For the deaf, rendering sounds or sound bytes presents
Following is a list of several advancements announced at the workshop:
Adobe implementing plug-ins to Acrobat that deliver text-to-speech output
from PDF source files (Blind/Visually Impaired)
IBM demonstrated Web access using Screen Reader/2 (GUI access interface)
and their Web Explorer browser
Compusult announced WebTALK, low-cost browser positioned at EDU/rural users
Microsoft announced their commitment to build accessibility into Internet
Explorer and their Internet user interface, including web authoring tools
Softquad announced a joint venture with University of Toronto to build
accessibility into the Panorama browser (Softquad is actively looking for
beta testers and engineers to work on this
Web Access Technology
Several efforts in the area of general accessibilty to the World Wide web
underway. Closed captioning, descriptive video, speech interfaces, and
profiles were a few discussed at the workshop. Several are briefly described
the following sections.
WGBH - Closed Captioning and Descriptive Video Services
The Boston public broadcasting station, WGBH has been making incredible
in access for the deaf and hard of hearing, particularly in the areas
captioning and descriptive video.
Demonstrated the implementation of closed captioning and descriptive video
Demonstrated a prototype player that features a captioning attribute
Announced a grant from the Dole Foundation to develop Web Access for the
Development focus is to achieve synchronized Video/Captioning
EMACSPEAK - Real Time Speech Interface for the Web
T.V. Raman, of Adobe has developed a realtime speech interface that resides
within the EMACS extensible editor. Using EMACSPEAK, blind users have complete
access to the Web using line mode browsers. A realtime speech interface
relieves the typical burden of building an offscreen model for normal screen
readers for the blind. Bill Barry of Oregon State University provided an
excellent demonstration of the EMACSPEAK application.
Demonstrated EmacsSpeak, a real-time speach interface for the blind
Used Bill Perry's W3 browser to peruse web
EmacsSpeak Includes audible sound cues for Form completion, hyperlinks,
end of lines, search notification, etc...etc...
Accessible Browser Design Considerations for all Disabilities
Jon Gunderson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has worked
with the NCSA Mosaic development group over the past couple of years. As
chair of the Mosaic Access Project (MAP) usability working group, Jon lead
the usability testing and design team. The results of his testing emerged
into a document of design recommendations for future iterations of the
Jon's presentation at the workshop resulted in the following recommendations:
Implementing a "Current Anchor Marker"
Using constrast controls over HTML, Toolbar, Menu and Dialog areas
Providing size control over HTML, Toolbar, Menu and Dialog areas
Navigation controls to move between HTML types
Including browser "Accessibility Dialog" box
Implementing accessibility information in Help files
HTML Accessibility Update
Yuri Rubinsky provided an update concerning the HTML 2+ working groups
implementation of the ICADD SGML Document Access (SDA) attributes. He outlined
the current proposal before the HTML 3.0 working group regarding table
support and forms access.
A clear need, particularly for the blind, is the ability to read math,
science, and computational notation via the Web. Because of it's graphical
nature, rendering and/or transforming math to braille or synthetic speech
is challenging. To date, no one in the SGML or HTML community has eveloped
The workshop concluded with several proposals as outlined below.
Develop formal Web Accessibility Guidelines (needs funding)
Implement PDF transformation server (Adobe)
UCLA currently implements HTML-to-Braille, large-text, voice-ready transformation
Develop "Helper Application"
Browser software extension that translates displayed content into speech
and/or refreshable Braille
Include control commands, contrast adjustments
Built using Common Client Interface (CCI)
Prototype being developed at UIUC
Encourage GOOD accessible web page design by way of an INDUSTRY SPONSORED
"Seal of Web Accessibility"
Build awareness by supporting and promoting accessility workshops and sponsoring
Chairman Mike Paciello concluded the workshop with the following announcements:
Please check our online store with hundreds of easily accessible books
on CD ROM http://store.yahoo.com/samizdat
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