trip report from the tenth World Wide Web conference in hong kong
speaker: helen petrie, university of hertfordshire, UK
currently about 5% of the population of the developed countries suffer from visual disabilities. this number will increase with the raising average age of the population and the increasing number of elderly people using the web.
while there is an information overload for seeing people, visually impaired people still experience an information desert due to the many inaccessible source of information for people with bad or no sight at all. the web would be a revolution for visually impaired people if it was well designed. but it must support alternate output devices such as speech and braille browsers. they were already available about 20 years ago, but still too many web designers don't care to create web sites which are accessible with such alternate devices.
the WAI guidelines are divided in 3 priorities:
with the advent of e-government, access to information becomes a legal right. if human agents get replaced by "digital" agents, access to information has to be simplified. there are not only people with (visual) disabilities, but also people who cannot read or don't understand what they are reading will run into problems. speech output may help to increase accessibility not only for visually impaired people.
there was a legal suite against the official olympic web site because the on-line results were not accessible for visually impaired people. even worse, even the web site for the para-olympics was not accessible for people with disabilities.
problems with the WAI guidelines are:
some general rules suggested by the authors of this tutorial are:
the 5 key aspects in designing accessible web sites are:
i'm still convinced, this is an important issue, but 10 attendees out of 1200 registered participants proofs again, nobody cares about accessibility. everybody tells you that they agree, that web sites need to be accessible - and then they go home and publish text as images, set every possible property of the fonts including size and color and arrange the images in their documents on a per pixel basis, assuming your screen is at least 800x600 dots big and supports 16 mio colors ...
i put down my opinion about the art of web publishing years ago - and we presented a poster about this very subject in 1999 in toronto. however, most of the time, it's a rather frustrating experience, because nobody cares. some web publisher at our university tell me right in the face that they don't care if 5% of the visitors of their web site are unable to access it ...
i believe, accessibility needs a new style of "marketing". statements like "you must use an ALT-tag for your images", "5% of the population suffers from visual disabilities" simply don't count. first of all, i believe we must distinguish between different type of websites: on personal web pages, people shall publish what they want (as long as it is not illegal) and the way they want. on commercial web sites, i think it depends somewhat on the product or service they sell. if a company sells cars, they may assume that their customers do not suffer from visual disabilities. while it may certainly be interesting for a person with visual disabilities to learn more about the features and facts of a car, a web site designed to sell a car is clearly meant for people without visual disabilities. on the other hand, a bank or an airline should create very well accessible pages, because people with visual disabilities certainly would benefit a lot if they can access their information and on-line services. lastly but most importantly, governmental and web sites of public organizations must be accessible for everyone !
in my opinion, one way to "marketing" the needs of people with disabilities is taking legal actions against organizations providing badly accessible information. another important argument are search engines: the crawlers of search engines have very similar difficulties with in-accessible web sites like people with disabilities. they cannot go around image maps, they can index only text but no text published as images and so on.
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this trip report was written on a Vadem Clio C-1050 running Windows CE with Pocket Word. It was then transferred to a DELL Latitude notebook and modified as needed. this document is supposed to be HTML V4.0 compliant.