University of Phoenix
Web Programming I
June 27, 2005
Web Accessibility for People with Physical Handicaps
The world is becoming increasingly more aware and sensitive to the challenges facing the physically impaired. This is evident in the increase in special accommodations specifically meant to aid people with special needs in the ability to interact with society as if their conditions did not exist. From special parking to wheelchair accessible ramps and doors to Braille on elevators and automatic teller machines; a once handicap-hostile world is becoming less so every day. This holds true for the virtual world as well; particularly that of the World Wide Web. The paradox with all of these accommodations is threefold. First, is technology available to assist blind, deaf, and visually challenged web surfers? Second, why should the average web designer care about accessibility for challenged people? Third, what, if anything, can a Web designer do beyond technology to make websites more viewer, and especially special-need viewer friendly? This paper will shed light on these three questions and put into perspective how today’s Web design is becoming more inclusive to people with special needs as ever before.
Before any serious modifications to a structure or process can take place it is necessary to determine whether or not the technology exists that supports or allows such a change. In many cases throughout history and especially that of the Information Age, if there was a need for non-existent physical technology it was a short-lived void. The same holds true for technology designed to help the physically impaired enjoy and use the Internet, but the need to fill this void really became pressing as the World Wide Web evolved to include a viable and impressive e-commerce system. Once this happened, the conveniences of shopping on the Internet became increasingly apparent to businesses, retailers, and users alike. This is even more true of users who are unable or uncomfortable shopping in the traditional sense. Now, instead of a partially-blind person requiring other people or special dogs to safely venture out into the market, the market can come into the home and accommodate the user. Other technologies, both physical and electronic in nature, have sprouted over the years to fill this niche and make surfing the Internet a more pleasurable experience for some and a possibility for others. One of these technologies is BrailleSurf. BrailleSurf is an Internet browser designed specifically for the blind and visually impaired. Once the Web information has been interpreted by the browser, the visually impaired can choose to read from a Braille bar or have it digitally synthesized and play speech through the computer’s speakers (Schwartz, et al., 2001). While new development on BrailleSurf is currently suspended, its existence exemplifies how developers are attempting to cope with user disabilities.
Closely related to BrailleSurf is BrookesTalk. BrookesTalk also began as a standalone browser that can interpret, translate, and “read” the contents of a Web page to a visually impaired user. However, BrookesTalk has received the support of Microsoft and has been integrated with Internet Explorer as a means of bringing more benefits of the Web to the visually impaired (Zajicek, 2001).
Though the BrailleSurf effort was curtailed in the year 2001, there have been other subsequent efforts that have been launched both domestically and internationally to enhance the web experience of the visually impaired. Probably most notable among those efforts is the MozBraille project. It is a web browser based on the Mozilla technology that allows its users to choose from three different output displays. The choices include text to speech, a...