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WAI in U.S. News & World Report/5.19

From: Sally Khudairi <khudairi@w3.org>
Date: Tue, 20 May 1997 16:56:36 -0400
Message-ID: <33821004.784A@w3.org>
To: jmiller@w3.org, danield@w3.org
CC: w3t-talk@w3.org, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

attached mail follows:



Following is a great article from U.S. News & World Report which addresses
the human side of accessibility for people with disabilities issue.  The
article   mentions current industry developments for people with
disabilities, including the W3C's launch of the WAI. (See W3C mention,
indicated with ***.)  Another coup for WAI!

Thanks,
Stephanie


U.S. News & World Report

News You Can Use; Personal Tech Catching a view of the Web
Robin M. Bennefield
May 19, 1997

Page Trammell's face is an inch, quite literally, from the computer screen.
Her eyes widen, then squint with effort as she tries to locate the mouse
pointer. The little white arrow is lost somewhere in a clutter of desktop
icons she can barely make out.  "If I could just find it," she mutters,
sighing impatiently.  Finally, after several minutes, she succeeds.

The icons on her screen are endlessly frustrating for Trammell because the
38-year-old Internet novice from Baltimore suffers from retinitis
pigmentosa, a degenerative ailment that slowly attacks peripheral vision
and eventually destroys all sight. Diagnosed in 1992 and now legally blind,
Trammell is learning to use her computer as other visually impaired people
do.  Screen-altering software enlarges the text and pictures.
Screen-reading software recites onscreen text aloud through
voice-synthesizing hardware, reading from top to bottom of each screen in
turn.

These types of aids worked pretty well a few years ago, when computer
screens were dominated by words and numbers that could be made bigger or
read aloud. But no more. Desktop icons are not text, but graphics, which
cannot be "read." The increasingly elaborate graphics and pictures that
bedeck many Web sites can be nearly insurmountable obstacles for people
like Trammell.  As more sites feature animated pictures and images, and
home pages where clicking on a graphic is the only way to move from page to
page, the Web is not a friendly place for the visually impaired.

Brave new world. This is no small problem. More than 4 million adults labor
to see words or letters, even with glasses, says the Census Bureau, and 44
percent of these people are in the work force. Those whose jobs and hunger
for information depend on computers can feel their hard-won independence
being challenged by changes on the Internet, in particular on the
graphics-rich Web.

It was just a few years ago that many sight-impaired people celebrated the
Internet's text-only format because computer screen readers and screen
enlargers were sufficient to open up the world of bulletin boards, E-mail,
and current events. If you had a PC, you no longer had to wait for Braille
and large-print versions of directories and periodicals. Trammell got
hooked on E-mail last year after getting a free America Online disk in the
mail, but she wants to master the Web. E-mail helps Trammell stay in touch
with her brother in Texas and her long-distance friends; the Web, she says,
could keep her in touch with the entire world.

To help Trammell and others with vision problems, new Web-browsing software
is being released and better Web sites designed. ***The rethinking got a
further boost last month with the launch of the World Wide Web Consortium,
a group of leaders in Web technology who announced the Web Accessibility
Initiative.  The effort is intended to make Web navigation easier to use by
all disabled individuals by funding the development of new hardware and
software and supporting education programs for the disabled.***

A visit to the Baltimore Sun's Web site for a news update illustrates just
how desperately innovations are needed. Trammell's screen-reading program,
JAWS (Job Access With Speech), gets stuck, like a needle in a record
groove, on the bright orange "SunSpot" logo on the home page, and drones
over and over: "A service of the Baltimore Sun. A service of the Baltimore
Sun Š"  According to JAWS, there's nothing else on the screen to read.
"Must be a graphic there," Trammell mutters. Graphics titles on Web pages
can be particularly frustrating for blind users; their screen readers
remain silent, or hang up on the text that is readable, or simply say
"i-con" with no explanation.

A recently introduced program from the Productivity Works, pwWebSpeak (free
download for blind and visually impaired consumers; voluntary $50 annual
fee; {http://www.prodworks.com}, cannot turn graphics into readable text,
but it does remove a major obstacle. This browser provides an oral rundown
of the contents of a Web page, alerting users to pages that might trip them
up.  The user simply pushes the F10 key and pwWebSpeak announces that there
are graphics on the page and describes how many. The program has
screen-reading and text-enlarging capabilities, reducing the fiddling that
separate programs sometimes demand. Version 1.4 of pwWebSpeak, released
last month, also includes RealAudio-software that lets users hear radio
broadcasts and music over the Internet.

Icon translator. Before too long, Trammell's problem with the elusive mouse
arrow may be fixed as well.  The tool that may do this is Active
Accessibility, a new programming language from Microsoft designed to help
the company's many software products communicate with screen readers and
other tools for disabled users.  It will be part of the update of Internet
Explorer, Microsoft's Web browser, due out this summer. Screen readers with
Active Accessibility can inform users what each icon in the tool bar at the
top of the browser's home page represents.  When a screen reader encounters
the printer icon, for example, it will say "print" rather than the
unhelpful "i-con."  Active Accessibility will also work with the desktop
icons in Windows 3.1/95, and with application software like Microsoft Word
and Excel.

Active Accessibility is just one more reason for vision-impaired users to
like Internet Explorer.  The browser accepts keyboard commands such as
Control-O, which pulls up a box into which a Web address is typed. Explorer
also permits customizing type size and background color for each Web page.
When Netscape's update of its browser, Communicator, is released this
summer, it also will address the needs of vision-impaired users.  Like
Explorer, Communicator will let users employ the keyboard instead of the
mouse and can work with downloaded screen-reading software.

Web designers still have to be pushed to create accessible sites, however.
In Boston, the National Center for Accessible Media works with companies
like Disney and NYNEX to create such sites by using tools like "text tags"
programmed into a Web page to describe an image (such as, "Picture of a man
sitting at a computer").  When someone surfs the Net with the graphics
switched off, the screen reader reads the tag. The center also encourages
companies to create text-only versions of Web sites.

These ongoing efforts can benefit sighted computer users as well as those
with vision difficulties. Someone with carpal-tunnel syndrome because of
too much mousing could issue keyboard commands instead. Or, instead of
fuming while graphics-heavy Web pages trickle through a slow modem, a user
could shut off the images and read the text-tag descriptions of the
pictures instead.  Visually impaired users are happy to share their
emerging bounty.  "There is such a wealth of information out there," says
Trammell.  "I don't want to miss any of it."


Online aid:  Here are several key Web resources for individuals who have
impaired vision.

Blind Links  {http://www.seidata.com/{percent
symbol}7emarriage/rblind.html}. A very comprehensive Web site, with links
to associations, job sites, software vendors, and other services that are
directed at the blind.

Abledata  {http://www.abledata.com}. A database of technologies for
thedisabled ranging from screen-reading software to wheelchairs, including
price and ordering information. It is sponsored by the Department of
Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

Webwatch-l  {http://www.teleport.com/~kford/webwatch.htm}.  An E-mail list
where blind users exchange messages about ways to improve their access to
the Web. Picture: Getting right up to the computer screen is what Page
Trammell has to do. And often that's not enough. (Chris Usher for USN&WR)

Stephanie Townsend
Senior Account Executive
The Weber Group
617/520-7036 (P)
617/661-0024 (F)
stownsend@webergroup.com
Received on Tuesday, 20 May 1997 16:56:40 GMT

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