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Java Accessibility

From: Robert Neff <rneff@moon.jic.com>
Date: Tue, 8 Sep 1998 21:52:44 -0400
Message-ID: <004101bddb94$8d8e5500$4b109cce@rcn.jic.com>
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

Here is an article from web review magazine on java accessibility.  I have inserted the both the URL and the text.
Java Accessibility
by Joseph Lazzaro
Sept. 4, 1998 

When Java first hit the Web, computer users with disabilities found out the hard way that support for adaptive technology was lacking. But after consulting with computer users with disabilities and adaptive technology vendors, Sun Microsystems focused its efforts on ways to make Java more accessible across the board. A way had to be found for Java to communicate with adaptive technology, and the solution had to be effective for users with a variety of disabilities. 

"Java Screen Reader is a prototype speech output program for persons who are blind or visually impaired. Screen Reader uses a speech synthesizer to verbalize text, icons, and controls of Java applications." 

At the time of this writing, Sun has just released version 0.5 of Java Accessibility, an applications programmer interface supporting adaptive technology used by the disability community.

Java Accessibility is expected to be of greatest benefit for blind users employing speech output systems, and persons utilizing voice recognition technology. Java Accessibility will also benefit other users with disabilities utilizing adaptive systems, such as screen-enlargement software. 

In a nutshell, Java Accessibility lets adaptive technologies identify Java Foundation Classes components. This means control components like buttons, sliders, dialogue boxes, pull down menus, even custom controls, are readable by adaptive systems. Prior to Java Accessibility, these control objects were invisible to adaptive hardware and software -- rendering them virtually unusable by persons with disabilities. Fortunately, Sun plans to bundle Java Accessibility with the standard Java Development Kit (JDK), which means it will find its way into all Java platforms that support the JDK. 

The user interface of an application or operating system is critical for persons with disabilities because the interface determines if you can run an application easily or at all. Java Accessibility features a Pluggable Look & Feel capability, giving developers the flexibility to create custom interfaces for any special need.

With Pluggable Look & Feel, it will be practical to construct interfaces that use speech synthesis, voice recognition, screen enlargement, or even braille. Custom user interfaces could be bundled with the mainstream application, or provided by third-party vendors. 

Java Talk 
IBM, who has had a long history of providing solutions to assist persons with disabilities, is developing the Java Screen Reader, a prototype speech output program for persons who are blind or visually impaired. Screen Reader uses a speech synthesizer to verbalize text, icons, and controls of Java applications. According to IBM, the Java Screen Reader was developed in only a few months, a project that used to take years of coding on other platforms. 

"Webmasters need to be educated on how to make their sites accessible to the disability community." 

IBM and Sun are cooperating to extend and apply the adaptive API to better support disabled users who play a constant game of catch-up with the mainstream software industry. Due to a native lack of support for adaptive technology in most operating systems and software, the normal software development cycle forces users with disabilities to wait months, or even years, for adaptive technology solutions to catch up. The disability community hopes that the new adaptive-aware hooks in Java will significantly decrease the time it takes to develop adaptive applications that can interact with the mainstream world. 

Sun and IBM are making available special tool kits and guidelines to help software developers roll out applications that are accessible to users with disabilities from the get-go. Because of its scalable nature, an accessible Java could be a boon to the disability community as versions of Java find its way into more computer platforms, ATMs, and even consumer electronic products. 

Active accessibility for Java 
Microsoft has been working on accessibility features for the Windows platform for several years with its Active Accessibility package. Microsoft has also published extensive guidelines on how to write accessible software, and has constructed an extensive Web site dedicated to adaptive technology issues. 

The software giant has rolled its adaptive technology experience into the Java platform with Active Accessibility for Java. Similar to the offering from Sun, Microsoft's Active Accessibility for Java allows adaptive technology to recognize Java Foundation Classes, permitting system control components to work with adaptive technology.

Active Accessibility currently supports Windows control components such as titlebars, windows, menus, scrollbars, buttons, radio buttons, checkboxes, list boxes, edit fields, static text, combo boxes, dialogs, hotkey controls, task-switching, cursors, mouse pointers, listviews, header controls, toolbars, status bars, sliders, progress meters, treeviews, tab controls, tooltips, spin buttons, Standard Dialogue Manager controls, and the Internet Explorer 3 HTML control.

Active Accessibility also lets adaptive technology devices query screen components for their name, description, location, keyboard shortcut, default action, state, focus status, and more. Active Accessibility lets you navigate among control objects, next, previous, and current object, useful for persons employing a variety of adaptive technologies. 

Sun, IBM, and Microsoft are seeking feedback on their accessibility efforts from adaptive technology vendors, mainstream vendors, and the disability community at large. You can write to the Java Accessibility team by email at access@sun.com. You can also sign up for the Java Accessibility Internet mailing list at java-access@javasoft.com. To subscribe, send an email to listserv@javasoft.com, and place the text subscribe java-access into the message body. To unsubscribe, send an email message to listserv@javasoft.com and place the text signoff java-access into the message body. 

Future plans... 
While support for better access to the Web seems to be on the rise, a lot of work still remains to be accomplished. Webmasters need to be educated on how to make their sites accessible to the disability community, and product vendors need to build disability access features directly into their browsers, and authoring tools. 

While the major players like Microsoft, Sun, and IBM have built some limited disability access support into their operating systems, this still leaves the bulk of software on the market lacking this all-important code. There is still a long road to travel before all Web sites and software are accessible right out of the box, and some in the disability community are concerned that having multiple accessibility standards may be confusing to users and vendors trying to cope with an all ready complex environment. 

But the trends toward accessibility currently underway at several of the industry's major players might be a hint of a more positive future for Web wanderers with disabilities. One can hope! 

Java Accessibility resources 


Designing for a Wider Universe 

Java Accessibility 
Received on Tuesday, 8 September 1998 21:59:46 UTC

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