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fyi - article in computer world

From: Robert Neff <robneff@home.com>
Date: Sun, 4 Jul 1999 12:12:59 -0700
Message-ID: <000c01bec651$3b6862e0$64520518@alex1.va.home.com>
To: "IG" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, <w3c-wai-eo@w3.org>
Computer World article June 7,199
'Bobby' Beat: Enabling Web for All 

Imagine sitting in front of a PC linked to the Web -- the world virtually at your fingertips -- yet being unable to read the words, hear the audio or navigate through the pages. 

That's the challenge facing millions of adults and children with sensory impairments, physical challenges and learning disabilities. Yet as webmasters race to develop cutting-edge sites with complicated graphics, revolving text and multimedia capabilities, access for people with certain disabilities is actually diminishing. 


Today, only 10% of Web sites are considered fully accessible, according to the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), a nonprofit organization in Peabody, Mass., that is dedicated to universal designs for learning. 


For Chuck Hitchcock, the issue couldn't be ignored. Hitchcock has been a crusader for the disabled since he began teaching children with special needs more than 20 years ago at a Townsend, Mass., elementary school. During his tenure, the microcomputer was introduced, and Hitchcock developed a hobbiest's enthusiasm for computer programming. 


His passions ultimately led him to CAST, where he and fellow programmer Josh Krieger developed "Bobby," a free, Internet-based tool that helps Web developers make their pages accessible to the disabled. 


"A few years ago, we realized the World Wide Web was clearly going to be an important resource for learners," Hitchcock says. "As we began to look at what we could do to make the Web more educational, we stumbled on to this problem of Web sites not being accessible -- especially for the sensory challenged." 


Bobby, named after the moniker for British police, is based on Web accessibility guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium and the Trace Center at the University of Wisconsin. 


Anyone who wants to test the accessibility of a site can simply log on to www.cast.org/bobby/ and type in the address of the Web page to be analyzed. Bobby delivers a detailed accessibility report that specifies access barriers and explains how to eliminate them. A site that complies with the accessibility guidelines is allowed to display the "Bobby Approved!" icon. 


For example, one student with a physical disability can't use a mouse. When she visited a research site for information for a master's thesis, she found that a site didn't allow her to navigate using keyboard shortcuts. Bobby identified the problem and suggested a remedy. 


CAST co-founder David Rose recruited Hitchcock after hearing of his work running a Massachusetts program to help educators use technology in the classroom, as well as Hitchcock's two-year stint at Apple Computer Inc. 


"He's mission-driven," Rose says. First, Hitchcock had to convince CAST's board of directors that Bobby was possible. He and Krieger spent hundreds of hours outside their normal workday to make Bobby a reality. As director of CAST's Universal Design Laboratory, Hitchcock leads a half-dozen other learning projects. 


Bobby was first released in 1996 as a server application that tested one page at a time. Today, Bobby Version 3.0 can test entire Web sites in minutes thanks to Java applications. Bobby now tests more than 3 million Web pages per month; there have been about 8,000 downloads of the software since August 1998. CAST has also recruited sponsors such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and IBM. 


"Bobby is becoming of increasing interest to businesses and government because of requirements for accessibility of Web sites ... under the Americans with Disabilities Act," says Judy Brewer, director of the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative in Cambridge, Mass. 


Hitchcock acknowledges that, so far, most Bobby users are disability rights advocates and individuals, not corporations. But he says that will change -- especially as businesses start to address the needs of aging baby boomers. 
Received on Sunday, 4 July 1999 12:17:43 UTC

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