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Browser inaccessibility in the news

From: Jim Allan <allanj@tsbvi.edu>
Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2000 14:02:54 -0500
To: w3c-wai-ua@w3.org
Message-id: <NBBBIBAJLBJPFGFFMBMEOEIIEDAA.allanj@tsbvi.edu>
Too bad none of the UAWG work was mentioned...

from http://www.zdnet.com/eweek/stories/general/0,11011,2618369,00.html

IE trips up disabled—but help is on way
Government, wireless initiatives may bring better ways to surf
By Alan Joch, eWEEK
August 28, 2000 12:00 AM ET

Bryan Campbell relies on all the hot keys and keyboard shortcuts he can find
to help him surf the Internet. The Toronto resident doesn't forsake a mouse
because he's an edgy power user who can't tolerate the inefficiencies of
pointing and clicking commands in graphical interfaces. Campbell requires
streamlined key commands because he interacts with his PC using a
headband-mounted metal wand that presses keys as he awkwardly moves around
his standard keyboard.

Campbell is a quadriplegic who has battled cerebral palsy since birth. He
also happens to be a 22-year computer veteran who, with the help of a PC,
earned a bachelor's in history at the University of Toronto.

Campbell and millions of other mobility-impaired computer users have come to
rely on the Web for personal and professional communication and information.
But to get the most out of the Internet experience, these users are looking
for better shortcuts.

Based on his experiences, Campbell said mainstream Web browsers, such as
Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer, don't deliver on their
high-accessibility promises. IE offers some enhancements for disabled
surfers, but they don't go far enough, he said. "The keystroke commands
exist, but their execution and layout are the difficulties," he said. As a
result, Campbell and many other disabled Netizens are looking for
alternatives to IE. The other popular browser, Netscape Communications
Corp.'s Navigator, is not an option since it is limited by many of the same
inefficiencies as IE, industry observers say. Right now, a shareware browser
is Campbell's best solution. But, thanks to government regulations, there
could be more choices for him in the near future.

Since the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act 10 years ago,
hardware and software vendors as well as Web designers have been under
pressure to make the Information Age available to everyone who can benefit
from it, including the estimated 50 million disabled U.S. citizens.

For many of those disabled Americans, the inefficiencies Campbell complains
of result in more than just frustration. In the workplace, they result in a
major loss of productivity. Vendors, however, will be under increasing
pressure to fix this. By the end of next year, the federal government is
expected to impose strict accessibility requirements—under Section 508 of
the Rehabilitation Act of 1998—on all the high-tech hardware and software it
buys. "This puts legal teeth into the goal of making products more
accessible," said Phill Jenkins, senior software engineer and program
manager for the IBM Accessibility Center, in Austin, Texas.

For a number of years, many vendors, including IBM, Microsoft and Sun
Microsystems Inc., have addressed the needs of disabled users through
in-house departments devoted to accessibility. Nevertheless, the sometimes
conflicting pressures of keeping the user interface consistent for
mainstream users have forced the creation of less-than-ideal workarounds for
disabled users.

IE, because of its widespread Web presence, is especially susceptible to
complaints. Among them is the choice of keys, sometimes located at opposite
ends of the keyboard, for entering often-used browser commands. "I type with
a head wand, and currently the keyboard commands in IE are too tiresome for
me to use," Campbell said.

For example, the Tab key is the primary keyboard tool for selecting
hyperlinks on a Web page. However, users must hit the Enter key to invoke
the command. The key sequence may be simple for touch-typists, but users who
surf with the aid of one finger—or a head wand—find the gap cumbersome,
especially during a long surfing session. "Being unsteady and using a head
wand to type Tab and Enter is just too much work," Campbell said. "And the
key combos for other tasks are neck-breaking."

Campbell voices similar complaints about the page-forward keyboard command
(Alt-Right Arrow), a more difficult companion to the simple, one-key
page-backward command (Back space). "Had Microsoft built around the
Backspace, the keyboard commands could have been efficient and easy to run.
This is simple ergonomics, making it baffling that Microsoft can't do it,"
Campbell said.

This is why Campbell now relies on the 6-year-old Opera shareware browser
from Opera Software A/S, of Oslo, Norway. The simple browser shines where
the feature-laden IE pales: Opera makes extensive use of single-key Web
navigation that's winning the appreciation of disabled and mainstream users
alike (see chart, Page 60).

For its part, Microsoft says it's made a significant investment in time and
money to address the needs of the disabled. For instance, Windows 98
includes an accessibility wizard to help users customize their screens with
type magnifiers and so-called sticky keys that do away with simultaneous
keystrokes.

IE has some of its own accessibility tools, including shortcuts such as
Ctrl-Tab to jump between Web page frames. Similarly, F5 refreshes the Web
page, and Esc ends a page load.

Tim Lacy, Microsoft's accessibility program manager for Internet Explorer
and Visual Studio, in Redmond, Wash., said that the problems mentioned by
Campbell are valid but believes key positioning issues are best addressed by
additional hardware available to customize keyboards.

Why can't Microsoft do more? Lacy says it is because it's difficult for the
company to determine the disabled communities' unique needs. The company
relies on input from third-party companies that produce products such as
screen readers and text-to-speech technology to report the needs of the
disabled market.

In addition, Microsoft contracts with research companies that poll disabled
users. The company also takes suggestions for new features coming in via
e-mail and by monitoring discussions in appropriate newsgroups. But when
Microsoft tried to organize focus groups with disabled people, it didn't
locate any volunteers.

Campbell, however, said he believes the makers of feature-rich browsers
could do more to make their products more accessible.

Ironically, the ramping up of wireless applications for the Web may be the
biggest boon yet for disabled surfers. Small, handheld devices such as smart
phones are forcing engineers to rethink how people navigate the Net.

"There's a lot of excitement in the disabilities community over wireless,"
said Larry Goldberg, director of the Media Access Group at WGBH, a Boston
public television and radio station. That's because their limitations may
finally get noticed.

"When you look at the issues surrounding mobile computing, you realize
they're very similar to accessibility for disabled people," Goldberg said.
Which means the revenue- generating wireless community could ultimately
benefit the disabled by encouraging vendors to push out more one-button
solutions to navigate the Web. Campbell looks forward to that day.




Jim Allan, Statewide Technical Support Specialist
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
1100 W. 45th St., Austin, Texas 78756
voice 512.206.9315    fax: 512.206.9453  http://www.tsbvi.edu/
"Be BOLD and mighty forces will come to your aid." Basil King

-----Original Message-----
From: w3c-wai-ua-request@w3.org [mailto:w3c-wai-ua-request@w3.org]On
Behalf Of Jon Gunderson
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2000 1:14 PM
To: w3c-wai-ua@w3.org
Subject: CORRECTION: Agenda 31 August 2000


There are no open action items.  The one listed in the agenda was complete
at last weeks telecon.

Jon
Jon Gunderson, Ph.D., ATP
Coordinator of Assistive Communication and Information Technology
Division of Rehabilitation - Education Services
MC-574
College of Applied Life Studies
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
1207 S. Oak Street, Champaign, IL  61820

Voice: (217) 244-5870
Fax: (217) 333-0248

E-mail: jongund@uiuc.edu

WWW: http://www.staff.uiuc.edu/~jongund
WWW: http://www.w3.org/wai/ua
Received on Wednesday, 30 August 2000 15:02:37 GMT

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