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[Fwd: [webwatch] eWEEK: IE trips up disabled—but help is on way]

From: David Poehlman <poehlman@clark.net>
Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 20:46:55 -0400
Message-ID: <39BD7CFF.B2F35A90@clark.net>
To: User Agent Working group list <w3c-wai-ua@w3.org>


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [webwatch] eWEEK: IE trips up disabled—but help is on  way
Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 09:55:11 -0700
From: Kelly Ford <kford@teleport.com>
Reply-To: "webwatch" <webwatch@telelists.com>
To: "webwatch" <webwatch@telelists.com>

 From the web page:

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.
Kelly Ford
http://www.teleport.com/~kford/index.html
Received on Monday, 11 September 2000 20:44:57 GMT

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