you thought about how the visually disabled might perceive your Website? Until recently, I
surely had not.
The visually disabled can use devices called screen readers, which
convert the words on the screen into spoken form so the user can hear them.
Screen readers work well with straightforward text, such as e-mail messages and word
processing documents. Websites, on the other hand, can cause problems.
Just think about the visually-oriented capabilities that Websites include nowadays.
Displays are divided into frames that scroll independently. Tables appear everywhere.
Graphics abound. These features, and more, confuse screen readers.
In May, the World Wide Web Consortium issued Version 1.0 of its Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines (www.w3.org/
WAI/GL/). The guidelines explain how Website authors and designers can make Web content
accessible to people with disabilities.
If you are interested to know how well your Website complies with the guidelines, go to
the Center for Applied Special Technology Website (www.cast.org). CAST provides a free
service called Bobby that analyzes Web pages for compliance with the W3C guidelines.
Bobby also provides additional recommendations regarding accessibility and identifies
browser incompatibility problems.
I submitted the home pages for my two Websites to Bobby, which approved the first but
not the second. The second home page failed because I had included two images without
alternative text ("alt=" tag).
The images are not particularly significant - one is a logo, the other is a decorative
photo. Neverthe-less, Bobby made a point that I had not considered: Whereas sighted users
immediately understand the significance of the graphics, visually disabled users do not
have a clue - they just know that they cannot perceive those graphics.
Is eagerness to help the disabled the only reason to consider accessibility? No - the
Americans with Disabilities Act provides incentives.
Under the public-accommodation provisions of the ADA, businesses providing information
in print or via computer must offer alternative means to ensure that they can effectively
convey the information to the visually disabled. How to best meet this requirement depends
on both the information and the capabilities and resources available to the disabled
For example, a short brochure could be read to the disabled individual. On the other
hand, a contract might require an alternative means of communication, such as Braille, to
be presented and analyzed effectively.
ADA's remedies include injunctions and attorneys' fees. However, California's remedies
for ADA violations go further, specifying minimum damages of $1,000 per incident for each
So look at your Website. Can a user with a screen reader navigate it effectively? If
not, you should consider changing it to reduce the risk of an ADA violation.
I thank Berkeley attorney Lainey Feingold (510/848-8125, firstname.lastname@example.org) for bringing Website
accessibility to my attention and for providing much of the information in this article.
Accessibility issues exist for technologies other than the Web, as well. Representing
the California Council of the Blind and individual blind consumers, Feingold successfully
negotiated agreements by which major financial institutions will add speech capabilities
to their automated teller machines.
Dana Shultz is an Oakland-based certified
management consultant, speaker and coach specializing in office technology. He may be
reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on the
web at www.ds-a.com.