[LINK] Fw: Access to Web Sites

Jan Whitaker jwhit at melbpc.org.au
Fri Mar 2 12:33:35 AEDT 2007

The Age
Access denied
March 1, 2007

Most websites don't make it easy for the disabled, writes Lia Timson.

A NEW study has found that most websites fail to meet basic accessibility
guidelines. The audit - commissioned by the United Nations - reviewed 100
leading travel, banking, media, government and retail websites in 20
countries including Australia.

It found only three sites measured reasonably against the benchmark for web
accessibility (w3.org/TR/WCAG10). They were government sites in Germany
(bundeskanzlerin.de), Spain (la-moncloa.es/default.htm) and Britain

The audit found 78 per cent of sites used colour combinations of poor
contrast, making it difficult for those who are vision-impaired or
colour-blind to read content.

About 87 per cent of sites caused pop-up windows to appear without warning,
causing disorientation for those using screen magnification software, and 92
per cent of the sites failed to provide keyboard shortcuts, making it
impossible for those who can't use a mouse to navigate the sites.

It also found 93 per cent of the sites did not provide adequate text
descriptions of the images. These are required so that text-to-speech
software used by the vision-impaired can interpret the images.

"The simple truth is that the leading websites around the world are not
accessible to many persons with disabilities," the report concluded. "Many
of the sites could be easily upgraded to remove obstacles ... however, the
majority of sites need considerable work."

Andrew Arch, manager of online accessibility consulting at Vision Australia,
says he is not surprised by the findings.

"This is quite common, unfortunately," he says. "It happens because web
designers are not aware that blind people or people who can't use a mouse
actually want to use their site or (designers) don't know what to do or
their technology doesn't allow (accessibility)."

Mr Arch says all internet users need better colour contrast and larger
typefaces after the age of 40. "After 40 our ability to see contrast
decreases," he says. "Use of pale colours means older people are unlikely to
see the content."

Anyone should be able to press the tab key and navigate to any page on a
site without the need for the mouse, Mr Arch says. "We have all the
technology in the world but if we can't use it, it's not worthwhile."

A Forrester Research study commissioned by Microsoft in the US found that
one in four adult computer users has difficulty with vision and one in four
has problems with dexterity.

The research helped shape the upgrades in the recently released Vista
operating system. It now includes a better screen magnifier and a narrator,
which reads on-screen text in a more natural voice than the robot-like
rendition of Windows XP. It also has speech recognition to help those who
cannot type.

Windows XP's features are described by Microsoft as being at a "minimum
level of functionality". Mr Arch says despite improvements in operating
systems and web browsers such as Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox, disabled
users need specialist speech-recognition software such as Jaws
(freedomscientific.com) and Dragon Naturally Speaking (australia.nuance.com)
if they use computers regularly.

The maker of Dragon hopes to revolutionise the way everyone, including
disabled people, uses mobile phones. Dragon's manufacturer, Nuance, has
launched a speech-recognition system for mobile phones. Users will be able
to speak into their 3G handsets to conduct internet searches, send text
messages, dictate and send emails, and navigate other features. The product
is more accurate than some phones' voice recognition functions and is not
limited to the device's address book, power or memory capacity.

The regional director of Nuance's speech division, Peter Chidiac, says the
system installs Dragon directly onto teleco networks. Some companies have
already adopted it and he hopes telcos such as Telstra, Optus and Vodafone
will take it up as well.

"Typing on the mobile is unnatural," Mr Chidiac says. "The big issue is
people sending an SMS in a car. Now they'll have eyes-and-hands-free

Jan Whitaker
JLWhitaker Associates, Melbourne Victoria
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com
personal: http://www.janwhitaker.com/personal/
commentary: http://janwhitaker.com/jansblog/

'Seed planting is often the most important step. Without the seed, 
there is no plant.' - JW, April 2005
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