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How Disabled Users Access The Internet


In 1995 a new era of accessibility for disabled people began. The Disability Discrimination Act was passed, stating that:

"It is unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public."

A website is regarded as a service and the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and DRC (Disability Rights Commission) have been quick to apply pressure on to organisations to push this law into practice. Indeed, the DRC has now published its formal investigation into 1000 websites (http://www.drc-gb.org/publicationsandreports/2.pdf).

So, how do disabled people access the Internet? There are a number of different ways depending on their particular disability:

Blind users

Internet users who have no sight at all utilize a screen reader, which reads the content of the web page, or rather the HTML (HyperText Markup Language) code of the page, back to them. These machines sift through the HTML code and the technology deciphers what needs to be read aloud and what should be ignored. IBM's screen reader can be downloaded for a free 30-day trial at http://www-3.ibm.com/able/solution_offerings/hpr.html. Once you have downloaded it, go to your website, turn your monitor off, and try to navigate your website.

Partial/poor sight

To take full advantage of the Internet, users with partial or poor sight need to be able to enlarge the text on web pages. To verify that your website allows them to achieve this on Internet Explorer, go to View > Font size > Largest. If your site is accessible to this group of users then the size of the text throughout the page will increase. Users with poor vision can also use a screen magnifier. You can download a free screen magnifier at http://www.magnifiers.org/links/Download_Software/Screen_Magnifiers/ and see for yourself.

Colour blindness

It is estimated that one in 12 men and one in 200 women have some form of colour blindness (http://www.iee.org/Policy/Areas/Health/cvdintro.cfm). You can check how Internet users with different strains of colour blindness are viewing your website at http://www.tesspub.com/colours.html.

Deaf users

Deaf users are able to access the Internet in much the same way as able-bodied people with one key exception - audio content. If it is a key function of your website for people to be able to hear a message, then be sure to provide written transcripts.

Keyboard/voice only users

Some of your site users do not have access to a mouse when browsing the Internet. Try putting yourself in their position by navigating your website using only tab, shift-tab, and the return keys.

Other users

Other people who may access your website that have disadvantages include:

  • Epileptic users who must always be careful to avoid seeing flickering between 2 and 55 Hz

  • Web users from outside your industry who may not understand industry jargon or acronyms

  • Web users whose first language is not English and who may not be able to comprehend complicated language

    To really put yourself in the position of one of these web users try out the DRC's inaccessible website demonstration at www.drc-gb.org/open4all/newsroom/website6.asp.

    About The Author

    This article was written by Trenton Moss. He's crazy about web usability and accessibility - so crazy that he went and started his own web usability and accessibility consultancy (Webcredible - http://www.webcredible.co.uk) to help make the Internet a better place for everyone.


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