Accessible Web Site Design

Article excerpt

The World Wide Web (WWW) is a wonderful tool for classroom use. Students can explore many virtual libraries and museums and conduct research. The WWW has the ability to bring information to everyone who has access to a computer. The Web and other telecommunications applications like e-mail can help students with disabilities in many ways. When a Web site is designed correctly, there is very little discrepancy between users with disabilities and those people temporarily without disabilities. Computers and the WWW can be a great equalizer in the classroom and in the world. Figure 1 provides information about users with disabilities who have used telecommunications applications to overcome barriers (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1994). The of We She

Many people with disabilities have difficulties accessing information over the Internet because of poor Web site designs. Many of the site designs actually create barriers for information access (Paciello, 1996). Students with visual and cognitive disabilities have the greatest barriers to overcome to gain access to information (Paciello). There is very little that users can do to change site design to accommodate their own needs. Site designers must accommodate the user. Educators who wish to create Web sites that are accessible need to follow a few simple site design rules so that all students can access information. Educators can run "Bobby" (http://www.cast.org/bobby) to find out whether their site designs are accessible. "Bobby" is a Web site validator (Center for Applied Special Technology, 1997).

Users who wish to validate their Web site with accessibility requirements type the specific URL they want validated into the form provided. * "Bobby" goes to that URL and validates whether it meets the accessibility requirements. Images of a blue hat with the "handicapped" sign on them appear next to areas that are not accessible.

* "Bobby" also provides written reports as to what is wrong and how to fix the problem.

"Bobby" also contains an advanced validator that validates the code for specific browser types. If a site meets with "Bobby" specifications, the site designers are invited to use the "Bobby Approved" logo on the site (Center for Applied Special Technology, 1997).

Second, educators can help students indirectly by educating site designers about information-access barriers on the WWW and how to overcome those barriers. A barrier that people with visual disabilities face is not being able to access the information because of its graphical format. People with auditory problems cannot access the information in sound files. People with attentiondeficit disorder can become easily distracted from the information by the use of continual animations. Users with cognitive disabilities may become lost due to poor navigation controls. People with physical disabilities face the barrier of not being able to run the browser that would give them access to the information. Visual Disabilities

People with visual disabilities have difficulties accessing information published on the WWW because the Web is a highly visual medium. Web pages are designed to be visually stimulating which can make them difficult to read. Many people with visual disabilities access information from the WWW by using screen readers or refreshable Braille displays. These machines can only access and read text. When the machine arrives at a graphic, the machine either ignores the graphic or informs the user that it is reading a graphic and has no description to read. This cuts down on the usability of the WWW because graphics are used to convey much information. Graphics. Web site designers can alleviate the problem of interpreting graphics for people with visual disabilities by using the IMG ALT tag when creating WWW pages (see Table 1 for an illustration of this tag). This tag allows the designer to embed a text description of the image into the image source code so that a screen reader will be able to describe the picture. …