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By Lazzaro, Joseph J. | Information Technology and Disabilities, October 1996 | Go to article overview

Job Accommodations


Lazzaro, Joseph J., Information Technology and Disabilities


Access to Windows and Windows 95 continues to be at the forefront of vocational rehabilitation for the blind and visually impaired. The disability community has long been aware of the problems that the graphical user interface has presented for computer users with limited vision. In order to solve the accessibility problem, MicroSoft has created Active Accessibility, a series of hooks that will enable adaptive hardware and software to more easily communicate with the Windows 95 operating system. Active Accessibility holds the promise of increased reliability, stability, and increased efficiency in general. It should be noted that several screen reader developers have indicated publicly and privately that they will be supporting Active Accessibility in their screen reader software programs. MicroSoft has also incorporated many of the features from their older Windows Access Pack, and have made them part of the default Windows 95 installation. It should be noted with pride that many of the utilities now available in Windows 3.1, 95, Macintosh, and Unix began life at the Trace Research & Development Center in Madison Wisconsin. Funded by NIDRR, the Trace Center is responsible for increasing access across the board, although it is not widely known. With all this in mind, we bring you two articles that were previously published in Byte Magazine. The first article describes the basic accessibility features that are currently built into Windows 95. The second article appeared in the December 1996 issue, and describes two accessible web browsers--MicroSoft Internet Explorer, and Productivity Works PWWebSpeak. Internet Explorer is the first MicroSoft product to have Active Accessibility hooks built-in, and works with Windows 95 based screen readers. PWWebSpeak is a talking internet browser that provides both speech and enlarged video output.

Joseph J. Lazzaro

If you run an office staffed with more than 15 employees, you must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This may require that you provide adaptive hardware and software on office workers' computers. Such equipment enables workers with disabilities to accomplish many tasks independently. For example, if you are blind, it can transform on-screen text to synthesized speech or braille. If you can't hear, adaptive hardware transforms a computer's audible cues into a visual format. So far, adaptive technology has consisted of third-party add-ons to OSes, with the exception of the Mac. This has resulted in adaptive equipment that only sometimes works. Fortunately, because of lobbying by the disabled community, OS vendors have begun to embed adaptive-access features directly into their OSes. This makes such features widely available right out of the box, more reliable, and a lot less expensive. Microsoft began to build a suite of disability-access features starting with Windows 3.x. Win 95 offers access to a built-in set of utilities that accommodate users with hearing, motor, and some visual disabilities. Furthermore, the Win 95 Help system includes information on these built-in accessibility features. The control and configuration of most of these features are centralized in an Accessibility Options Control Panel, as shown in the screen. This Control Panel lets you activate or deactivate specific access features and customize timings and feedback for certain utilities. It also lets you set hot keys so that you can activate these features quickly.

Keyboard and Mouse

Using a keyboard requires a significant amount of hand dexterity, particularly when using the modifier keys, such as Shift, Control, and Alt. For persons unable to use a standard keyboard or mouse easily--if at all--several Win 95 utilities can help by altering the keyboard's behavior. You can configure these utilities in a pane on the Accessibility Options Control Panel. The StickyKeys utility, for instance, helps you type capital letters or manage complex key sequences, like Control-Alt-Delete, that require the use of both hands. …

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