Human-Computer Interaction: Communication, Cooperation, and Application Design

By Hans-Jörg Bullinger; Jürgen Ziegler | Go to book overview

Universal access in the Information Society

Constantine Stephanidis Institute of Computer Science, Foundation for Research and Technology -- Hellas, Science and Technology Park of Crete, GR-71110, Heraklion, Crete, Greece, e-mail:cs@ics.forth.gr


1 Introduction

In the past, accessibility was primarily concerned with the selection of suitable equipment to enable alternative computer access, for people with disabilities. As a result, it was mainly considered as an afterthought and reflected a reactive approach, whereby Assistive Technology solutions addressed problems introduced by a previous generation of technology ( Stephanidis 1995, Akoumianakis and Stephanidis, 1999). This reactive approach entails primarily adaptations, which facilitate access to the interface via suitable mechanisms, (e.g., filtering), dedicated interaction techniques (e.g., scanning) and specialised input/output devices (e.g., braille displays, switches, eye-gaze systems). Typically, the result of adaptations includes the reconfiguration of the physical layer of interaction, and when necessary, the translation of the visual interface manifestation to an alternative modality. For example, access to a Graphical User Interface (GUI) by a blind user requires "filtering" of the contents of the screen, using appropriate software (e.g., screen reader), so as to present them in an alternative modality (e.g., tactile, audio). Despite the short term benefits that such a posteriori adaptations may bring about, it is important to mention that there are serious shortcomings which render this approach inadequate in the long run. Some of these shortcomings have been identified in the relevant Human- Computer Interaction (HCI) bibliography. For the purposes of this paper, it is important to add the following: First of all, adaptations introduce a programming-intensive approach towards accessibility, which increases the cost of implementing and maintaining accessible software. Secondly, technological progress may render adaptations harder to implement; there may be restrictions imposed either by the target application or by the operating system. Finally, it is increasingly recognised that in the context of the emerging Information Society, accessibility should no longer be considered as mere translation of visual interface manifestations to alternative modalities (e.g., a posteriori adaptations),

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