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dg.o Web

Internet Access for People with Disabilities

Final Report

Submitted to:
Ministry of Women's Equality

Penney and Associates, Ltd.

August, 1996

Executive Summary


Methodology for the Study

Background/Context Issues

Access Issues and Barriers

Access and Training Suggestions


References and Resources

Appendix 1: Adaptive Equipment Costs

Appendix 2: Additional Sources of Information

Appendix 3: Design of HTML (Mosaic) Pages

Appendix 4: Web sites

Executive Summary

In preparation for launching its Internet small grants program, the Ministry of Women's Equality commissioned a brief research study to identify the unique access problems faced by people with disabilities and to suggest ways these barriers might be overcome. During the short timelines of the project, the consultants conducted a telephone survey of as many disability organizations as could be contacted in two weeks. Input from consumers and other professionals was gleaned from requests for information from several disability mailing lists; an on-line search for articles and other resources was conducted. As people with disabilities are often also members of the other equity groups, special consideration was also given to barriers which confront women, aboriginal peoples and visible minority people.

Knowledge of Internet access issues for people with disabilities varied considerably, but the analysis yielded the following general barriers:

  • access to the basic equipment
  • access to adaptive technology
  • economics
  • lack of appropriate and accessible training
  • attitudinal barriers
  • language
  • design and rapid pace of change on the Web

Barriers specific to each disability group were discussed separately. The graphical User Interface (GUI), in particular, causes several problems for people who are blind, while real audio is not accessible to those who are deaf unless captioning is provided. In addition, people with severe physical disabilities need much more time to access the features of the Internet if manipulation of the mouse or keyboard is slow.

Suggestions for making the Internet more accessible included: text descriptions where graphics are used; negotiation with Internet service providers to allow more time at reduced rates for people with disabilities; captioning; plain language on the Net; accessible facilities; and access to training. It was also suggested that Internet training materials be provided in alternate formats such as cassette tape, ASCII text on disk, large print or Braille.

Access to the Internet for people with disabilities is so important that awareness of the barriers and how to eradicate them is a valuable first step in making information and discussion groups available to everyone. Internet providers, web site designers, trainers, and others, particularly those groups who will be providing access sites must be made aware of the issues and how they can contribute to equal access. This report provides information about existing barriers and issues, and presents some possible solutions. Included in this report are sources of further information, references, disability web sites and examples of accessible home pages. For up-to-date information regarding costs of web browsers and adaptive equipment, it is recommended that readers consult product suppliers.

A theme running through the entire document is that people with disabilities have individual needs and abilities which makes it impossible to recommend specific equipment or Internet software for general use by everyone.


The Ministry of Women's Equality is launching a small grants program designed to increase access to the resources of the Internet for women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and immigrant and visible minorities people by working through non-profit organizations which serve these groups. The Ministry recognizes that people with disabilities face unique access issues and, in preparation for launching the program, has funded a research project to identify these barriers and possible ways of overcoming them. The Ministry has asked for an analysis that pays special attention to the needs of women, visible minorities, and aboriginal people with disabilities. This paper presents the results of that research project.

Methodology for the Study

The objectives of the study were as follows:

  • to identify barriers faced by people with disabilities as they try to access the Internet
  • to identify and cost out potential hardware/software/training solutions
  • to find out if there are special barriers faced by women, and by visible minority and aboriginal people with disabilities

To achieve these objectives, the researchers:

  • compiled and carried out a telephone survey of organizations and individuals with special knowledge of the area. In many cases, individuals were contacted by telephone, then sent the interview questions by fax, then contacted again to conduct the interview. One person was sent the interview questions by e-mail and responded by e-mail.
  • consulted major journals
  • conducted an on-line search of the Internet itself by using newsgroups and the World Wide Web
  • prepared a report summarizing the key issues, barriers, and possible solutions

The key questions addressed in the telephone/e-mail survey were:

  1. What are the key barriers facing people with disabilities who want to access the Internet?
  2. For each barrier:
    • explain the nature of the barrier and which disability group(s) it affects
    • does this affect women more than men? and, if so, why?
    • is there a solution (e.g., hardware, software, training, etc.) that you know of? what is the cost of this solution?
  3. Are there any barriers specific to visible minority or aboriginal persons or people who are multiply-disadvantaged?
  4. What adaptive equipment and software would you recommend for people in your disability area to access the Internet? (basic, not Cadillac version....)
  5. Are there any articles or written material you can recommend to augment our information?
  6. Are there any other people we should talk to?

The interviews took many forms. With organizations/individuals who had relevant experience and expertise to share, full interviews were done. For those who felt they had limited experience, partial interviews were conducted. Some of those contacted felt they had little or no relevant experience but referred us to people who might have the information we needed. It should be noted that several respondents were uncomfortable answering question #4, since they felt that the needs of the client groups of each community/agency would vary and that providing costly adaptive equipment which might not be used would be an inappropriate use of limited resources.

The following organizations/individuals responded via telephone or e-mail:


Contact (s)

PH. #

UBC Disability Resource Centre

Steve Estey


Office for Disability Issues

Dave Symington - conference call with Joe Coughlin & Steve Reid


Special Education Technology BC -Adult Services Project (SETBC-ASP)

Mike Shean & Deanna Kemp


Neil Squire Foundation

Angie Allard who consulted with others including Ex. Dir. Gary Birch


Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)

John Lyon who responded by e-mail


BC Rehabilitation Society

Jeff Riley


BC Educational Association for Disabled Students (BCEADS)

Lori Sheppard



Winston Leckie


Action Committee of People with Disabilities

Carol Godon & Dianne Young


Community Resource Network

Chrystal Bolduc


Adult Learning Disabilities Association (ALDA)

Paul Gallagher


BC Paraplegic Association

Maureen Brownlee


Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Sandra Baker


Rita Dilek, graduate student in Computer Science, UBC


These organizations referred us to others they felt were more knowledgeable in the area:

  • BC Coalition of People with Disabilities
  • Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of BC
  • Standing Committee on Educational Technology (through which we were referred to Rita Dilek, UBC graduate student)
  • Burnaby Society for Community Living
  • Human Resources Development Canada
  • Polaris Employment Services

The following organizations were contacted but, due to vacation schedules or other time pressures, were unable to respond within the short time frame of the study:

  • BC Aboriginal Network on Disability
  • Canadian Congress on Learning Opportunities for Women
  • Women's Education and Training Coalition
  • BC Labour Force Development Board (Reps for Visible Minority Persons and Persons with Disabilities)
  • Employment and Educational Access Programs for Women
  • Open Learning Agency (OLA)
  • Disabled Women's Network (DAWN)
  • BC Head Injury Association

The literature review began with standard ERIC and KNOWLEDGE INDEX on-line searches, but it soon became clear that the most current and "on-target" information was to be had by searching the Internet itself. Various news groups and mailing lists were consulted and web sites suggested by interviewees were followed up by searching the Net. Sources of additional information are listed in Appendix 2. Several web sites dedicated to accessibility issues have been identified and explored (for details, see Appendix 5 ).

As the information was synthesized, it became clear that the pace of change in this field is tremendous. Techniques that were "the best" yesterday are surpassed by something new today. Also, software which one user finds ideal has severe limitations when appraised by another. As mentioned previously, each person's needs must be assessed individually to arrive at the best configuration for that person. We, therefore, make general suggestions only, and do so in the full (and rather daunting) knowledge that recommendations made today may be obsolete tomorrow. The web sites identified are the best way to keep current with new developments.

Background/Context Issues

Accessing the Internet

The Internet is essentially a collection of computer networks which are connected together; when a user "logs on", s(he) has the ability to search through all the computers on the network. In order to use the Internet, a person must have access to a personal computer that is a 286 or better (or the Apple equivalent), a modem, a telephone connection, and an account with a "service provider" (a company that charges the user a fee for providing a connection into the network of computers). Once connected, a user can send messages to others who have electronic mail addresses, join mailing lists on specific topics, download or upload files, access newsgroups, and explore the worldwide web. To do the latter, the user needs a "web browser", software which simplifies the process of "navigating" through the huge array of information which makes up "The Net".

For people with disabilities, having access to large amounts of current information on a variety of topics opens up a world of resources not previously available. However, just as people with disabilities face obstacles when trying to enter public buildings, so too, they face special problems when trying to access this public information base. Before going into detail about these problems and their resolution, it is necessary to establish our definition of "people with disabilities", and to explain the concept of adaptive technology.

People with Disabilities

The UBC Disability Resource Centre provides the following definition:

"Persons with disabilities are persons who:

a) have a significant and persistent mobility, sensory, learning, or other physical or mental health impairment which may be permanent or temporary in nature; AND

b) experience functional restrictions or limitations of their ability to perform the range of life's activities; AND

c) may experience attitudinal and/or environmental barriers which hamper their full and self-directed participation."

(Teaching students with disabilities, 1993, p.9)

It is important to remember that people with partial vision, blind persons, people who are deaf, people who are hard of hearing, people with learning disabilities, those with cognitive disabilities, those with differing degrees of mobility problems - all have different disabilities, and, more importantly, different abilities. Things that are barriers to some may be inconsequential to others. Strategies that solve problems for one group may create problems for another. And most importantly, each person is an individual with different capabilities and different needs.

Adaptive Technology

Adaptive technology can be defined as hardware and software that makes it easier for people with disabilities to perform certain functions, or makes the ability to perform those functions accessible (EASI, 1995). Just as a short-sighted person would put on a pair of glasses to correct the problem, a person with a visual impairment might use a closed circuit TV magnification system to read a book. Or, just as the beep on a microwave oven tells a hearing person that the food is ready, so a light flashing in the kitchen above the door may indicate to a deaf person that someone is at the door and has just "rung" the doorbell. Advances in modern technology have provided equipment that has changed the way able-bodied people do things, and along with that, has provided equipment that has both increased the independence and functionality of people with disabilities.

For those who are housebound due to a severe physical disability, or for those whose disability prevents them from reading print and for others as well, the Internet has increased access to information beyond imagination. Books, journals, newspapers and other information that were not accessible to some people with disabilities before the advent of the Internet are now available. One can download information and read it at leisure, but access comes at a price. It takes more time for someone using morse code as a method of keyboard access to execute commands or scroll through information. Using a speech program to read the screen one line at a time is also a time-consuming activity. If the information is in real audio format and is uncaptioned, it cannot be accessed by a deaf person at all, regardless of the time it took to find it. Even if one has enough time, and if access is not a problem, the cost of the equipment required to make the computer itself accessible may prevent many people from exploring sites on the Internet. Adaptive technology, depending upon what is required, can cost from $200 to $12,000.

People with disabilities may need not only the basic computer system but also some form of adaptive technology in order to access the Internet. Specific details on barriers and needs are presented below. However, it is important to remember that each person's disability is different and the solution to providing access differs with the individual.

Access Issues and Barriers


People with disabilities constantly face social, physical, and technical barriers (EASI, 1995). Respondents to the interviews agreed that the biggest barrier faced by people with disabilities is access to the basic equipment needed to "get connected". People with disabilities have little access to computers at all let alone computers powerful enough to access the Internet. The "entry level machine" for those who want full access to the graphic capabilities of the World Wide Web is now thought to be a 486 with 8 MG of RAM (or the Macintosh equivalent). For disabled persons who are not working or who are living on a fixed income such an investment in computer equipment may be unrealistic. If the person is a student, employed, or self-employed, there are loan programs available which supply computers capable of accessing the Internet. Equipment is available for loan from other consumer organizations/agencies, but it is often "low end" equipment.

So-called "public access points" are not always physically accessible. A person using a wheelchair or a motorized scooter may not be able to enter the building or the room housing the computer system. In addition, transportation to get to the library or drop-in center may be a problem. Assuming physical accessibility, the computer system available may not have the adaptive equipment needed by each individual and there may not be someone available who can teach the would-be user, especially if the user needs instruction on the adaptive equipment as well as Internet training. Some organizations told us that they have a computer but it is already fully utilized in everyday office operation and they would be unable to devote it to use by clients seeking to access the Internet.

The next most frequently mentioned barrier was access to the adaptive equipment which makes it possible for people with disabilities to use computer systems. This is a barrier for people on fixed income because adaptive technology may be expensive, especially the hardware and software necessary to implement voice recognition or Braille output. In addition, there are problems with some kinds of adaptive technology which are not compatible with the Internet (e.g., a screen reader used by a blind person may not recognize colours and coloured text is often used to indicate link points on home pages).

Intimately tied to the above barriers is the issue of economics. Both the basic computer equipment and the adaptive technology have cost implications. Our CNIB contact said:

"Many blind persons are unemployed, and cannot afford the computer or the expensive adaptive technology to make it work. The minimum cost for decent DOS and Windows access is about $1150. This includes synthetic speech software and hardware. If one needs to use Braille output, such as the PowerBraille, (and anyone who is deaf and blind needs to use Braille) the cost goes up to over $8,000 just for the braille device. This does not include the computer."

If the person is not able to purchase equipment for use at home, even travelling to a public access point to use an available system increases the cost of Internet use.

However, over and above these costs, there is the additional cost of "connect time", that is, the hourly charge paid to the service provider. This may be more of a burden for the disabled user who lacks finger dexterity and requires a longer time to go through the steps to download information. In addition, many adaptive technologies need extra time to process information and since the clock is ticking, the disabled user will pay more. If that user is located in a remote area, long distance charges may be added to the total bill.

Some respondents felt that the issue of economics might differentially affect women since, statistically speaking, they generally have lower earning power. One agency respondent also indicated that disabled males are more likely to be employed than disabled females and therefore would be more likely to have the disposable income to afford the high cost of "being connected". The additional costs of long distance charges was mentioned by one respondent as a possible extra burden for Aboriginal persons trying to access the Internet from remote reserves. One respondent felt visible minorities people who were recent immigrants to the country in the "refugee" category might be significantly disenfranchised by the cost factor.

Another barrier to Internet access by persons with disabilities is the lack of appropriate and accessible training. Some Internet training providers offer courses but our respondents indicated that there are not enough of them, and that they are not usually available in formats that could benefit people with disabilities. If the equipment used in training courses is not adapted for their use, people with disabilities cannot take the course. In addition to the basic training, the person with a disability may need training on how to use the appropriate adaptive equipment. One female respondent pointed out that training needs to be available in the day time as well as at night since she felt unsafe travelling to the available training after dark. Specialized training in the use of adaptive technology is available from programs like the Neil Squire Computer Comfort Program and the Program for Visually Impaired Adults at Vancouver Community College but Internet instruction is not provided. Training, too, adds to the cost of accessing the Internet for persons with disabilities. Those who do access the Internet are often self-taught and learn by "trial and error".

In addition, respondents and the literature pointed out attitudinal barriers of various kinds. People without disabilities who develop computer applications and the training on how to use them are woefully ignorant of the needs of people with various kinds of disabilities. Society as a whole has a distressingly patronizing attitude, assuming that people with disabilities will not be interested in or capable of accessing information technologies like the Internet. As a result, the systems and the training are designed without taking into account the needs of disabled people.

People in general are often reticent to approach information technologies for fear of showing ignorance or due to anxiety about their ability to understand "what happens inside the box". This fear may be more intense for people with disabilities since they are faced with all the additional barriers to access. Women may be less likely to approach the technology than men for a number of reasons (some statistics show that 75% of computer users are male). Traditional gender roles, reinforced by parents, teachers, school counsellors, etc. may have "steered" women away from the math/science/computers stream in school thus depriving them of the background knowledge that would make learning basic computer operations easy. One respondent (male) noted that all the people he consulted for technical information in his work were male. He did, however, draw our attention to a recent and highly regarded technical book by a female author, but he noted that she was the "exception to the rule". Another female respondent who works in the computer field said it was daunting to enter the "male-dominated" world of computers when she took her training; even the classroom was filled predominately with male students. This may be a special problem for women from visible minority groups in whose culture traditional female roles predominate.

Language was thought to be a barrier by some respondents. For a deaf person whose first language is ASL (American Sign Language) accessing information which is primarily in English and at a fairly high level of complexity might be a problem. Another respondent pointed out the relatively low rate of literacy in English within the deaf community which would make a text-based information system harder to comprehend. The same issue would face members of a visible minority group or aboriginal people whose first language is not English.

The design and rapid pace of change on the Web itself may also be a barrier to access. Adaptive technology is designed to make life easier, and information more accessible to people with disabilities. Unfortunately, however, developers of adaptive technology are not always able to keep pace with new developments and updates to modern technology designed for use by the average person. Where once adaptive technology helped a person with a disability to become more competitive at school or at work, there is now a concern that doors once opened will be closed preventing them from the access they have begun to expect. A simple example of this is the increasing use of graphics and interactive technology on the many web sites available on the Internet. Screen readers, word prediction software, and other access technology software cannot interpret graphics but only text. If the graphics are not tagged by text descriptions, therefore, they become inaccessible. If interactive videos are not captioned, they are less accessible to the deaf and the hard of hearing. For people who are blind, if there are no keyboard equivalents for mouse operations, or if the interactive videos do not have a descriptive track explaining what is happening on the screen when there is no dialogue, some Internet sites can only be used with great difficulty. On the one hand, the Internet has opened up enormous opportunities for people to access books, journals, or other information, creating expectations of access that will continue. On the other hand, new developments in technology or software being used on the Internet prevent access.

Also mentioned was the "Internet as anarchy" theme. The Internet is growing and changing at a rapid rate with very little control to ensure the accuracy and currentness of data available let alone guidelines for equal access. Guidelines for accessible Web sites are, however, being developed and will be discussed below.

Barriers specific to the blind and visually-impaired

The ability to access huge volumes of print material electronically - when combined with screen reader technology which "reads" the material aloud - is a great boon to those with visual impairments. E-mail, mailing lists, and newsgroups are usually (except as noted below) no problem as long as the retrieval software is text-based. The personal interaction gained through personal messages or mailing list discussions is both stimulating and rewarding.

The big problem, however (and it is a major one), arises with the increasing dependence of the Internet - especially the World Wide Web - on a graphical user interface (GUI). HTML, Hypertext Mark-up Language, is the code that is most often used to create pages on the web. Hypertext links on the page may also link to other pages where additional information can be found. If these links are graphic buttons or other images, they are inaccessible to the blind user because the screen readers can not voice graphics unless they are "tagged" with a text description which must be added during the design of the page. The additional information might include images, motion videos, and sounds as well as text files. Some "browsers" , like LYNX and Net-Tamer, are text-based and these offer potential help with navigating around the screen. However, that information which is only in graphics, real audio, or video cannot be found or accessed through a DOS-based browser.

The layout of the page can also be a problem if the information is displayed in table or column form. Screen readers generally read from left to right across the line, making tables and columns almost impossible to decipher. Also, as blind users who use a Windows-based web browser like Netscape are not generally able to use the mouse, descriptions like "click here" are meaningless. A link description that contains enough information to make it clear what the link is, works much better.

In-line images, image maps, and Portable Document files may present difficulties unless they are described using text or available in text format on the existing or an alternate page. Another concern is that some designers are using different coding to create non-standard viewers. Unless text access is built into these codes, those pages will remain inaccessible.

Although most forms may be filled in by a blind user, it is helpful to give an optional E-mail address or telephone contact so that the user may provide the information requested in another way.

The one emerging problem with e-mail brought to our attention by one respondent was the tendency of e-mail authors to excerpt faxes (in whole or in part) for inclusion in their e-mails. Because these faxes are re-produced in graphic form (like taking a picture of them and pasting it on the page), they are not accessible to screen readers and, therefore, to the blind user.

The Windows interface is a difficult environment for speech software users although newer versions of Windows have various access features like a font enlarger which may help some low vision individuals. The tradeoff is getting only a small portion of the information on the screen at a given time.

Barriers specific to the deaf and hard of hearing

Audio output or sound tracks (which are emerging more and more frequently on the Net) might be a great solution for the visually impaired but present a problem for deaf and hard of hearing persons. Adding text (captioning) alleviates this problem. Captioning on the Web is currently being "championed" by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM).

One respondent also said that there is a lower level of literacy among the deaf and hard of hearing, so the level of complexity of the language may be a special problem for those people. One small problem for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is that they may not be able to detect "beeps" which act like warning sounds to indicate an error has been made. Newer software, like Windows 95 provides a flashing light. The Macintosh has always had that feature. Also mentioned by one respondent was the need for TTY direct lines to companies offering Internet services for troubleshooting purposes.

Barriers specific to those with learning disabilities

Information gathered in the area of learning disorders was extremely varied. A learning disabled Internet user provided the following insights:

"Students with Learning Disabilities (LD) learn differently than most people. Some are very visual oriented, while some prefer an auditory mode. Some like information presented sequentially; others like a non-linear approach. For some, the Internet is difficult because they "need to see the whole picture"; for others who benefit from a "part-to-whole" approach, it will be beneficial. There is no easy answer. By and large, students with reading difficulties find the computer less "user friendly" in many regards than the printed text. They often need to follow along with their finger or a pencil, to underline, highlight, etc. This is not possible on the computer. Studies have shown that students (in general) are less effective readers on the computer than with paper and pencil.

People with LD generally learn best with instant feedback --- question followed by immediate answer. In that sense it would seen logical that the Internet would be a good learning tool where the student had the opportunity to get the feedback right away, rather than having to go to the library, or wait for someone else to become available. A computer that is fast and efficient would also benefit the students with LD. If it takes too much time for the "screen" to come up, some students will have forgotten what they are looking for, or their attention may have wandered elsewhere. Students with disabilities have lots of frustrations in life, and a slow, ineffective computer system would likely cause a lot more unneeded frustration."

(Personal communication from a learning disabled Internet user)

Another perspective was provided by the Equal Access to Software and Information project:

"Some people have learning disabilities that negatively influence visual processing disorders. Such people would have problems understanding many materials that are presented in a visual format..."

(EASI, 1995)

Some respondents mentioned the overall complexity of the Internet and the high level of "information sifting and sorting skills" it requires which might cause problems for persons with a learning disability. Others felt that the need to sequence actions and remember sequences could be a problem.

However, the consensus seemed to be that learning disabilities are so individual that is it difficult to make general statements about possible barriers.

Barriers specific to those with mobility impairments/physical disabilities

For wheelchair users, a key barrier is access to the building housing the computer system and access to the equipment itself. If a public access computer is placed in an inaccessible building, it will be of little or no value to the wheelchair user. Similarly, if the table configuration is such that a wheelchair cannot fit underneath it, access will be impeded.

For those with a physical disability which impairs finger dexterity or hand movement, using a keyboard &/or a mouse may present difficulty. Various kinds of adaptive keyboard equipment and alternate pointing devices are available and will be described below. However, interaction with the computer system may be slower than it would be for those without the disability and therefore the costs will increase.

In addition, some adaptive equipment such as voice recognition, requires a more powerful computer which also increases the cost.

Barriers for the Multiply-Disadvantaged

One respondent pointed out the potential problem of a low vision user who also has a learning disability. For the low vision user, screen enlargement options are a potential solution, but if that means only a small part of the information is accessible on the screen at a time, the user may experience comprehension difficulties due to the learning disability. When slow processing time is added to this and the additional costs factored in, this becomes a significant barrier. A Deaf-Blind person will face barriers encountered by both disability groups and will require Braille display technology which is more costly than speech access software.

Access and Training Suggestions

Adaptive Equipment

The respondents to the interviews felt very strongly that there was no easy universal solution to these barriers. Some general suggestions can be made but they pointed out that everyone's disability is different. Each person needs a personal assessment and an opportunity to try out adaptive equipment which might work. Several agencies offer such services, including BC Rehab and Neil Squire Foundation.

General suggestions in the area of adaptive equipment included (for approximate costs see Appendix 1):

  1. Screen readers or a Braille display for the blind
  2. Screen enlargement software for low vision persons
  3. Word prediction software for some people with physical disabilities and for those with certain kinds of learning disabilities. With such software, a user types 1 or 2 letters to begin a word and then is presented with several words from which to choose the desired one; this reduces the overall amount of keyboarding required.
  4. Various alternate pointing devices (alternatives for the mouse) and keyboard "assists" for people who have limited hand functioning. Some examples include:
    • large track balls
    • sip & puff devices
    • the "jouse" (a combination joystick and mouse developed by the Neil Squire Foundation)
    • switching devices
    • scanning software that creates a graphic keyboard on the screen and allows a user to scan through alphabetically to choose the desired letters
    • software which provides "sticky keys", an alternative to keyboard functions that require the simultaneous depressing of 2 keys
    • software which allows a user to "kill" the key repeat function so that if a person's hands rest on the keyboard a little longer than usual the user doesn't get a whole string of one letter on the screen
    • "key guard"s that ensure that only one key is depressed at a time
    • morse code input devices
  5. Voice recognition systems for those who experience difficulty with keyboarding

Accessible Browsers

The increasing use of the graphical user interface (GUI) on the World Wide Web is a major problem for visually impaired Internet users.

Text-based browsers like Lynx can be used by blind persons to navigate the Web since they provide an option to number all links. By doing this, any screen reader will indicate that a phrase is a link by announcing its corresponding number. Then, the user can choose that link by typing the number. For graphical browsers, the links are not usually numbered. Some browsers allow a person to move from link to link with the tab key. However, it is up to the screen reader software to do the work of finding the links; some do this better than others. If the graphics are not tagged with text descriptions, the links cannot be identified at all. An Internet user who responded to our posted request for help told us that "JAWS for Windows allows the user to move from link to link with the tab and shift-tab keys."

New versions of browsers are coming on the market at a dizzying rate and their functionality changes quickly. The following summary is current to July, 1996:

"In 1995 the "NSCA Mosaic 2.0 Web Browser introduced a wide range of features designed to ensure the information was accessible. This included keyboard equivalents for all functions and easy access to changing the font size. When it was released the Mosaic 2.0 browser included most of the functionality featured in the leading web Netscape browser. Netscape has since added a wide range of additional functions in their new browsers without including the necessary access features to support them and there has been no equivalent upgrade to the Mosaic product. However, in May 1996, Microsoft released a beta version of their Internet Explorer 3.0 which supports most of these new features, adds several of its own, and includes access support for every function.

The TAB and SHIFT+TAB keys are used to navigate back and forth between hyperlinks, graphic menus, and the address bar.

As the user moves to, or clicks, a hyperlink or image, a one-pixel border appears around it so you can see what is selected. This feature was first introduced in NSCA Mosaic 2.0 and considerably speeds the navigation of links when using a keyboard or alternative accessing device. This feature has been enhanced in Internet Explorer 3.0 to support client-side image maps, including areas with irregular shapes. The font sizes displayed may be easily changed using the "font button" on the toolbar and Internet Explorer includes full support for the ALT tag which provides a text description of graphics for users unable to view graphics on the screen.

The Internet Explorer is a leading-edge browser and may be the best choice for anyone needing a full featured browser with access support. However, other browsers under development are even more accessible. These browsers are specifically designed for people with disabilities. They may lack some of the more advanced page-display features supported by Netscape and Internet Explorer, but they provide more extensive support for alternative input and output.

One of the first access-dedicated browsers is the pwWebSpeak browser from Productivity Works. Their Web site outlines the aims of the browser: "The pwWebSpeak browser is designed for keyboard literate blind users, sighted and non-sighted quadriplegics, and even mobile office workers needing access to web-based information by telephone. This browser is designed specifically to interact directly with the information on the Web pages and to translate the information content into speech. The user may navigate through the structure or document based on its contents, paragraphs and sentences, rather than having to deal with scrolling and interpreting a structured screen display. The intelligence built into pwWebSpeak understands the HTML constructs and automatically bypasses those constructs that have no relation to the information content of a document. Both speech and large character interpretation of the Web pages are provided so that a blind or partially sighted user can use the software effectively.

The fundamental architecture supports multiple modalities for both control and display, an important feature that has tremendous potential for facilitating access to Web-based information. pwWebSpeak users will be able to choose the most appropriate input device (including keyboard, speech recognition, joystick, or sip/puff tubes) for controlling their interaction with the Web. For display, the user can choose speech synthesis engines from several vendors (both software-based and external), Braille output devices, and large-print screen displays.

Version 1 is focused on the needs of the visually impaired user. Version 2, due for release in the (US) summer of 1996, will include support for additional control mechanisms, such as Voice Command control, and additional output devices, such as refreshable braille displays. Version 2 will also include e-mail support."

(Asher, 1996)

Web Site Design

Although it is possible that web browsers may soon incorporate alternate access features such as text tags for graphics or captions for audio materials, the best way to make the WWW accessible is to provide for alternate means of access through creative use of the HTML code.

"For example, if you create a document which ONLY has text and hypertext links (no graphics or sounds), then you will have a document which can be accessed by most anyone with a disability using a personal computer that has been adapted for their use."

(Trace Research Center, 1995)

That approach, however, would eliminate a lot of pleasurable access media that most users now enjoy. Adding other methods of presentation to existing pages or providing options usually make web pages more accessible. What must be understood, however, is that unless designers of these pages incorporate coding that enables the page to be accessed by people with disabilities, the sites will not be accessible. Guidelines and self-tests for the development of accessible Web pages have been devised and are now being promoted (see Appendices 4 and 5). The Corporation for Public Broadcasting/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) sponsored a contest to design a symbol which would denote accessible web sites. It is described (Sandin, 1996) as follows: "A globe, marked with a grid, tilts at an angle. A keyhole is cut into it". Some Web pages use the new symbol while others use the international wheelchair symbol to indicate that the site is accessible. What is needed is a wide-spread education campaign to raise awareness among web page designers.

When designing for students with learning disabilities, one Internet user gave the following advice (slightly edited for brevity):

"KEEP IT SIMPLE. That means no animations that may detract from attention, a simple solid colour with NO TEXTURE in the background that may cause some students with visual disabilities difficulties picking up the print off the page. Organize the information in such a way that each page stands alone -- that is not much to a page. Make sure that the directions to other pages (back to home page, more info about....) are simple and easy to read. Keep the colours simple, not overloading the page with colour..."

People with various kinds of disabilities may have trouble processing large amounts of information in "busy" graphic contexts. Those for whom English is a second language (e.g., visible minority persons and some aboriginal persons, and also deaf people whose first language is ASL) may be doubly disadvantaged. A strong lobby for the use of "plain language" on the Net would help a great deal. It might also be useful to explore the graphic equivalent of "plain graphic language". Large print might be helpful to those with vision impairments and for some kinds of learning disabilities.


To our knowledge, there is no Internet training specifically designed for people with disabilities, and courses that are available to everyone do not usually meet their needs. However, as mentioned previously, training in the use of adaptive equipment is available at community colleges and at some agencies serving the various disability groups. For the most part, the computers and adaptive equipment that are in use are not up-to-date or connected to a telephone line. Moreover, instructors who are knowledgeable in the use of adaptive equipment may not know enough about the Internet to teach a course designed to further its use. There is also some dispute about whether to make regular courses more accessible, or to design courses specifically for people with disabilities, which might include training in the use of adaptive equipment, a discussion of the barriers (attitudinal, societal, etc.) as well as specific Internet training.

Internet training for people with disabilities must take into account their special needs. It should:

  • include instruction in the use of adaptive technology
  • be available in accessible places
  • be offered at alternative times (both day and night) and in places where disabled persons (especially disabled females) feel safe
  • use materials in alternate formats (e.g., audio/video, diskette, or Braille)
  • be "user-friendly" and not intimidating; for those who take a little longer to access the keyboard or process information, time pressures must be kept to a minimum
  • provide for sufficient repetition, reinforcement, and practice, especially for learners with some kinds of learning disabilities
  • involve sufficient individualized instruction to suit each learner

In view of the potentially higher cost of Internet access for some people with disabilities, training should include tips on how to use the system efficiently, such as downloading information for later, leisurely perusal when off-line. Since the pace of change is rapid, initial training will be needed to get people started and upgrading may be required to keep people acquainted with new developments as the technology changes.

In addition, few people have the expertise to install adaptive hardware and/or software and to make it work efficiently. The mythology surrounding adaptive technology will only be dispelled if computer technicians are given training in how to install and support it.

Reducing Costs

Since people with disabilities may take longer to access the information they need, Internet costs may be higher for them. Time did not allow us to interview Internet service providers regarding possible discounts currently available to people with disabilities. However, respondents gave several possible suggestions. One respondent suggested negotiating a 50% discount for disabled users similar to that now in place for long distance charges for deaf people using telephone devices for the deaf (TDDs). Another suggestion was for service providers to charge for the number of documents downloaded not for the time "on-line". Instead of charging for "connect time" the Final Report of the Information Highway Advisory Council (1995) recommended that:

"Utilities and service providers should offer billing services on a flat rate basis, actual volumes or some other means rather than connect time, thus providing equity for those requiring special access technologies." (p.175)


Providing Internet access for people with disabilities is a challenging and complex task. Adaptive equipment needs vary, Internet training is not yet available and the economic situation of most people with disabilities does not allow them the financial wherewithall to make the equipment affordable. Assuming those barriers are overcome, designers of web pages do not generally include the coding which makes web pages accessible. Despite the fact that this is probably due to lack of awareness, that is the most difficult barrier to eradicate.

The proposed grants to organizations that may help Internet access become a reality are an encouraging sign. Providing equal opportunity for people with disabilities to access the Internet is an important goal. Agencies applying for these grants must first consult their client base to determine the needs of people with disabilities whom they serve. Further consultation with people with the technical expertise to provide sound advice regarding adaptive equipment is also necessary. Careful consideration needs to be given to the type of training which will be offered, and the kind of support which will be available.

In addition, two issues may require collective action:

a) raising awareness among web page designers regarding how to make their sites more accessible to people with disabilities

b) negotiating with Internet service providers to reduce on-line costs

References and Resources

Asher, D. (1996). Accessible Internet. Paper delivered at New Zealand Conference on Technology for People with Special Needs, Lincoln University 4th-7th July 1996. Distributed on the Internet. Dennis is Project Manager, Canterbury Community Internet Access Project Canterbury, New Zealand. Private Bag: 4708; Ph: (03) 383 6871; Fax: (03) 383-6850 Email:

Connection, Community, Content: The challenge of the Information Highway. (1995). Final Report of the Information Highway Advisory Council. Minister of Supply and Services Canada.

Coombs, N. (1995). Design of HTML (MOSAIC) pages to increase their accessibility to users with disabilities: Strategies for today and tomorrow. (Version 1.0, 1/31/95). Paper prepared under funding from the National Institute for Disability Related Research (NIDRR), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS), US Dept. of Education and in cooperation with the NCSA Mosaic Access Project. Distributed on the Internet.

Deines-Jones, C. (1996). Access to library Internet services for patrons with disabilities: Pragmatic considerations for developers. Library Hi Tech, Issue 53-14:1, pp. 57-64, 68.

Dixon, J. (1996). Guidelines for the creation of WWW pages accessible to blind and visually handicapped users. Library Hi Tech, Issue 53-14:1, pp. 65-68.

EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information). (1995). Computers, technology and people with disabilities. This resource paper was developed by EASI and published under Cooperative Agreement No. H0-30C-3002-94, awarded to the American Council on Education. Distributed on the Internet.

EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information). (1995). EASI Street to: Science, Engineering and Mathematics access for people with disabilities. This document was published as part of EASI's National Science Foundation project. Distributed on the Internet.

Fontaine, J. (1995). Writing Accessible HTML documents. Center for Information Technology Accommodation, General Services Administration, Washington, DC. USA. Distributed on the Internet.

Lazzaro, J. (1994). Adaptive computing and the Internet: One step forward, two steps back?. Internet Research, vol. 4, #4, pp. 2-8.

Levine, J. & Young, M. (1994). More Internet for dummies. Foster City, Calif.: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.

Sandin, J. (1996). Captioning on the Web. Broadcasting and Cable, May 16, 1996, pp. 64-65.

Teaching students with disabilities, 2nd ed. (1993). Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Disability Resources Centre.

Wakefield, D. Cruising the information highway with text browsers. Center for IT Accommodation, General Services Administration Room 1234, Mailcode kbc Washington, DC 20405. Distributed on the Internet.

Appendix 1: Adaptive Equipment Costs

Physical Access (Software):

Word prediction $500-700

Access pack for Windows: shareware

Keyboard scanning software: $500-700

Voice Recognition: $800-1000

Physical Access (Hardware):

Mini Keyboard: $700

Ergonomic Keyboard: $150-500

Programmable Trackball: $175

Track pad: $100

Sound Card (for Voice Recognition): $200-450

Visually Impaired (Software):

Screen Enlargement: $750

Screen review for DOS: $800 -1000

Screen review for Windows: $1200-1500

Visually Impaired (Hardware):

Speech Synthesizer $1200-1500

Approximate Costs for Adaptive Software/Hardware above provided by SETBC Adult Services Project thanks to Deanna Kemp and John Shean

In addition:

Refreshable Braille Display and software: $6,000-$10,000

Appendix 2: Additional Sources of Information

American Association for the Advancement of Science
1333 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Voice/TDD: 202-326-6649

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunity, Internetworking & Technology)
University of Washington
Computing & Communications
Box 354842
Seattle, Washington 98195
Voice/TDD: 206-685-DOIT

Foundation for Science and Disabilities
236 Grant Street
Morgantown, WV 26505-7509
Phone: 304-293-6363

HEATH Resource Center
One Dupont Circle, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
Voice/TT: 202-939-9320

National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22230
Phone: 202-289-2140

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic
20 Roszel Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Phone: 609-452-0606 or 800-221-4792

TRACE Research and Development Center
S-151 Waisman Center, 1500 Highland Ave.
Madison, WI 53705
Phone: 608-263-6966
TDD: (608) 263-5408

World Institute on Disability
510 16th Street, Suite 100
Oakland, CA 94612
Betsy Bayha, Editor
Phone (510) 763-4100
Fax (510) 763-4109
TTY (510) 208-9496
E-Mail: OpenLine@wid

Open Line, the newsletter of the World Institute on Disability's Technology Policy Division, is published six times a year to inform recipients of significant developments regarding accessibility for disabled people to telecommunications and information technologies.

EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information):
Post Office Box 1095
El Toro, California 92630
Phone: 714-830-0301
TDD: 310-206-5155


Dr. Norman Coombs, Chair
Rochester Institute of Technology
Phone: 716-475-2462
Fax: 716-475-7120

Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler, Vice Chair
University of Washington, DO-IT Program
Phone: 206-543-0622

Carmela Castorina
Phone: 714-830-0301
Fax: 714-830-2159

CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)
A research and development facility dedicated to the issues of media technology for disabled people and non-English speakers in their homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.

Mary Kay Sanders, Dissemination Specialist
National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research
Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
211 East Seventh Street, Suite 400, Austin, Texas 78701-3281
Phone (V/TT): 1-800-266-1832
FAX: (512) 476-2286

The West Virginia Rehabilitation Research and Training Center
5088 Washington Street West, Suite 200, Cross Lanes, WV 25313
Voice phone and TDD (304) 759-0716
Fax (304) 759-0726
Project Enable Bulletin Board (304) 759-0727
Inquiries by E-mail:


Appendix 3: Design of HTML (Mosaic) Pages to Increase Their Accessibility to Users With Disabilities: Strategies for Today and Tomorrow

Version 1.0 1/31/95 Trace R& D Center, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Prepared under funding from the National Institute for Disability Related Research (NIDRR), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS), US Dept. of Education and in cooperation with the NCSA Mosaic Access Project.

(This is a living document. Comments and suggestions are solicited.


Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. General Comments
  3. In-Line Graphic Elements, Pictures, and Diagrams
  4. Separate Viewer-Based Graphic Elements, Pictures, and Diagrams
  5. Audio Clips
  6. Movies
  7. Image Maps
  8. Forms
  9. Specially formatted documents
  10. Custom data structures and viewers.



When discussing the accessibility of Mosaic, it is important to break the problem down into the three basic components: the source material, the pipeline, and the viewer. Mosaic is actually a viewer, so technically speaking, making Mosaic accessible really would apply only to making the (Mosaic) viewer accessible. However, most users do not differentiate between the different components, so making Mosaic accessible would involve working to make the Mosaic software accessible (including all of the external viewers used with it), as well as working to make source material formats and server/pipeline standards more accessible as well.

Making HTML (Mosaic) Documents Accessible TODAY

There are some features of the World Wide Web (WWW) which are not currently accessible to people with some disabilities using today's browsers (such as Mosaic). In addition, many of the data formats currently do not support accessibility annotations (captions, vocal and text annotations, etc.). As a result, if you want to create WWW documents that will be accessible to people with disabilities TODAY you need to either avoid using some features and data types or provide alternate methods for carrying out the functions or information provided through the inaccessible functions. In the future, alternate access methods for the standard features may be built directly into WWW browsers, as well as the standard data storage and transmission formats, making it unnecessary to avoid features or build redundant mechanisms into your HTML documents. Until these alternate access features and standards are developed however, care must be taken in the design of HTML pages it they are to be accessible to users with disabilities.



It is possible today to make WWW (HTML) documents that are accessible by simply avoiding the aspects of HTML or WWW browsers which cause the access problems. For example, if you create a document which ONLY has text and hypertext links (no graphics or sounds), then you will have a document which can be accessed by most anyone with a disability using a personal computer that has been adapted for their use. Although this is a rather elementary and restricted use of Mosaic and HTML, it is nonetheless a viable approach, as is using gopher and ftp. However, a WWW/HTML document does not need to limit itself to text to be accessible. There are a number of strategies that can be used to allow use of graphics and sound while still maintaining accessibility.

  • Some of these strategies require changes in either the WWW servers or in viewers such as Mosaic.
  • Other strategies, however, do not require any changes and can be used today.

Below are some of the strategies from both categories.

Organization of this document

Problems in access to HTML fall into seven basic areas:

  1. In-line graphic elements, pictures, and diagrams;
  2. Separate viewer based graphic elements, pictures, and diagrams;
  3. Audio clips;
  4. Movies;
  5. Image Maps;
  6. Forms;
  7. Specially formatted documents; and
  8. Custom data structures and viewers.

Each of these is discussed in turn. For each topic, a brief overview of the problem is presented followed by how it should or will be possible to handle the problem in the near future as access features are built into Mosaic et al. (e.g., NetScape, W3, etc.). This is then followed by things that can be done to make HTML pages available today. A summary listing of what can be done today is provided at the end for convenience.



The problem:

  1. People who are blind cannot view information that is presented (only) in graphic form. People WITHOUT disabilities but who are accessing information auditorially (e.g., by phone) cannot access this information.
  2. People (anyone) who are accessing information over a slow network connection (e.g., modem) have only very slow access to pages with graphics if the auto-load images features is turned on OR no access to the graphic information if the auto-load image feature is turned off.

The solution in the future:

  • All graphic elements would have a text description attached to them which can be viewed instead of the graphic.
  • All viewers (Mosaic, NetScape, etc.) will provide the option of showing the graphic, the text, or both.

Today there is such a feature for in-line graphics. It is an option within the IMG definition and allows authors to attach an alternate text description to any in-line graphic. It is commonly referred to as ALT-TEXT. The form for this is:

ALT="Alternate text describing the picture.">

(NOTE: This is not the form recommended today; see Solutions today, below.)

Unfortunately, today Mosaic and other graphic-based browsers do not support this convention and will not display the alternate text. As a result, this strategy only works with text-based browsers like Lynx and DOSLynx (whose developers at the University of Kansas introduced this convention). In the future it is probable that most graphic browsers will also support this feature. In the meantime, the following strategies are recommended.

Solutions today

Today, therefore, you can/should use one of these four approaches:

Approach 1-1: Alternate pages

Provide a second version of the page which does not include any in-line pictures for decoration or for anchors. Instead, text descriptions and anchors would be used. A note at the bottom of each page could allow users to move back and forth between the graphic and text-only versions of the page.

Approach 1-2: Embedded text descriptions

Incorporate both the graphic AND TEXT within the anchor. The ALT-TEXT text should also be included for those browsers that support it. However, since the graphic browsers do not currently support it, it should not be relied on. The format should therefore be:

Recommended format today:

Running text on the page Text describing picture.running text that could serve as an anchor instead of or in addition to the in-line picturerest of running text...

An example:

The newest product in our line is the Magicom portable phone, the world's smallest portable pocket phone.

which yields:

The newest product in our line is the [Picture of Magicom Phones] Magicom portable phone, the world's smallest portable pocket phone.


The newest product in our line is the , the world's smallest portable pocket phone.

which yields:

The newest product in our line is the Magicom portable phone, [Picture of Magicom Phones] the world's smallest portable pocket phone.

Approach 1-3: Database-based pages

Another higher-tech approach is to create a database-based server that creates HTML pages on demand when the user asks for them. In this manner, the pages can be constructed with or without graphics as desired by the user. An example of this is the CommerceNet server.

Approach 4: Filter approach (alt page)

This approach is similar to Approach 3, but involves the use of a filter/translator that would exist on the server as a common gateway interface. Pages would be constructed as described in Approach 2 above and, at the direction of the user, translated into either graphic or pure text pages on the fly. This approach has several disadvantages however. Since all pages must be processed on the fly, there may be a performance hit unless the filter program is used off-line to create the text versions of the pages in advance. Secondly, this approach would only work for pages on the server with the AltPage cgi. Whenever references were made to other pages on other servers, the filter would not work. Image Maps on other servers would be a particular problem. Finally, such a filter would create text versions of pages, but since it would do it by formula, the pages may not be laid out very well or be very easy to interpret. Building access into the page or providing alternate pages which are laid out to make sense in text form (and to provide a text alternative to any Image Maps) would be much more effective.



The problem:

Often in viewing HTML pages, users will encounter images or anchor phrases which will fetch and display a large graphic image. This image is often displayed using a separate viewer in a separate window on screen.

  • If you cannot see, you have no access to this information.
  • If you are on a slow network connection, you need to wait a long time to download the image to see whether or not you are interested in the information it contains.

Solution strategies in the future:

Someday, all graphic data formats will also allow incorporation of text describing the image (very useful for access and for searching or indexing pictures). Viewers will then allow display of the graphic, its text, or both. Servers will also be able to send the graphic portion, the text version, or both, on request from the browser.

Solutions today:

Until this occurs, however, the only known approach is to provide an alternate data file with the text description of the graphic in it. (Although some graphic storage formats do allow storage of text within the data structure, the servers, browsers, and viewers do not yet allow access to it.)

Approach 2-1: (generally recommended)

Place an anchor to a separate page which has a text description of the picture right next to the anchor for the picture.

Approach 2-2: (generally not recommended)

If the user has requested a text-only page, replace all references to pictures with references to the text files describing them.

In general, Approach 2-1 is preferred, since many users may have asked for the text-only version because of speed, and may want to view occasional pictures of interest. Also, even blind users may sometimes want to pull up a picture to show someone, or to have someone describe it to them in more detail. Both of these are much easier with Approach 2-1 than with 2-2.



The problem:

  • People who are deaf cannot access information which is presented in auditory form only.
  • People without audio capabilities in their computer also may not have access.
  • People in noisy environments may not be able to hear information presented auditorially.

Solution strategies in the future

The problems and solution strategies for audio clips are very similar to those for separate viewer-based graphic elements (Problem Area 2) and movies (Problem Area 4):

  • They all use separate players or viewers/windows to present the content.
  • Access in the future can be accomplished by allowing text to be stored in the data structure.
  • Servers should be able to send the sound (or graphic) form, the text form, or both, on request from the browser.
  • Players should be able to present the sound (or graphic) format, the text format, or both formats.

Solutions today:

The solutions strategies for accessing sound today also look essentially the same as for graphic files: Access is provided by having a separate file with a transcript of the speech or description of the sound. This separate file is accessed in one of two ways:

Approach 3-1: (generally recommended)

Place an anchor to a page with a text transcript or description of the sound right next to the anchor for the sound.

Approach 3-2: (generally not recommended)

If the user has requested a text page only, replace all URL references to sound with URL references to the text transcript or description.

As before, Approach 3-1 is preferred because it provides the user with more options, allows them to use any residual hearing, and is useful to people with language impairments.

It is often the case that people without disabilities are interested in the text transcripts as well.


Below is an example based on the White House Web server, courtesy of Paul Fontaine at the General Services Administration. Note that this example includes both ALT-TEXT access to the sound icon (audio.gif) (for users who are using text browsers or screen readers) and the text translation (al npr intro.html) of the audio file ( (for users who cannot hear or do not have audio capabilities on their computers).

Suggested code:

The President asked [Picture of Al Gore]Vice President Gore to head up the National Performance Review (NPR) [Sound Icon] hear or read Mr. Gore's speech introducing NPR.



The only known way to make movies accessible to people with disabilities is to embed the accessibility information in the data stream so that it is time-synched with the other information. Two types of alternate format information are needed to make audio accessible:


Captions or other visual representations of all important information in the sound track should be provided. (Some data structures such as QuickTime movies already have a mechanism for adding captions to the data structures.)


For people who are blind or who have low vision, a technique called Descriptive Video is used which provides an additional narrator describing what is happening, in between the regular dialog of the movie.

Solution strategies in the future:

Eventually, all data structures should allow captions and audio or text descriptions of movies to be embedded in the data storage and transport formats.

Servers should allow any combination of video, audio, caption, or description to be fetched on command. Viewers or players should allow users to specify and display any combination of the above.

Solutions today:


Approach 4-1:

If the viewer being used will display "closed" or embedded captions, captions can be embedded in the data structure for the movie.

Approach 4-2:

A strategy which works for all viewers today is to have an alternate version of the movie available with open (permanent) captions which a user can choose instead of the uncaptioned version if they wish.

Descriptive Video:

Approach 4-3:

At the present time, the only known approach would be to have an alternate form of the movie with the descriptive narration included in the audio track.




Image Map is a strategy that allows a user to click on different parts of a picture to reference different WWW pages. Clearly, this type of feature is completely inaccessible to people who are blind. They don't know what the picture is, and don't know where to click even if the picture is described.

Image Maps are used in a wide variety of ways. Some uses are rather simple like using it to create nicer looking menu bars. Others are more sophisticated, like graphic representations of maps, diagrams, etc.

Solution strategies in the future:

Strategies are being discussed which would have HTML pages include not only a URL for the Image Maps picture but also a complete listing of all of the URLs associated with the Image Map. If descriptions are provided with the URLs, then browsers can be designed which would give a user the choice between the graphic Image Map or a descriptive listing of the choices normally provided by the Image Map in all text format. This would be similar in concept to the ALT-TEXT of in-lined images.

Solutions today:

Today, there are three strategies for providing access. All of them involve ways to provide an option for a text-only version of the Image Map's choices, usually as a text listing of choices.

Strategy 5-1:

Next to (or just below) the Image Map graphic, provide a text anchor which will take you to a new page with the text listing on it. This is easy, but removes the listing from the context of the rest of the page.

Strategy 5-2: (recommended)

Have an option for a text-only page which presents an alternate form of the entire page which replaces the Image Map with a text version which is optimized to work within the layout of the page.

Strategy 5-3:

Provide the listing of Image Map choices as a text list immediately below the Image Map. This sometimes works, but can also sometimes be confusing.




Some HTML pages include forms constructs. At the present time it is difficult for screen readers to access some forms elements. Further research is being conducted in this area.

Solution strategies in the future:

In the future, features within the browsers will allow users to display forms elements in a way that screen readers can access them.

Solutions today:

For now the best idea would be to provide alternate mechanisms for accomplishing forms functions.

(Additional, more specific information on both the problems and strategies for different browsers will follow for this area.)




As HTML evolves, new flexibility is being introduced. Tables and other constructs allow text to be laid out in side by side paragraphs and other formats which cause difficulties for screen readers

Solution strategies

Approach 7-1

Keep layouts simple and straightforward

Approach 7-2

Avoid side by side presentation of text

Approach 7-3

Avoid using graphics to provide organization or structure to the document. Use HTML.

Approach 7-4

Where following guidelines 7-1 to 7-3 would interfere with the presentation of the information for some reason, an alternate page which presents the same information in an accessible format could be used.




Some web sites are introducing special data structures and viewers to differentiate themselves or provide special functions not available with the standard tools.

Access Strategies:

The only way for these custom data and views to be accessible is if the access is built directly into the viewer. Standard access tools do not generally work with special viewers.

Appendix 4: Web sites

These Web sites have been visited (copies of sample home pages follow):
-Trace R & D Center, Univ. of Wisconsin. contains links to many other sites
-Center for Information Technology Clearinghouse
-Proceedings of recent New Zealand conference on access issues
-EASI home page at Rochester Inst. of Technology. contains links to many other sites
-current information on accessibility solutions
-Government of Canada site with text of the Information Highway Report
-webpage accessibility self-test from DMD Canada
-Integrated Network of Disability Information and Education (Canadian)

-NCSA Mosaic Access Page
-site of the DO-IT project at University of Washington
-Univ. of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Centre