Assisting in accessing the internet
Accessing the internet
Back when I started these blogs I wanted to think about how we could use technology to support learning in a variety of settings. A recent thread on the ALT discussion list regarded Assistive Technologies, and how specific access needs are addressed. Ideally, all websites would follow ‘Universal Design’ principles – they’d be designed for easy access by everyone – and there are tools to assist designers in doing this. But for whatever reason, sometimes that doesn’t happen, sometimes users need their own tools to access sites. There’s a nice overview of user, development, government and other organisational efforts here, and some examples below.
The ‘Web Accessibility initiative’ list provides a useful selection of evaluation tools for checking accessibility. For example, the first one - the University of Toronto’s “AChecker” – which provides a breakdown of possible issues on any site you wish to check. For example, it checks the images on a page, to see whether or not the html tags include an ‘alternative text’ – this is text that screenreaders use to aid audio-navigation of pages.
Awareness of these issues is important. However, better than checking (or ‘validating’) is building it in whilst designing; tools like Dreamweaver include specific accessibility options to prompt you to do this, helping avoid the daunting spectre of a page of missing tags after you’ve already designed a website. An awareness of the basic design rules governing particularly the use of images, colour, and the labelling of aspects of a page to ensure they can be navigated is also important. This infographic is particularly useful for that purpose.
At the start of my series of blogs, I also discussed the idea of EduBrowse – a browser designed to support education. In a similar vein, there are a collection of tools setup for Assistive Technology for example MyStudyBar which is a free addon (with a 'portable' version) offering for example:
Xmind for planning and organization; T-Bar for customising font and colour backgrounds; Lingoes for when you need a talking dictionary; LetMeType for help with text input, and Balabolka for converting text to audio. And if all that’s not enough, there’s even a speech-to-text app which allows you to talk to your computer.
And similarly, AT Toolbar (as in, Assistive Technologies), an opensource cross browsesr tool to:
help users customise the way they view and interact with web pages. The concept behind ATbar is simple: One toolbar to provide all of the functionality you would usually achieve through the use of different settings or products.
Conclusions: While it’s desirable that even the casual web designer should consider accessibility, and that’s an issue we should highlight when educating children and others in design, the tools should play a role in encouraging accessible design.
The increase in multimedia use also highlights a concern that videos/audio may only be useful if transcripts are provided; however, some sites provide user narratives, or video guides for various things for which there is currently no text alternative – means to provide such alternatives should be sought, a simple solution would be to just crowd-source transcription from those who do have access and are willing to volunteer.
Similarly, awareness should also be raised by web designers – the fantastic ‘fix the web’ project allows users to report problems with websites which volunteers follow up with website owners; engagement with this project by designers will help fix the current topography of the web. A final point – and one which I think accords well with what Nominet Trust tries to do – is that we should not only be aiming to make sites accessible in terms of access to content, but also creation of that content; web 2.0 which excludes a set of users in the content creation stage should hardly be thought of as accessible!
(My thanks to Dominik Lukes at Dyslexia Action for highlighting the infographic, Gordon McLeod of Royal Conservatoire Scotland for the MyStudyBar reference, and Ellen Lessner at Abingdon and Whitney College for the ATBar link all via the ALT discussion list).