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Would A New Standard Make A Blind Bit Of Difference? 12 February 2001 Edition
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HTML, HTTP, XML, SMTP, TCP -- when it comes to the Internet the list of standards goes on and on so do we really need yet another?

Well if you're visually impaired and want to get full value out of the Internet then the answer is -- yes, most certainly.

While the Internet has become an incredibly valuable tool for the visually impaired, it also has the potential to be incredibly frustrating -- because many websites are almost totally unusable due to their reliance on highly graphical interfaces or technology incompatible with the special reader software often used by the blind.

Readers Say
(updated hourly)

Web access for the disabled... - James

Web Accessibility... - Graham

Accessible websites... - Jamie

Accessible web sites... - Robyn

Have Your Say

An example of just how some in the visually impaired community are becoming annoyed by this disregard for their needs was seen last year when the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games was the target of a complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission over its website.

In his complaint, Tom Worthington does a good job of outlining the basics required for a site to be easily used by those with a visual disability and who rely on special software to assist them -- but I don't think this goes far enough.

While fancy layouts, distinctive formats and eye-catching composition can go a long way towards making a visually-oriented website memorable and easy to use, none of this has any positive effect when the user is unable to see the webpage -- relying instead on text-to-speech translation.

The W3C guidelines for web accessibility are designed to provide a minimal level of access for the disabled -- but why can't we go a step further?

Wouldn't it be great if a standard were devised that made it even easier for those who don't have the benefit of sight?

How about special tags for defining menu elements -- thus allowing unsighted users to hit a menu-key and go straight to the navigation elements on a page?

What about the ability to have alternative text which is used only by the visually impaired? This text can be more concise and perhaps written with the limitations or features of text-to-speech translation software in mind.

There are many areas where a small amount of work on the part of a site designer could make a huge difference to the effectiveness of a website when visited by someone not enjoying the benefit of sight.

Here's my prediction -- as online publishers become increasingly focused on generating elusive revenues, we will see some of the smarter ones come to the realisation that catering for small but important sections of the online audience (such as those who are visually impaired) might pay big dividends.

Maybe the NZ Government is about to lead the way if this story is anything to go by.

Am I talking through a hole in my head on this matter? Do the blind deserve special consideration when designing your website or should they just be asked to "make do"?

Share your thoughts by sending me your feedback.

Is The IRD Watching YOU? (follow-up)
I have received reports from another website operator that they have discovered evidence of a visit by the "IRD-WebCrawler/0.00" -- have you checked your log yet?

Please let me know if you find anything.

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Copyright © 2001, Bruce Simpson, free republication rights available on request

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