Accessible Technology in the 21st Century
|| a stanford sophomore college project ||

.website accessibility.




Technology is getting more complex and sophisticated every year. At the same time, it is trying to remain accessible to the myriads of people who have either physical or mental disabilities. Even though computers and the internet are now pretty easily accessible to disabled people, website designs have proven to be a major barrier. In the quest for creating fancy and cool websites using the newest cutting edge softwares, web-developers have ignored the needs of this large group of people-- many website readers do not work well with graphic heavy and code-intense sites.

is your website accessible?

The question then arises-- should big commercial companies and/or government agencies be forced to make their websites accessible? The proponents argue that accessibility does not neccessarily sacrifice design; rather, it simply ensures that it is accessible to people regardless of their mental or physical states.

Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging. (3)

Website accessibilty is finally gaining popularity amongst web-designers in part because of regulations, and partly because it simply makes sense for a site to be 'available' to more people. There are many sites that talk about how websites can and should be tailored to the needs of disabled peopled. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has set out guidelines for making websites accessible. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) documents explain how to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities. Web "content" generally refers to the information in a Web page or Web application, including text, images, forms, sounds, and such. (More specific definitions are available in the WCAG documents.)

WCAG is primarily intended for:

  • Web content developers (page authors, site designers, etc.)
  • Web authoring tool developers
  • Web accessibility evaluation tool developers

WCAG and supporting resources are also intended to meet the needs of many different audiences, including policy makers, managers, and others. (1)

WCAG guidelines

1. Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content - Provide content that, when presented to the user, conveys essentially the same function or purpose as auditory or visual content.

2. Don't rely on color alone - Ensure that text and graphics are understandable when viewed without color.

3. Use markup and style sheets and do so properly - Mark up documents with the proper structural elements. Control presentation with style sheets rather than with presentation elements and attributes.

4. Clarify natural language usage - Use markup that facilitates pronunciation or interpretation of abbreviated or foreign text.

5. Create tables that transform gracefully - Ensure that tables have necessary markup to be transformed by accessible browsers and other user agents.

6. Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully - Ensure that pages are accessible even when newer technologies are not supported or are turned off.

7. Ensure user control of time-sensitive content changes - Ensure that moving, blinking, scrolling, or auto-updating objects or pages may be paused or stopped.

8. Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces - Ensure that the user interface follows principles of accessible design: device-independent access to functionality, keyboard operability, self-voicing, etc.

9. Design for device-independence - Use features that enable activation of page elements via a variety of input devices.

10. Use interim solutions - Use interim accessibility solutions so that assistive technologies and older browsers will operate correctly.

11. Use W3C technologies and guidelines - Use W3C technologies (according to specification) and follow accessibility guidelines. Where it is not possible to use a W3C technology, or doing so results in material that does not transform gracefully, provide an alternative version of the content that is accessible.

12. Provide context and orientation information - Provide context and orientation information to help users understand complex pages or elements.

13. Provide clear navigation mechanisms - Provide clear and consistent navigation mechanisms -- orientation information, navigation bars, a site map, etc. -- to increase the likelihood that a person will find what they are looking for at a site.

14. Ensure that documents are clear and simple - Ensure that documents are clear and simple so they may be more easily understood

:: For the complete WCAG 1.0, click here ::

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google vs yahoo

Other software focuses not on the people with the disabilities, but on those without to make their products available to those with disabilities. One of these is Cynthia Says which was recognized and endorsed by the ACB as a good program to determine whether one’s website is accessible (M). However, this software is not free. Right now, only the government agencies are supposed to make their sites accessible to people with disabilities. Yet businesses are not likely to do so because it would require them to reorganize the layouts and to them, it might not seem like it would be worth or cost effective to make their website more accessible. If the software to determine whether your site is accessible is not free, it provides less of an incentive for companies to use it. Another problem though is that many people think that in order for a website to be accessible, it must be plain and thus not visually exciting to a sighted user. However, this is not the case. As one study showed, some of the most accessible sites are also ones with photos and that look appealing to a sighted user such as,, and In this study, fifty one test subjects who had different disabilities, with ten being blind, others deaf, and others with physical disabilities, were given tasks to complete on certain websites and then measured whether or not the tasks were completed as a measurement of accessibility, and those three websites were among the most accessible (N). “Designing Search Engine User Interfaces for the Visually Impaired” compares Google and Yahoo. Yahoo is not very accessible because it seems full of different links. Google however, is much more accessible. Yet some of ways this article says that Google could become more accessible is by putting the links which appear above the search bar, links to “News,” “Images,” “Groups,” “Froogle,” and “more,” below the search bar. A program that is reading the contents of the page is going to read the links first and then get to the search bar. Putting these links below allows a visually impaired user to find the search bar much faster. Another design tip this article suggests is that on the Google search results page, it puts the sponsored links off to the side on the page, but these actually come first in the code, so the program will read these links first, and not the regular results. With Yahoo, however, the problems are much worse than with Google. For example, over 20 links are read by a screen reader in Yahoo before it gets to the search bar. So if someone just wants to do a search, it will take them a lot longer just to find the place to enter their search (O). As businesses become more aware that having websites be accessible does not mean visually unattractive, they will likely be more willing to make their websites accessible. Also, a BBC News article, something that people might not really think about, is that websites that are accessible to people with visual impairments are also easier to navigate for everyone (P). So businesses would not only let people with disabilities gain access to their sites by making them accessible but also potentially help most users navigate around and find information faster.

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CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart. CAPTCHA and other security tests are designed to block software robots from interacting with a Web site. Most of these tests also block humans who are blind, deaf, hard of hearing, have low vision, or a cognitive/intellectual disability such as dyslexia.

For example, a common test requires users to read a distorted set of characters from a graphic image and enter the characters into a form. This test is not accessible to people who are blind and people with some types of low vision or cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia.

There are other types of tests to block software robots that may be as effective and more accessible to people with disabilities. The W3C Note Inaccessibility of CAPTCHA discusses the pros, cons, and accessibility issues of several other tests. (2)
For the full article about the inaccessibility of CAPTCHA, click here

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section 508


Section 508 was passed as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law requires that government agencies make their websites more accessible to people with disabilities by requiring that websites not have flashing colors, not undo contrast settings that the user had set. If there are images, charts, graphs, or other visuals, the web must provide enough text that explains those so that a blind user could get all the information from the text. The law requires that websites be as accessible to people with disabilities as to those without, but says that if an “undue burden would be imposed on the agency”(H) the agency does not have to comply. In some ways, this could defeat some of the purpose of the law because agencies could construe “undue burden” in different ways (H). As Theofanos and Redish point out, the law basically tries to ensure that all the information on a page is accessible to people with disabilities. What the law does not require is that this information be easy to navigate through (I).

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1. W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative [WAI] --
2. Introduction to the inaccessibility of CAPTCH:
3. "Introduction to Website Accessibility". W3C <>
H. "Section 508."  15 Sept. 2005.  <>
I. Theofanos, Mary Frances and Janice Redish.  “Bridging the Gap: Between Accessibility and Usability.” Interactions. Vol. 10 6.  2003. p36-51.  ACM. <

M.  “ACB Endorses HiSoftware for Testing Web Site Accessibility.”  Worldwide Videotex Update.  Jul. 2003.  Vol. 22.7. EBSCO Host.  14 Sept. 2005.  <
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N. Petrie, Helen, Hamilton Fraser, and Neil King.  “Tension, What Tension?: Website Accessibility and Visual Design.”  ACM International Conference Proceeding Series Vol. 63. 2004.  P13-18.  ACM.  14-Sept. 2005.  <http://delivery.a>

O. Leporini, Barbara, Patrizia Andronico, and Marina Buzzi.  “Designing Search Engine User Interfaceds for the Visually Impaired.” ACM International Conference Proceeding Series Vol. 63.  2004 p57-66.  ACM.  13 Sept. 2005.  <