University of Washington DO-IT Home   Site Map     Search     Glossary
[DOIT Logo]
Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology

The Faculty Room

Accommodations and
Universal Design
Rights and Responsibilities Faculty Resources Faculty Presentations Resources for Trainers, Staff, and Administrators
Disability Type | Academic Activity | Universal Design
Large Lectures | Group Work | Test Taking | Field Work | Science Labs | Computer Labs | Computers - Adaptive Technology | Web Pages | Distance Learning | Design and Art | Writing Assignments | International/Travel Programs | Work-Based Learning
Two DO-IT scholars working together at computer

Overall, the Internet is becoming less accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Search Knowledge Base
Knowledge Base
Articles by Topic
Enter Other Access
College Rooms
The Faculty Room
Evaluate this site.

Web Pages FAQ

Case Study | FAQ | Resources

Q. VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS: What technology do students with visual impairments use to access the World Wide Web?

A. Most visually-impaired students use the same Web browser software sighted students use to access the Web, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer™ or Netscape Navigator™. Some use the text-based browser Lynx, which does not display any graphics, or a browser specifically designed for people who are blind or who have limited vision. Low vision students who are able to read large print frequently use software that enlarges screen images. Those unable to read print of any size use screen reader software that makes text on the screen accessible through speech output or Braille output. In other words, text that appears on the screen, including the labels of icons, buttons, and menu items, is either spoken by a speech synthesizer or displayed in Braille on a built-in or external Braille display. Most students who are blind choose to use a speech synthesizer rather than Braille output. Screen reading software also provides alternative methods for performing mouse functions since standard operation of a mouse requires the user to be able to see the location of the mouse pointer on the screen.

Q. GRAPHICS: How does a person who is blind read graphics on the Web?

A. Students who are totally blind are not able to read the content within graphics on Web pages. For those students, text descriptions of the information provided in graphics are essential. This text is then read by their speech output systems. A text description may be placed either above or below the image or attached to the image as HTML "ALT" text.

Q. TABLES: How does a student who is blind access tables on the Web?

A. The ability of a blind student to read tables on the Web depends on the access technology and browser used and the method with which the table was created. Tables displayed as images are not accessible to students using speech or Braille output. Use of valid html when constructing tables, along with use of elements and attributes such as summary, caption, scope, headers, id, abbr, and axis, can greatly enhance the accessibility for all users.

Q. MATHEMATICS: Will a student who is blind be able to read equations presented on the Web?

A. It depends. Students using Braille or speech output devices are not able to read equations displayed as images or graphics. However, equations written using computer characters that are typed directly into an HTML document are accessible to those who are using speech and Braille output systems.

Q. ACCOMMODATION: If I need to use a Web site that is not accessible to individuals who are blind, what accommodation can I make for this class exercise for a student who is blind?

A. It may be possible to alter the assignment so that the blind student can complete it without use of the inaccessible site. One possibility is to locate an accessible Web site that contains the same or similar information as the inaccessible site. Another option is to print out the information as well as provide the URL for your campus disabled student services office and ask them to produce the content in the student's preferred alternative format (e.g., Braille or tape). If none of these options are feasible, the student may wish to use a reader provided by the disabled student services office or work with a partner when completing the assignment.

Q. MAKING GRAPHICS ACCESSIBLE: How do I make images on a Web page accessible to someone who can't see them?

A. The first step is to ensure that ALT text is available as part of the image tag that displays the image on the Web page. If there is text within the image that is important, then that text should be transcribed above, below or next to the image. If the graphic or image conveys more information than a few words can describe, consider using a "D" link to make it possible for the visitor be able to go to an additional page that describes the graphical information in more detail.

If streaming video is used on a Web page, write a description of the action so that a person who cannot see the video can still obtain the relevant information.

Q. USE OF COLOR: How do I determine the best use of color for maximum readability?

A. For some people with visual impairments, a high amount of contrast between text and background is essential for comfortable and effective reading. The basic combination of black or dark text on a white or light background works best. Students who are sensitive to light can switch the text and background colors to improve their reading. Avoid using background images as these often reduce legibility not only for those with visual impairments, but for other visitors as well.

Q. LEGISLATION: What is the legislation that requires me to make my web site accessible to visitors with disabilities?

A. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA) is intended to protect qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities. Your public institution must ensure that communication with people who have disabilities is "as effective as communication with others." Conditions of effectiveness include timeliness, accuracy, and provision in a manner and medium appropriate given the abilities and disabilities of the individual. When people think of the ADA, they often think of elevators in buildings, reserved spaces in parking lots, and lifts on busses. However, the ADA accessibility requirements also apply to programs offered on the Internet. As the United States Department of Justice clarifies (ADA Accessibility, 1997), "Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.

Reference: ADA accessibility requirements apply to Internet Web pages (1996). The Law Reporter, 10(6), 1053-1084.

Q. WHY: Why is the issue of Web accessibility getting so much attention now?

A. There is increased awareness and interest in accessibility for people with disabilities, due in part to the publicity generated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other legislation , and the actions of disability rights advocates. In addition, when the Internet was new, information was text-based and thus very accessible to individuals with disabilities. For example, people who are blind and using speech output systems can easily access text. Those who are deaf also have no difficulties with text-based systems. The explosion of multimedia on the World Wide Web had erected access barriers for people with disabilities, particularly for those who are blind and/or deaf. The fact that, through requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Federal agency Web pages must be accessible to employees and the public with disabilities has also increased public awareness of the issue.

Q. ACCESSIBILITY: Do we need to make college departmental Web sites that are not meant for student use to be accessible to individuals with disabilities?

A. Yes. Departments or offices that use the Web to provide information regarding their programs, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means

Q. EASE OF DESIGN: How difficult is it to make my Web site accessible to people with disabilities?

A. It depends on how complicated your site is to begin with. But, generally speaking, designing an accessible Web site is not as difficult as most people believe. Often it is simply a matter of providing text labels for graphics, elements, frames, etc. For example, HTML markup provides for an ALT attribute for the IMG tag for graphics, which allows you to put in a text description that will be displayed whenever the graphic image is not. Therefore, it can be read by screen readers used by individuals who are blind.

Q. APPEALING NATURE: Aren't accessible Web sites less appealing?

A. On the contrary, accessible sites have several advantages. For one thing, some people turn off graphics so sites will load faster. Without ALT attributes, graphics-intense sites may be unusable. Also, with the growth of Personal Digital Assistants (PDA's), and even Web site content delivered to cell phones, having text-based content is becoming more important. Because the screens on such devices are so small, graphics will probably never be a viable option. So the conference-attending professor who wants to check her stock portfolio on her cell phone isn't going to turn to the graphics-only site. Furthermore, with the growth of voice technology, the commuting professor can have the headlines from his favorite news site read to him, but only if the content is text-based.

Q. WEB PROBLEMS: What are some of the problems people with disabilities face when trying to access Web sites?

A. Ordinary text on a Web site is the most accessible form of information on a Web site for people with disabilities. But, because the Web has evolved to include graphics, animations, videos, sound, and other non-text displays, has created barriers to those with disabilities as specially-adapted equipment does not always handle these features well. Also, improperly implemented frames and other special features reduce usability, not only for users with disabilities, but for all visitors. For an overview of how to make Web pages accessible, consult the publication and video World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design.

Q. ASSESS WEB SITE: How can I assess the accessibility of my site?

A. There are several ways to do this:

  • Turn image loading off through your browser options to see how well you can navigate.
  • Invite people with disabilities to review your pages.
  • Have a screen reader read your pages aloud. An application called IBM Home Page Reader needs no special equipment other than a sound card.
  • Test your pages with a Web-based tool (e.g., Bobby) that analyzes individual Web pages for their accessibility to people with disabilities.

Q. BOBBY: I've checked out Bobby but can't understand what it says. How do I read Bobby's accessibility report?

A. After entering your Web page's URL and running the report, your page will be displayed with problem areas indicated by Bobby hat graphics. Clicking on any of them will take you to the detailed description of how to fix the problem in the report below. In addition to automatically checked items, there are some check points that Bobby cannot examine. These require a manual examination by answering a series of questions. Depending on your site, there are up to five sections that will be listed in the report. The priority items are ranked by importance and are derived from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Priority 1
A Web content developer must satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Web documents.

Priority 2
A Web content developer should satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers to accessing Web documents.

Priority 3
A Web content developer may address this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will improve access to Web documents.

Browser Compatibility Errors
This section lists those HTML elements and element attributes that are used on the page which are not valid for particular browsers.

Download Time
This section provides a summary of how long the Web page and images would take to download on a slow modem line (assuming the server is not too busy).

Q. MORE HELP: Where can I get more information or guidelines?

A. Consult your campus Webmaster and/or Web publishing policy committee, or your campus office for instructional improvement/faculty development. This latter office often helps faculty design their course Web pages and should have accessibility guidelines available.

For answers to more questions, search the Knowledge Base.