Web Access: A Case Study on Making Content Accessible to a Student who is Blind

DO-IT Factsheet #221
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/articles?221

Background

My name is Imke. I am a blind graduate student in atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. I use a refreshable Braille display to access text that appears on a computer screen.

Access Issue

Some data I use for my research are available on the web page of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO). The site includes plots of various climate indices that are not accessible to me, since neither refreshable Braille displays nor speech synthesizers are capable of reproducing graphics.

Solution

The person responsible for placing the indices and accompanying information on the JISAO website happens to sit in the workspace adjacent to mine at the University of Washington. Before I brought up the topic, he asked how he could make the information on this website more accessible to me. I described the challenges I was facing in accessing the content. The idea of including text descriptions came out of our conversation. Basically, he created short text descriptions of the plots. Each description appears directly above or below the plot to which it applies. I can access this text with my Braille output system [1], which is part of the standard computer configuration that I use. Click here to see the JISAO [2] website.

Conclusions

This case illustrates the following:

  1. The presence of a student who has a disability can raise the awareness of access issues for those with whom they regularly interact. In this case, simply by interacting daily with the student who was blind, the person responsible for posting content became aware of the access challenges she might be facing.
  2. Access barriers for a specific student with a disability can be best resolved when the content developer works in collaboration with the student.
  3. For a student who is blind, the greatest challenge in accessing the content of websites is gaining access to the content embedded in graphics. Many times all that is required is that the web content developer post in text form the information presented with graphics.
  4. The need for making accommodations for a specific student can be minimized if universal design principles [3] are employed at the time that web pages are being developed. If universal design principles had been applied at this site before Imke's need for the content was known, no changes would have been necessary in order for Imke to access the information.

Reprinted with permission from DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology), The Faculty Room, Web Pages Case Study [4].

References