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September 27, 2004

Issue No. 66

Table of Contents

Highlights and Features

Grokker at Stanford
CourseWork-Fall 2004
File-Sharing-Consequences
File-Sharing Myths
File-Sharing Resources
IT Open House October 28
Tech Help for Faculty
Essential SU Software
Desktop Computer Security
Security Self-Help Tool
Wireless Access-SU Visitors
SULAIR Home Page Update
SU Course Support Web Site copy

Library Resources

SULAIR Image Collections
SKIL Tutorial Enhanced
Scholars Workshops for Fall
Social Science Data
Literary Studies Database
New Lane Library Web Site
Firing Line TV Program
ArcGIS 9 Available
SSRC Past Events Online
BIOSIS Changes
HighWire Press-New Journals
EuroNews Web Site

Computing News

Accessible Web Pages
AFS Disk Quota Increased
Online Lecture Assessment
Teaching with Technology
Resources for SU Webmasters
ATS Program-New Projects
ATL Project Showcase
Spam Deletion Tool
ITSS Training Services
Training Registration
HelpSU Streamlined
New Webmail Is Here
Printing in Sweet Hall
Sweet Hall Consulting
Mac OS X Migration
PeopleSoft System Upgraded
Bookstore Computer Store
Courselets for SU Community
Sundial Calendar Changes
TeamSpace in Meyer Library
Meyer Classrooms
Meyer Tech Desk Update
Technology Help on Web

The Hidden Benefits of Accessible Web Pages

More and more of what Stanford does as a university is moving from physical locations (e.g., classrooms, offices, and libraries) to virtual locations on the Web and internal computer systems. Just as we make buildings accessible to people in wheelchairs, we must ensure that Stanford's online spaces are equally available to those using assistive technologies or with special access needs.

The most commonly cited motivations for creating accessible web pages are:

• To comply with various federal laws (most notably the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act);

• Because striving for academic equality is simply the right thing to do.

Most intriguing, though, is a third motivation: web pages designed to be accessible are also more compatible with emerging technologies - and that translates into benefits for all web visitors, both now and in the future.

Accessible web pages are those that are designed and implemented so that all visitors can access and use the content, regardless of their user agent (means of interacting with web content) and any constraints under which they may be operating. Disabilities often necessitate use of specialized user agents such as text-to-speech screen readers and impose constraints such as keyboard-only access. By understanding the barriers faced by disabled Web users and the potential impact of their design decisions, Web creators can minimize or eliminate access problems for users with blindness, low vision, physical impairments, or learning difficulties.

These same accessible web design practices also make web content more available to those using less conventional user agents (e.g., handheld PDA, voice browser, mobile phone) and those operating in unfavorable environments (e.g., noisy surroundings, under- or over-illuminated rooms, hands-free situations). In addition, accessible web content is more easily searched. Let's look at a few representative scenarios.

The Joy of Text
Most web users who are blind or have low vision perceive web content through text-to-speech screen readers, software that reads aloud text on the page. Screen readers, however, can only read information available as text; images and graphic links either don't show up at all or are voiced as "Image" or "Link", which is not particularly useful. Also, screen readers speak text in the literal order it appears in the HTML code: first left to right, then top to bottom. Unless information is laid out thoughtfully, it won't make sense when read aloud.

To alleviate this problem, Web creators can attach screen-readable alternative text (alt-text) to links and images and organize text in logical reading order. This same approach also benefits those with low bandwidth connections who use text-based browsers to surf more quickly. Similarly, PDA users who disable graphics for faster page downloads will have full access to page content.

Accessible web pages also facilitate more effective searching. With all the important content available as text or alt-text, it is easier to search for relevant information. Images tagged with appropriate alt-text can then be indexed and searched.

No Mouse, No Service

Blind Web users access the Web with only a keyboard - using a mouse would be "pointless" because they can't see the screen. Likewise, those with various physical disabilities often surf using only a keyboard. People suffering from RSI (repetitive strain injuries) may use speech recognition software both to input text and to navigate the Web. Since speech recognition can only access text links, though, parts of the website may be unreachable.

Accessible web pages are designed so that all important information, including text-entry fields, can be reached using only keystrokes. This approach is a boon to those using PDAs and speech-based browsers, too. You can't "mouseover" with a stylus, and you can't point with your voice. Web pages that don't require mouse navigation are thus accessible via voice-based Web portals used with phones.

Less-Than-Ideal Environments
Think about accessing the Web while driving. With both hands on the wheel, your feet on the pedals, and (ideally) both eyes on the road, you face the same challenges interacting with web-based information as someone who is blind and quadraplegic. The same web design practices that address the access needs of these users would serve those using vehicle-based systems. Accessible web resources could also facilitate interaction in other hands-free/no-look environments such as a laboratory.

Because audio content is unusable by those with hearing impairments or deafness, multimedia should be captioned. Users working in loud environments and those surfing with no sound hardware (e.g., PDA users) also benefit from this approach. In addition, captioned content can be indexed, making it searchable.

Best Practices Web Site
Stanford is growing its institutional web accessibility program. The first milestone is the "Web Accessibility Best Practices" web site at http://www.stanford.edu/group/webdev/accessibility. Incorporating the practices and approaches described on this site will not only help level the academic playing field for students with disabilities, but also promote smoother transition to how we interact with the web in the future.

For More Information
If you have questions about computer accessibility and technology accommodations, want consultation on these issues, or just wish to learn more about the intriguing assistive technology available, call Shelley Haven in the Assitive Learning Technology Center (ALTeC) lab at 725-6173. ALTeC's services are available to students, faculty, and staff who need assistance due to a disability. Students should contact the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) at 723-1066 for more information. Faculty and staff who would like to access the Center should contact Rosa Gonzalez, Stanford's ADA/504 Compliance Officer, at 723-0755 for a referral.