Making websites accessible for the rest of us
BERLIN, GERMANY, 03 November 2005
On the internet, you find websites in hundreds of different languages and dialects, in all shapes and designs. If diversity in audio, photo, text or video content is the living proof that the internet is a space for true expression and creation, certain web development standards need to be applied for the content to reach and be shared by people at the margins of mainstream communication channels.
During a well-attended workshop entitled ‘Inclusive development and ICTs/universal design for all’, hosted by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in Varna, Bulgaria on October 9, 2005, Hiroshi Kawamura of the DAISY Consortium  presented a set of practical tools that can make the internet work for the rest of us.
Kawamura, a focal point of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Disabilities Caucus, referred the participants to very simple tricks and tips, rooted in practice, in how to make universal usability standards work for people with disabilities, maintain a sustainable accessibility policy and, improve disaster preparedness for the sight-impaired.
“People with disabilities are poorest among the poor in particular in developing countries. Affordable ICTs need to be accessible and usable for individuals with disabilities to guarantee full participation in the community as active partners,” “ICTs in many cases created new man-made barriers for persons with disabilities in developing countries in terms of affordability, accessibility and usability,” Kawamura said on February 25th 2005 at PrepCom 2 of WSIS in Geneva. 
2 Entire speech: http://www.dinf.ne.jp/doc/english/prompt/050225wsis.html
During the Bulgaria workshop, Kawamura kept his arguments for how online technology developers like APC members can create more accessible online and easily implementable tools.
Small steps can make a big difference
Technical fixes can make websites more accessible as part of a short-term strategy. Kawamura recommended adhering to 10 quick tips developed by website standards body W3C that he keeps in a note in his wallet. “It’s that simple,” he said. Tips include using ‘alternative text’ tags to describe a picture or graphical menu. This means a website visitor with sight difficulties can use a site-reader to read your webpage including your graphics.
Page organisation is also a winner. Keeping the html code behind a webpage as clean as possible, by using markers such as menu labels, and employing style sheets, is part of the accessibility toolkit he promotes. These fixes are not only good for the cause, they also make sense with regards to updating your website. Redesign and frequent modifications in styles are much easier to handle when using style sheets, independently of the content. Several open source web design sites assist in making your own website more intelligible. 
Some pieces of software already have integrated features that permit to check if an image or the layout of a page is accessible. The GIMP, a free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) imaging tool has an inspection feature to it that checks for colour deficiencies in images. If an image you want to post to your website sticks out as colour deficient, with a couple of clicks, you can change the colours and contrasts to comply with the reading capacities of a wider audience.
Internationally recognised standards such as the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines do exist. However, when the standards are not adhered to – deliberately by commercial companies looking to exploit a proprietary format or accidentally by amateur web designers – websites in particular can become spaces closed to people with disabilities.
Kawamura also addressed the question of disaster preparedness, which requires longer-term strategies. Governments and international institutions are still too lax on prevention efforts. Solid disaster preparedness strategies need to look beyond the internet and recognise that hardware technologies need to be made available at reasonable costs, especially for those living in the South.
He illustrated his point by stressing that indigenous peoples and people with disabilities are part of the population groups most affected by disasters such as storms, flooding and earthquakes. Disconnected from mainstream and often text-based information channels such as newspapers or the internet, some people are best served with multi-media material, complementary hardware devices and actual prevention trainings and workshops. Multi-media for instance helps reach beyond the current limitations of printed knowledge sharing. It clearly stands out as a format to be developed in the context of a true disaster preparedness, prevention or long-term accessibility strategy.
Several participants gathered after Kawamura’s speech and came up with a set of simple measures they want implemented across APC’s and APC members’ websites. The nascent plan of action will be carried out with the help of a peer review process. Although APC has been working on the accessibility front for many years, adapting APC’s content management system ActionApps to comply fully with universal standards is the inevitable next step. And there’s experience to be counted on in the network. APC’s member in Colombia, Colnodo, has made been developing 100% accessible websites for the last two years.
Successful accessibility initiatives around the world
2003 APC Betinho prize winner Tiflolibros , has been using ICTs innovatively to provide the first Spanish language digital book library for the visually-impaired. They were one of three prize winners selected from a total of 140 ICT initiatives improving the lives of people and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. The director of Tiflolibros, Paulo Lecuona, who will be on a panel organised by UNESCO at the upcoming WSIS summit in Tunis, on November 16th, says that Tiflolibros’ library model can be replicated in other languages and flags Tiflolibros Deutsch as the most recent achievement in this regard. The small team of German students behind the initiative receive support from the Argentinian Tifolibros team to make the infrastructure accessible to Germans with sight problems. This year again, another accessibility-oriented organisation is taking part in the 2005 Betinho Prize contest. Corporación Discapacidad Colombia  specialises in news crafted for and by the disabled people of Colombia.
The company behind the Portable Document Format (PDF), Adobe, only recently commercialised an accessible PDF format. This year’s Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) annual report was for the first time presented in this readable PDF format, allowing the institute to save precious time and resources otherwise invested in an audio book and Braille version. 
World Usability Day
World Usability Day  comes around again on November 3rd. A group composed of IT multinationals, university research entities, non-profit organisations and individuals working to make tools usable, sponsor this year’s event. Some smell the commercial potential of ‘talking wash machines’ for the blind, others feel compelled to feed input to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Ten (10) quick internet accessibility tips:
The links in the Quick Tips below mostly go to the techniques documents that provide implementation guidance – including explanations, strategies, and detailed markup examples.
1. Images & animations: Use the alt attribute to describe the function of each visual.
2. Image maps. Use the client-side map and text for hotspots.
3. Multimedia. Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of video.
4. Hypertext links. Use text that makes sense when read out of context. For example, avoid "click here."
5. Page organization. Use headings, lists, and consistent structure. Use CSS for layout and style where possible.
6. Graphs & charts. Summarize or use the longdesc attribute.
7. Scripts, applets, & plug-ins. Provide alternative content in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported.
8. Frames. Use the noframes element and meaningful titles.
9. Tables. Make line-by-line reading sensible. Summarize.
10. Check your work. Validate. Use tools, checklist, and guidelines at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG
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