Technology has become an essential component in our daily lives. That is why ensuring accessibility to technology for those with disabilities is vital.
For many years, I developed my professional activity in the IT environment at ONCE (the Spanish National Organization for the Blind), working with blind and visually impaired computer users. In doing so, I became more and more aware of certain aspects related to the access those with disabilities have to Information Technology and the Web for personal and professional reasons.
It might not be known to someone who has not worked on these types of systems that, thanks to the technical aids available today, the visually impaired can:
- surf the web,
- develop applications in different programming languages,
- work as a Helpdesk services provider,
- make PowerPoint presentations,
- Do administrative tasks on a computer with the help of Braille lines, screen magnifiers, etc.
Therefore, it is necessary for the work environment to be compatible with these technical aids.
Computer and software accessibility
Configuration of the computer will depend on the capabilities of the user and the device being used. In order to have an accessible computer station, we need to understand some of the existing problems:
Software accessibility criteria are aimed at making every software package compatible with programs and devices specially designed for people with disabilities.
Users with disabilities and the elderly may experience a number of problems in accessing information. Technical support, products, instruments, equipment or technical systems used by a person with a disability, can serve to ease the impact of the disability on the user.
Most current browsers interpret the contents of a web server to display them correctly, and offer a multitude of options to be able to adapt the web content to the preferences of the end users. In the case of people with disabilities, the possibilities of adaptation of the browser will condition the access to the contents.
Through technical assistance, (and if the contents of the Web are accessible), disabilities are not a barrier to access to information. Interaction with electronic content varies depending on the disability and the necessary technical assistance.
Here are a few examples:
Screen readers: These are programs that interpret the text and the images displayed on the screen and transform it into a voice. Depending on the disability of the user, he or she can use the Braille line and the keyboard as input devices, since blind people do not usually use the mouse.
Screen magnifiers: Screen magnifiers are software or hardware devices that allow the screen to be displayed with a considerable increase in size, which is an aid for people with visual problems. With these technical aids, a user who has some vision can view the computer screen by increasing the size of the images on the screen.
Voice Recognition: Voice recognizers are used as input devices for computer information. They are most often used by those who have difficulty using the keyboard or mouse. This type of application converts the user’s voice into commands that are sent to the operating system through a microphone. These commands can affect the movements of the mouse or the keyboard.
The Braille Line: This is a hardware device, which in combination with specific programs, shows the content of the screen in braille characters, so that blind or deaf-blind people can access the information on the screen.
Resources to make the Web more accessible
On the web, like in other environments, a non-accessible design introduces unnecessary barriers and difficulties to those with disabilities. To measure the degree of accessibility of a website, the reference currently used is the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0” (WCAG 1.0) Of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the Consortium World Wide Web (W3C). Through the implementation of the accessibility guidelines, the web page, site or web portal can be identified through a following logo that indicate the degree of accessibility achieved. So far, triple A is the highest rating.
Is accessibility improving?
The needs for access to information on the Web by blind and partially sighted users must be taken into account.
The computer must:
- be physically accessible,
- The main programs should include accessibility options and be compatible with most technical aids for access to digital information
Technology continues to grow, and is more efficient every day. It is literally revolutionizing our lives. This is no exceptionfor the visually impaired and the blind.
Here are a few examples:
- A digital tablet that transcribes everything into Braille – Developed by an Austrian start-up Blitab Technology. This technology uses liquid to instantly create Braille characters. More information: http://blitab.com
- A ring that reads texts for the visually impaired – The MIT Media LabTeam has created this connected ring that scans the text as the user’s finger moves across the page. More information: https://www.media.mit.edu
- Technology that allows blind and partially sighted people to find their way around the subway – A company led with an iron hand by Umesh Pandya et Maya Bonkowski decided to remedy this inconvenience. More information: http://dailygeekshow.com/technologie-pour-guider-les-aveugles
- An eyeglass device that reads the text aloud – The device was developed by ORCAM. Is composed of a Google Glass-inspired camera connected to a mini-computer (which can easily be dragged into a pocket) that records and processes the information in question. More information: http://www.orcam.com
These technological innovations are revolutionizing the lives of many people around the world, and will continue to do so. Until, perhaps, technology helps to make blindness and visual impairment a thing of the past.
Information sources (All trademarks mentioned in this article are the property of their respective manufacturers)
W3C. Web Accessibility Initiative. http://www.w3.org/WAI/
ISO (2003). Ergonomics of human-system interaction: guidance on accessibility for human computer interfaces: technical specification ISO/TS 16071. Geneva: ISO. https://www.iso.org/standard/30858.html
Support-EAM. Cómo usan la web las personas con discapacidad. http://www.supporteam.org/waec/es/02_disabilities_es.html.
Ayudas técnicas ONCE http://cidat.once.es/home.cfm?excepcion=52&idproducto=680&idseccion=01
Portal de tecnologías WEB para usuarios ciegos y deficientes visuales http://www.manolo.net/braille.html
Web Accessibility 101 http://ctis.okcareertech.org/development/training/accessibility/web-accessibility-101/
Computer Accessibility. http://www.callscotland.org.uk/information/computer-accessibility/
Computer technologies for accessible education, T. Zafirova & P. Boytchev. https://www.slideshare.net/tzafirova/t-zafirova-p-bboytchev-computer-technologies-for-accessible-education
Reconocimiento del habla https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconocimiento_del_habla
Microsoft Speech Recognizer https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/hh361683(v=office.14).aspx