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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Designing websites for visually impaired person


Features of the week:

Last quarter, the United Nations Global Audit of Web Accessibility (UNGAWA) was released. REMMY NWEKE reports that web developers should align with the global standards to ensure web access to all humanity including the visually impaired.

Recently, the United Nations (UN) Global Audit of Web Accessibility (UNGAWA) disclosed that 98 per cent of websites globally as of today, as substandard and visually unaccessible for persons with disabilities.

The study conducted by a British firm, Nomensa and published at the first quarter of 2007 indicated that 98 per cent websites currently existing fall short of industry web standards for the programming codes, hence providing poor foundations for web accessibility generally.

The report commissioned last year by the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs (UNDSEA), a copy of the executive summary was made available to Champion Infotel, described the outcome as ‘stark results,’ and noted that the audit, the first of its kind, investigated the accessibility of selected 100 leading websites from 20 countries from around the world.

Focusing on Articles 21(c) and 9(g) of the Draft Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, five sectors were chosen for the audit, namely travel – airlines, finance – banking, media – newspapers, politics - central government representative, and retail – shops, with each of the sectors intended to reflect a key area of interaction for people online in 20 countries with relatively developed Internet infrastructure.

Stark results

The aim of the survey, UNDSEA said, was not intended to be exhaustive, but to obtain an indication concerning the existing status of accessibility of websites that people with disabilities might access as part of their daily lives.

“This snapshot produced stark results; most of the leading websites around the world do not meet defacto international standards for accessibility,” UN said.

Other major findings of the report included that 93 per cent of these websites did not provide adequate text descriptions for graphical content, which causes problems for visually impaired people.

Also, 73 per cent of those investigated relied on JavaScript for important functionality, thus making it impossible for an estimated 10 per cent of Internet users who are impaired to access key information. Just as 78 per cent of them used poor contrast for foreground and background colour combinations, making it difficult for people with mild visual conditions such as colour blindness to read information on such sites.

The report added that 97 per cent used fixed units of measurement, thereby preventing people from altering the size of text or comfortably resizing the page so that content could be easily scaled. While 89 per cent of global websites failed to use the correct technique for conveying document structure through the use of headings, making page navigation awkward, mostly for several visually impaired people, even as 87 per cent caused pop-up windows to appear without warning the user, thereby causing disorientation problems for people using screen magnification software.

Additionally, 97 per cent used link text that did not clearly indicate the destination of the link, which causes confusion for people with learning difficulties, whereas 92 per cent, did not provide a keyboard shortcut, to allow people to bypass large blocks of content, thus causing difficulties and frustration for people with physical impairments.

However, the report maintained that many of the sites investigated could be easily upgraded to remove the obstacles that prevent many people with disabilities from using them, even as majority of the sites need considerable work.

German Chancellor’s site scales UN web audit

The audit equally declared that the German Chancellor’s site top after scaling through the basic accessibility rating for persons with disabilities, just as the appraisal of 100 homepages, also found the Spanish Government and British Prime Minister’s sites respectively among the top three.

UNDSEA said the audit, the first of its kind, investigated the accessibility of 100 leading websites from 20 countries globally.

The list drawn almost from every continent consists of Argentina, China, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, France, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Germany, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Canada. Others were India, Russia, United Kingdom, Chile, Japan, Singapore and United States.

The survey stated that most of the leading websites around the world were unable to meet the defacto international standards for accessibility.

UN cautioned that many of these sites investigated could be easily upgraded to remove the obstacles that prevent many people with disabilities from using them, even as, “the majority of sites need considerable work,” UNDSEA said.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 1.0 (WCAG 1.0) stipulates that the guidelines be divided into three levels of achievement: Single-A (basic accessibility), Double-A (intermediate accessibility) and Triple-A (high accessibility).

UNDSEA also said that each homepage was measured to the highest-level possible, just as the guidelines consisting of 65 individual checkpoints, were tested with a combination of manual and automated techniques.

Some key findings of the audit, showed that levels of web accessibility across the 20 countries were lower than anticipated, given the presence of disability legislation in some countries and the fact that the WCAG have been in existence for over half a decade.

Apart from the three sites that achieved Single-A accessibility, there is a global failure to provide the most basic level of web accessibility for people with disabilities.

For instance, the Nomensa report on global accessibility authored by the duo of Simon Norris and Leonie Watson, highlighted that 93 per cent of sites measured did not provide adequate text descriptions for graphical content, hence causing additional challenges for visually impaired people.

A chat with Joseph

Based on the foregoing, Champion Infotel went to town to sound out a Nigerian blind law student at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Mr. Joseph Gbulegbe on his takes on the World Wide Web (www) generally and usage of Internet by his peers.

He affirmed of hearing about the Internet, but yet to use it, though he was aware of features that could enable visually impaired people like him to use the Internet. Mr. Gbulegbe confessed that he learnt about the Internet from friends who also browse the Internet very well despite that he does not own a Personal Computer (PC) himself.

According to him, efforts to know what his friends were doing with PC is essential, but “one has to be taught because, I think what is advisable is that one has his own PC in order to really practice what is being taught.”

Mr. Gbulegbe equally confirmed that UNILAG includes computer studies in the school curriculum, but for him and his special peers of visually impaired, they attend to such classes but not hands-on, “so we are being taught computer studies as in course in UNILAG, but the practical is not there.”

The reason given to them, he said, was because the institute does not have the facilities for “special people,” stressing that if they have their own PCs, “they would be normally put in a way to talk to you in order to know what to do.”

Though he pointed out that there are places where the visually impaired could go to learn how to use the computer, but its not free, adding that there are organisations that offer training to his peers including NigerWives among others that are based at Olagunmeji axis of Lagos State.

He emphasised that as long as web and Internet is good and beneficial to sighted persons, definitely it would be good for visually impaired, especially considering their advantages. He noted, “There is no doubt about that that its good the for visually impaired too.”

Mr. Gbulegbe further tasked the government and organised private sector to come up with a programme that would accommodate him and colleagues, mostly for those who are students by providing them their own computers with the relevant software so that they will be able to use the Internet like “our sighted colleagues.”

Adhering to standards

Reacting to the audit result, Vice President, Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), Mrs. Ufuoma Daro, told Champion Infotel that the study tends to access viability of the web and to all Internet users, regardless of their status, “whether they are able bodied or have a disability or other impairment, regardless of the web browsing technology they are using.”

She cited an instance that by enabling disabled access would include making browser commands accessible on a keyboard for those who cannot use a mouse and support for screen reader technology, which intercepts what is on a screen and directs it to a speech synthesizer or refreshable Braille device for the blind.

Mrs. Daro, who also is a Director at HiREST Africa, a multimedia servicing firm, noted that though the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has issued guidelines intended to make web browsers and multimedia players more accessible to disabled persons, presently this is not been adhered to because of interest in making money rather than following a given global standard.

The focus of W3C in terms of disabilities was actually for persons with vision problems from colour blindness to complete loss of eyesight, but can also include hearing loss, lack of motor function and cognitive impairment.

She lamented the outcome of the UN audit on websites, “which shouldn’t be,” saying that designing websites within the global standard formula should be adhered to strictly to achieve the openness of the Internet, which is to be “all-inclusive.”

She, therefore, advocated that in designing websites, techniques that will aid the disabled particularly in using websites should be incorporated. Such steps, she said consist of techniques that will make text more readable, browser’s built-in font must be scalable so as to make text larger.

“In doing this, attention should be paid to font sizing in the code, and design that could accommodate variable font sizes,” Mrs. Daro said,

As said by her, text with little background contrast is often difficult to read for users with normal sight, and even more difficult to read for users with visual impairments, just as “some developers use high contrast screen modes built into Windows and MacOS.”

Incorporation of screen readers, she said, are also very useful as blind and severely visually impaired users of the web will often use a screen reader to access web pages.

“Screen readers literally read the page aloud and describe options for following links and performing other actions and in designing websites to better accommodate screen readers will also improve a page’s display on small screens as well as search engine optimisation,” she submitted.

In order to curb this marginalisation, NIG, she said has set up web assessment committee to aid the upgrading of web development and content provision in the country for Internet users generally, with special focus on disabled fellows, which she noted, would further reduce the digital divide among humanity.

Day of Disable Persons

Although the need for improved accessibility by persons with disabilities to the Internet and other information technologies cannot be over-emphasised, hence it was the focus of the United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons last December 3.

But as pointed out by the immediate past Secretary-General of United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan at the occasion, said “Access to information and communication technologies creates opportunities for all people, perhaps none more so than persons with disabilities,” adding that as the development of the Internet and these technologies takes their needs more fully into account, the barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats need no longer stand in the way of participation.

The Internet, e-mail and cell phones, he noted, play a vital role in allowing members of the international disability movement to communicate and coordinate their activities during the negotiations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that countries agreed upon last summer, and which the General Assembly adopted in last December.

And because of the widespread use of new technologies in the course of forging the agreement, some industry observers have described the treaty the first “e-convention” even as many persons with disabilities still encounter numerous obstacles on the Internet, particularly due to websites that do not provide options for persons who are blind, visually impaired, and those who cannot use a mouse to navigate the web.

Accessibility and WAI guidelines:

For web designing experts many other things could constitute a badly designed website, including that having about 10 typographical errors, falls short let alone 751 errors in one webpage, which does not show any atom of professional quality development, of which reports has it that a concerned lawyer in the United States recently sued a website design company.

To drive home this point, AccessifyForum.com recently conducted WAI guideline compatibility survey by asking participants to vote “If a website does not comply with the WAI guidelines could such a website be called ‘accessible’?” 70 per cent was quoted as having said yes, 10 per cent no, and 20 per cent, uncertain.

Maria & Mathiason option:

Maria Cristina Sara-Serrano and John Mathiason, of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in their joint work on “United Nations Standards and Rules on Accessible Webpage Design,” stated that web sites, just like buildings, could be designed to meet the needs of all people, including those with disabilities.

“Unfortunately, most current web pages contain major access barriers, hence there is a need to create awareness about the need for accessible web design and to steer those who wish to learn more about the topic into the right direction,” they said.

The audience for this promotion, they said, should cut across public school teachers and administrators; college and university instructors, administrators, and policy makers, distance educators, librarians, and disability professionals among other web enthusiasts.

Last option

The WAI was developed by W3C, a not-for-profit group charged with developing and enhancing the web for us all and is led by the inventor of WWW, Mr. Tim Berners-Lee otherwise known as father of the web.

However, for those who may feel dissatisfied with the evolution of www and mostly as exposed by the UN audit, should feel free to comment on the Web Accessibility Guidelines version 2 draft at W3C website.

Therefore, there is unambiguous need for a rethink by professional web developers as advocated by Ms Daro, whilst promoting PC initiative for disables requires political will and the sooner we began to realise this fact, the better for humanity as the digital divide continues on downward curve.

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2 comments:

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