Friday, 14 March 2014

Expert presentation: Accessibility of Online Content and Services for People with Disabilities

The network of POSCON will be working on recommendations concerning the needs of disabled children when they use online content and services during the coming weeks. As an introduction into the topic we invited two expert speakers in Germany to a core group meeting and hereby want to share their in-depth knowledge and experiences in a short summary.

The speakers Benjamin GrieƟmann (WEB for ALL and Anna Courtpozanis (Agentur Vielfalt) spoke about opportunities and disadvantages for people with disabilities whenever they use online media. Mrs Courtpozanis later demonstrated how a blind person such as herself uses a screen reader with Braille keyboard to surf online, which gave astonishing insights into how web content can be accessed through such a tool, but also how it is perceived.

Generally, the internet offers huge opportunities for people with disabilities, but there are a lot of barriers making usage difficult or sometimes even impossible (e.g. accessing flash websites or reading PDFs). Accessibility efforts do not seem to have a strong lobby, many providers of online content and services appear to be not very motivated to engage.

Computer and internet were described as media of support and communication for people with disabilities; they offer the possibility to connect technological tools for help and support. Different forms of disabilities have to be distinguished: limited visual skills, ablepsia, limited hearing skills, deafness or disadvantages in regard to movement capabilities. There are various technological tools to support people with these kinds of disabilities:

  • Movement capabilities/motor skills: special mouse operated by mouth or air, special keyboards (braille, special small/narrow keys, special large keys), operation by eyes
  • Hearing skills, deafness: sign languages on websites (videos)
  • Visual skills, ablepsia: enlargement programs / technologies, reduce resolution

Websites as well as other online content and services can be tested with special tools which detect accessibility difficulties and barriers, these can be manifold and include for example:

  • No (or incorrect) alternative texts and attributes for images/graphics, flash animation, links, forms etc.
  • No (or incorrect) headlines which should convey the structure of the site
  • No (or difficult) keyboard functionality (e.g. tabulator cannot be used properly)
  • Hard to define contrasts, too similar colours (yellow/green)
  • Website hard to be scaled, cannot be enlarged without loss
  • Accessing PDF files

Actually the WCAG standards are internationally accepted and supposed to be binding; some countries implemented these standards into their legislation. But reality shows that many websites do not meet these standards, accessing them for example as a blind person can be frustrating, confusing and sometimes even impossible as the screen reader demonstration showed.

Consequently, the network of POSCON wants to raise awareness to this issue and more importantly aim at improving the quality of online content and services regarding their accessibility for people with disabilities, especially for children and young people, so that they are not discriminated in any way and can make full use of all the positive opportunities.

Within the thematic expert network of POSCON we will now begin to work on concrete recommendations for online content and services with very practical tips and advice which are meant to complement our recently published “Checklist and concrete Criteria for Positive Content”. Furthermore we will strive towards a greater public awareness for accessibility for all internet users including people with disabilities.

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