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Accessibility of Social Media for Students Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

Editor's Note: The Adaptech Research Network is a research team based at Dawson College in Montreal that conducts research involving college and university students with disabilities in Canada. For more information, please visit:

To understand how students with disabilities are accessing and using social media, the Adaptech Research Network, in collaboration with the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), conducted an online study in the fall of 2009. The goal was to identify accessible and inaccessible social media, pinpoint the benefits, accessibility problems, and the solutions to social media challenges, and examine the reasons why students with disabilities choose to use--or not use--social media.

The term “social media” broadly encompasses a wide variety of technological products and services that are, at their core, designed to allow people to digitally interact with one another. Included are web services such as Facebook and Twitter, instant messaging services like MSN Messenger and Skype, and web communities such as FourSquare and Second Life.

723 students and recent graduates with disabilities responded to an online survey. 95 of them (67 females and 28 males) indicated they were blind or had low vision. 23% of these respondents indicated that they were totally blind, while 77% had low vision. 98% of respondents were actively pursuing a college diploma or an undergraduate, master's, doctoral or professional degree. Participants were asked about the assistive technologies they used and about their level of expertise using them. For many of the questions posed, respondents were asked whether they (1) strongly disagreed, (2) somewhat disagreed, (3) slightly disagreed, (4) slightly agreed, (5) somewhat agreed, or (6) strongly agreed with a series of statements. In this article, responses to these questions are presented as average scores on this 6-point scale (e.g. a score of 4.5 means that, overall, people slightly to somewhat agreed with the statement).

It is important to note that students did not feel that they had mastered their assistive technologies, although virtually all of them felt quite comfortable using the internet. The most commonly used social media platforms were those considered to be relatively accessible, and this was an important consideration in whether participants used those services. Moreover, though employers are increasingly using social media platforms, students who are blind or have low vision are, interestingly, not convinced that social media will assist with their job search.

The most common assistive technologies used by students who are blind or have low vision include screen readers (58%), screen magnification programs (51%), scanning and optical character recognition programs (46%), software that improves writing quality (41%), and refreshable braille (15%). Respondents felt that their level of expertise using needed adaptive technologies was not very good (score: 3.02), although they felt quite strongly that their expertise using the internet itself was very good (score: 5.17).

61% of respondents indicated that, at least some of the time, they used a cell phone or smartphone to access the internet. Nearly a fifth (19%) access the internet through gaming consoles (e.g. Xbox, Wii), and 9% access the internet through handheld/PDA (personal digital assistant) devices (such as PalmPilot, iPod Touch, etc.). Thus, accessibility of social media using mobile devices should be accounted for in future research where the accessibility of the platform is evaluated.

The most commonly used social media were YouTube (90%), Facebook (83%), MSN/Windows Live Messenger (75%), Skype (53%), and LiveJournal (24%). On a scale from 1 to 6, with 1 being very inaccessible and 6 being very accessible, these social media were rated as 4.78, 4.48, 5.03, 4.84 and 5.17 respectively. The least commonly used social media were Disaboom (1%), Digg (3%), (6%), SecondLife (6%) and Flikr (8%), with accessibility ratings of 1.00, 4.00, 3.33, 2.00 and 3.63 respectively.

Respondents viewed accessibility to be an important consideration in whether they would use a specific type of social medium (score: 4.83). Nevertheless, few believed that social media developers consider accessibility needs (score: 2.43), or that the Canadian government is actively working to make sure that the internet meets the needs of Canadians with disabilities (score: 2.32).

It came to our attention after this research was completed that some students who are blind or have low vision opt to access social media using "mobile" interfaces designed for smartphones, even when they are not using a smartphone or other portable device. These interfaces are typically more accessible to assistive technology, but provide a more limited feature set to users. Thus, how users are accessing social media should be taken into account in future research where platform accessibility is evaluated.

Students somewhat agreed that social media helps them feel less isolated (score: 4.20), that their friends conceive of their use of social media as being important (score: 4.41), and that it is used by companies, schools and organizations to reach out to people (score: 4.67). They were less convinced, however, that using social media will help them find a job (score: 3.48). 90% of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that their use of social media is to help maintain contact with people they already know, while only 40% agreed to any extent that they use social media to meet new people. Most agreed that they are very careful about how they portray themselves online (score: 5.30), and that when they do interact with people they do not know on the internet, they typically do not disclose that they have a disability (score: 5.12).

Respondents' aversion to revealing their disability and concern with their online portrayal may limit the usefulness of social media tools for career development. The potential employment benefits of social networking tools to build and develop extensive personal networks may not be fully realized as long as students view these tools as avenues of maintaining existing social relationships rather than as facilitators of the development of new connections. Lack of information about disabilities may also give developers the impression that there are few individuals with disabilities using their sites and, therefore, they may fail to adequately implement accessibility features.

Social media platforms are constantly changing to meet users' needs. Regrettably, this can pose barriers to students who are blind or have low vision, as they must constantly re-learn how to navigate these systems. Many new college and university graduates will be expected to use these platforms either as part of their work or to maintain important social ties in the workforce. Increasing the availability of assistive technology training programs that introduce persons who are blind or have low vision to major social media tools may be one strategy to facilitate their long-term inclusion.

Note: Article authors Natalie Martiniello, Anthony Tibbs and Catherine Fichten are members of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC). Follow AEBC on Twitter:

A Snapshot of Descriptive Video in Canadian Broadcasting

Editor's Note: Bev Milligan has a long involvement in the fight to have television programs captioned, and is currently President of Media Access Canada

For the more than 50 years since the advent of commercial television in Canada, persons who are blind and partially sighted have lacked full access to television.

Until recently, there has been very little progress, and a growing sense of disillusionment within the disabled community. In fact, in a recent study on TV viewing by blind and low-vision Canadians, many stated they did not bother to watch television because they could not easily navigate the technology involved, and because of the frustration of not knowing which programs were audio described.

In the 2010 group licence renewals for the majority of Canada's TV broadcasters, the Canada Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chose not to require them to identify described video (DV) at the beginning of a program. In the same decision, however, the CRTC did require, as a condition of licence, all Canadian television broadcasters to increase their descriptions to four hours per week. Many, however, have failed to comply with this limited threshold. Moreover, as the decision did not include a compliance mechanism, it is impossible to enforce this requirement.

Some broadcasters are also entirely exempt from the four-hour requirement. CPAC, for example, does not need a licence, and because of jurisdictional issues, much of its programming cannot be regulated by the CRTC. The Ontario Legislature and House of Commons programming are not under the jurisdiction of CPAC or the CRTC, other than to ensure they are broadcast, and neither is described.

While progress has been slow in coming and challenging, both technically and in policy terms, there is hope. The CRTC has shown its commitment to the idea of accessibility by recently requiring BCE to establish a Broadcasting Accessibility Fund (BAF). If properly managed, the fund will be a major force in accessibility, funding production of closed captioning and descriptive video, investing in technologies to improve the provision of accessible content, and working to establish best practices.

The experience with closed captioning offers vital insights. The more people who use captioning, the better; expanding the market for captioning has proved critical.

Getting production costs down is also essential. Currently, it costs $125-$400 per broadcast hour to close caption a television program, while describing the same program costs $1,800 an hour.

But reducing the price at the cost of quality is not an option. It is essential to establish best practices from the outset to ensure minimum standards for quality. The next step is to increase the number of required hours of DV per week, and ensure that broadcasters impose a DV requirement on any programming purchased from an independent producer.

It is key that the disabled community becomes more involved in policy and technology decisions made by government and the CRTC, to ensure they do not undo what progress has been made. For example, when the CRTC deregulated commercials, the impact of selling airtime to underwrite DV production costs, similar to what is done with captioning, was eliminated.

Another example where it is important that government and broadcasters are made aware of the impact of technology and policy change was during the transition from analogue to digital television. This change had and continues to have a big impact on the distribution of descriptive video because while the CRTC required broadcasters to upgrade their facilities to digital, manufacturers of set-top boxes and televisions had no such requirement. Since there was no transition plan for accessibility, broadcasters are now having to find new ways to get digital descriptions to analogue set-top boxes. The result is often no descriptions.

In broadcasting, as in other aspects of Canadian society, change has been slow. Moves to improve accessibility for Canadians with disabilities have come as the result of the ongoing efforts of concerned individuals and organizations working to raise awareness and influence government policy.

What has also become clear over the years is that many of the adaptations to improve accessibility for one group have benefits far beyond those envisaged when the changes were first implemented. Curb cuts on sidewalks, for example, that were originally introduced for wheelchair users, are now more frequently used by cyclists or people pushing strollers.

Today, the single biggest users of closed captioning are not persons with hearing impairments but rather sports bars, as captioning allows patrons to follow the game despite the high level of background noise.

For described video, mobile radio and archiving offer tremendous market expansion.

Descriptive video gives an audio translation of what’s happening in the television program. So, for example, in the case of archiving, one could ask for any program with a woman wearing a red dress and all of these programs could be identified through audio description. This is a powerful opportunity to harness, resell and market programming in a way that has never been available before. What is required is the development of software tools and standards for description production, style and archiving.

One of the key changes in recent years that has helped shift attitudes is the coming together of the disabled community, with organizations across Canada united to speak with one voice. The Access 2020 Coalition united major accessibility organizations, like the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, before the CRTC, arguing for a 100% accessible broadcast day by 2020. The government has responded by raising the bar for broadcasters, and more work needs to be done to achieve the dramatic increase in descriptive video necessary to reach the objective of 100% by 2020. Blind and partially sighted Canadians must be informed in advance when, and on what channel, a described program will be broadcast. They need access to set-top boxes that are reliable, user friendly and not overly complicated.

Finally, they have a right to the best possible quality of described video programming available.

Party Politics Exclude The Disabled Political Party Websites Discriminate Against People With Disabilities

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from (New Zealand) and is dated August 26, 2005.

A recent survey by W 3 A Limited of the accessibility of the big 6 political party home pages has revealed that all of them fail to provide even the basic facilities to make it easier for people with disabilities to access their sites.

Bruce Aylward, CEO of W 3 A Limited, comments: "Coming up to the elections, one would expect the parties to shout their policies from the rooftops. Their websites are ideal vehicles from which to inform everybody of their policies and promises for a brighter future.

"Unfortunately, it seems that one sector of our community has been forgotten again."

The sector that Mr. Aylward refers to is the community of people with disabilities. They cannot always access a website in the same way that an able-bodied person might, and have special needs that must be considered when building a website.

An international standard has been around since 1999, which describes the things that a web designer can do to make it easier for people with disabilities to access a site. It is called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG.

Mr. Aylward again: "The WCAG defined three levels of accessibility: levels A, AA and AAA. Yet all 5 of the party websites that we have surveyed did not even meet the minimum requirements.

"This is particularly despairing in the light of the Labour Government's commitment to make ALL government sites accessible by January 2006, as well as the fact that they are breaching the Human Rights Act."

The survey was done against all the level A checkpoints of the WCAG on the entry page for each of the following parties: Labour, Greens, National, New Zealand First, Maori Party and ACT New Zealand.

Below is a summary of the problems that were identified.

  • Images are missing ALT attributes: Blind internet surfers cannot see the images on a site and rely on a technology called screen readers to read out any text on the site in a computer voice. If a site uses images with ALT attributes, then the screen reader can read out the text in the ALT attribute in the place of the image. This is especially important when images are used for links, for example, on the Labour party's entry page.

Labour, Greens, National, New Zealand First and the Maori Party are all missing ALT attributes for at least some of their images.

In fact, this is what the page looks like if you disable all images.

Picture with Article: Graphic of what the website looks like without images.

  • ALT attributes missing from input elements: Input elements are the areas on a web form where a user can input, for example, their name or select items from a list. On the screen, it is easy to see which label relates to a particular field and, thus, what information to enter into that field. But if you cannot see the label, then you need some other way to identify the purpose of the field, AKA the ALT attribute on the input field.

Labour, Greens, National, New Zealand First and ACT New Zealand all failed to provide the ALT attributes on their input fields.

  • Most of the parties also had audio and video clips of their various speeches. In some cases, transcripts of those clips are provided. Unfortunately, most of the speeches still remain totally inaccessible to people with severe hearing impairments, as no transcripts or subscripts for videos are provided.

  • When a blind surfer uses a screen reader on a website, they have to listen through the menu for every page before they get to the content. Things can be made a bit easier by providing a "Skip to Content" link before the menu. That way, the surfer can decide when to listen to the menu and when to go directly to the content.

Most of the sites did not provide such a link. ACT New Zealand did provide a "Skip Navigation" link, but it did not work.

  • The Maori party used frames to implement their sites but did not provide titles for each of the frames, making it difficult for a blind surfer to find their way around and to understand what each of the frames are for.

  • Some surfers may disable JavaScript on their browsers. For example, people who are susceptible to epileptic seizures may disable JavaScript to prevent animations, which could trigger their seizures.

The Greens, National, New Zealand First and the Maori Party all have functionality on their sites, which does not work at all if JavaScript is disabled and they have no other mechanisms to access the same information.

Even though the Labour party provides a text-only version of their site, there is no way to access that version from the entry page.

Mr. Aylward concludes: "The political parties should be setting an example for the rest of the country and not exclude anybody, particularly as they are supposed to represent the entire population, not just the able bodied sections of the community."

About W 3 A Limited

W 3 A Limited is an independent website audit company based in Wellington, NZ. Services offered include a range of audits to ensure that company websites and intranets comply with the NZ Human Rights Act, as well as training courses in how to develop accessible websites. The company aims to promote the issue of website accessibility, as well as helping website designers to design more accessible websites.

Persons With Disabilities in Television Programming: a Plan to Move Forward on Greater Inclusion

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from Abilities Magazine, Winter 2005:

Canada's private broadcasters are committed to continuing to bring greater diversity to Canada's broadcasting system, both onscreen and behind the scenes. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) has completed a research study and developed recommendations, and is committed to improving the presence, portrayal and participation of persons with disabilities in television programming: (opens in a new window)

Over the past 18 months, I had the privilege to chair a Steering Committee comprised of Canadian private broadcasters, created to oversee three streams of work: comprehensive consultations; focus group research; and best practices research. The Committee also oversaw the development of a toolkit for broadcasters to assist them in meeting commitments to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities in the industry, and address presence and portrayal issues onscreen. This study was the first of its kind in Canada.

An Outreach Committee comprised of persons with disabilities, many of whom have experience with the broadcasting industry, was also created to serve as an advisory group on the implementation of the CAB research plan and provided invaluable input and guidance on the recommendations and tools identified. The research study included three components:

1) Extensive consultations: Through one-on-one interviews with representatives from service and consumer disability non-government organizations (disability NGOs), persons with disabilities within broadcasting, government officials, senior managers in the broadcasting industry and representatives from the Canadian production sector. A total of 56 people representing 43 organizations from across Canada were interviewed between May and July, 2005.

2) Stakeholder forum: The Steering Committee held a stakeholder forum in July 2005 in Toronto, which brought together 20 disability NGOs, broadcasters, performers and producers in a facilitated discussion of issues, barriers, tools and initiatives, and 16 observers from government and the broadcasting industry, including two officials from the CRTC.

3) Best practices: Research and analysis were conducted, focusing on broadcasting industry initiatives and industry-related initiatives in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada. Those consulted for the study agree that the presence of persons with disabilities both onscreen and behind the scenes is low, and that negative onscreen portrayals still take place. However, both broadcasters and representatives from the disability community sensed a strong basis for positive change.

Research findings include:

The creation of a Public Service Announcement (PSA) expected to air on CAB member stations in Fall 2006, directed at influencing a positive shift in public attitudes about persons with disabilities.

A review of the industry content codes by Spring 2006 to address issues identified in the research relating to the portrayal of persons with disabilities in television programming.

With input from the disability community, development of a training seminar for HR and other television managers in order to sensitize the industry to the specific ways in which persons with disabilities can be accommodated in the broadcasting workplace, for implementation in 2006.

Development of an information package about employment in the broadcasting and production sectors, for distribution to broadcasters, educators and the disability community, explaining the types of employment available in broadcasting and production to be posted on the Diversity in Broadcasting section of the CAB website.

With input from the disability community and the cooperation of the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), develop educational material on inappropriate use of language in news, for completion in 2006.

Our collective success depends on the collaboration and contribution of all industry partners and includes recommendations for Canada's independent production sector, including producers, writers, casting directors, directors and other content creators. They all play a powerful role in creating more onscreen presence and more accurate portrayals of persons with disabilities.

Community channels: Stakeholder forum participants observed that cable distribution undertakings can make a valued contribution to inclusion by making community channels available and accessible to programming initiatives by persons with disabilities, while also providing training facilities.

The research highlighted the fundamental role of Canada's education sector in the development of human resources for the industry. With the support of broadcasters and industry partners, educators at all levels can help guide students with disabilities to career paths in broadcasting and/or television production.

The significant degree of learning involved in this comprehensive research study has informed the range of initiatives, tools and recommendations that Canada's private broadcasters are committed to implementing to achieve positive change.

Sarah Crawford, V-P, Public Affairs, CHUM Limited! Chair of the CAB Committee on Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming.

European Public Sector Fails on Basic Web Accessibility

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from E-Access Bulletin, Issue 72, December 2005:

Just three percent of public sector websites in the European Union (EU) reach accepted minimum international standards of accessibility, according to United Kingdom government-funded research published last month.

The results were obtained by carrying out automated and manual checks on 436 public sector websites across all 25 member states of the EU (European Union). The checks were designed to show how well the sites measured up to the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG,, that grade sites "A", "AA" or "AAA", in rising order of accessibility.

According to the research, only three percent reached "A" status, although a further 27 percent narrowly missed out, either because they passed all automated checks but failed a manual inspection, or failed a small number of automated checks. No sites were found to reach "AA" or "AAA" status.

"I had expected and hoped that governments were doing better," accessibility expert, Helen Petrie, Professor of Computer Science at the University of York, told E-Access Bulletin. "Such a low level of conformance is disappointing and shows that we have a mountain to climb."

The report, "eAccessibility of Public Sector Services in the European Union", (, was commissioned as part of the UK's presidency of the EU. It revealed that few member states know how well they are doing in the accessibility field: of the 25, only six felt able to estimate the proportion of their websites meeting "A" requirements, but all six were found to have overestimated.

The poor showing may partly be explained by the fact that the WCAG are not available in all EU languages. At present, the guidelines aren't available in the national languages of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Malta and Slovenia; and a number of other minority languages. Translations are in progress for the languages of Poland and the Slovak Republic.

Copyright 2005 Headstar Ltd.

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Do's and Don'ts For Building Accessible Websites

Editor's Note: Bruce Etheridge is a Web and Documentation Specialist for the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC). He is also a former award-winning web and magazine editor and has been involved with a variety of organizations dedicated to assisting persons with disability since 1987.

With anti-discrimination laws being developed to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities in virtually every country in the western world, web accessibility is fast becoming a requirement rather than simply an option for web developers.

Section 508 of the United States (U.S.) Rehabilitation Act, for example, ensures that the websites of all vendors conducting business with the U.S. federal government meet clearly defined accessibility guidelines.

In Australia in 2000 a complaint was filed against the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) on the grounds its website was inaccessible to blind people. Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission agreed and, when SOCOG failed to rectify these accessibility issues, a fine of $20,000 (AU) was levied against the committee.

In Canada, the federal government's Common Look and Feel (CLF) guidelines and legislation, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), are precursors to more stringent regulations that will inevitably follow as this country's population ages and disability issues become a priority. (At present, web developers are not compelled to make sites accessible, and the AODA as it now stands does not specifically address web accessibility issues.)

Aside from the standard "include ALT text with images", what can developers do to make their websites more accessible?

  1. Build accessibility into your web design from the outset. Planning is the key when it comes to creating an accessible website and this critical first step is one web developers often overlook.

An additional reason to plan accessibility into your initial design is cost. Eventually, legislation in Canada will require websites to conform to accessibility standards and it is far costlier to retrofit a site than to factor in accessibility from the beginning.

To make the SOCOG site accessible, for example, experts estimated the cost at more than $10,000 (AU), whereas if accessibility had been a consideration from the outset, it would've added only two percent to the website's overall budget.

  1. Use text wherever possible. Persons who rely on screen readers, braille displays, and those with hearing impairments will always be able to access web content that is presented as text. That is not always the case when images are used in place of text or when multimedia/audio content is not reproduced textually.

  2. Provide "meaningful" text equivalents for images, applets, scripts, and objects that are used in place of text. The purpose of "alt" text is to provide a textual equivalent when an element cannot be displayed by a browser or viewed by a user.

Most web developers recognize the importance of including "alt" text within their web pages, but many fail to provide meaningful text equivalents. Alt text should describe the purpose of the element within the context of the web page.

Before writing "alt" text, first consider what information the element is meant to convey.

  • If an element such as an image includes important text, then that text must also appear in the "alt" attribute.

  • Do not use an element's filename, file size, or file extension as "alt" text.

  • Do not use null (i.e. alt="") or empty (i.e. alt=" ") "alt" attribute values for important content. (Null or empty "alt"

text is acceptable for decorative elements.)

  • "Alt" text should not exceed 150 (English) characters. (For elements that require a detailed explanation, use the "longdesc" attribute and d-link.)

  • Do not use placeholder text (i.e. alt="image goes here") as "alt" text.

  • "Alt" text for anchors should specify the destination of the link (i.e. alt="U of T bookstore".

  • Avoid creating links that open a new browser window, launch pop-ups, or shift the focus of a user's system to a new frame. When a link forces a new window to open, it drastically changes the focus of a user's interface. This can be extremely disorienting for any user, but particularly for those who are blind.

Opening a new window also disables a browser's "Back" button, which can be frustrating even for sighted users (new windows do not inherit the history of the originating browser window).

Although some screen readers announce when a new browser window has been opened and others play a distinctive sound, these auditory signals can be missed during the reading of a web page. Blind users obviously cannot look at the taskbar to determine how many windows are open and must direct the screen reader to list all open windows if focus is lost in the current browser.

Low vision users who set their browser windows to automatically open at full screen size to view content more easily will also have difficulty determining when a new window has been opened. Each new window will appear overtop of existing Windows, concealing them from view. Windows XP users will have an especially difficult time because multiple windows of the same application are automatically grouped together, making it virtually impossible for someone with low vision to determine that a new window has even been opened.

  • Enable users to bypass repetitive content (such as navigational arrays that appear at the top of each page) by imbedding a skip over link within each web document. Typically, the first item users encounter in an HTML page is a navigation bar. For screen reader users, long lists of navigational links can be a source of frustration and a barrier to accessing content.

While sighted persons can skip over repetitive content visually, a blind person must listen to the screen reader repeat each link every time a web page is accessed. A skip over link enables users to bypass repetitive content and get to the main body of the web document quickly and easily.

There are several methods for using HTML markup to bypassing groups of links automatically. One method is to use the MAP element to create a grouping; another is to create a transparent link visible only to screen readers.

  • Ensure link text is meaningful. Link text must clearly identify the target or destination page. Blind and low vision users often direct their screen readers to scan web pages for hyperlinks. This creates a list of links that are presented to the user out of context. Links that have labels such as "click here" or "select link" are meaningless to these users.

In addition, such text focuses on the mechanics of activating a link rather than identifying the destination page's content, implying that the link can only be activated using a standard pointing device such as a mouse. Individuals who are mobility impaired often use alternative input devices such as switches, a head wand, or track ball to activate hyperlinks.

When writing link text, be sure it:

  • Describes the destination page;

  • Remains meaningful when read out of context;

  • Is succinct (i.e. four words or less);

  • Does not include verbs referring to link activation;

  • Does not contain URL pathnames.

  • Provide text transcripts for audio, visual and multimedia content. Text transcripts for audio content require web developers to reproduce spoken words, song lyrics etc. verbatim, and sound effects should also be described. Visual content requires a full description of scenes, actions, body language, images and illustrations/graphics. Transcripts provide persons who are blind, deaf, or use browsers that cannot play movies, animation or slide shows a textual equivalent of the information in an accessible format.

  • Design for device independence by including keyboard equivalents for all actions on your website. This ensures that blind users and those with a mobility impairment who cannot use a mouse (or other traditional pointing device) have full access and are able to interact with your website.

If, for example, a form control such as a "Submit" button can only be activated via a mouse, an individual who is blind using voice input software wouldn't be able to submit their information. A web page designed for keyboard access will, typically, be accessible to other input devices.

Developers can add keyboard accessibility to their site through the "accesskey" and "tabindex" attributes.

  • If colour is used to convey information, make sure that the information is also available through alternate means (i.e. through the context in which the information is presented or its markup properties). A simple test to determine whether a web page's content is colour-dependent is to disable colours in your browser or view the page using a monochromatic monitor.

A common error web developers make is to rely on colour to identify text links when the text-decoration attribute is set to none (i.e. the underline is removed from all links). Many low-vision and colour-blind users will not be able to distinguish a link from body text if colour is the only technique used to indicate a hyperlink.

Another common problem related to colour is found in web documents that ask users to make a selection based on colour (i.e. "Choose one item from the list in red, one from the list in yellow, and one from the list in green"). Obviously, individuals who cannot view colours, either due to a visual impairment or because they view web pages monochromatically, will not be able to distinguish between these lists.

  • Present text in a linear format. Using tables and columns to position text on a web page can cause significant barriers to persons using screen readers and text-to-speech software.

Typically, text-to-speech software reads across web pages rather than down table columns. As a result, when text is presented in a non-linear format, text-to-speech technologies read the first line in column one, the first line in column two and so on until the end of the row. This process is repeated at line two of the first column. Obviously, having a web document read in this fashion renders the content unintelligible.

Supermarket Websites Fail Basic Checks

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from E-Access Bulletin, Issue 55, July 2004.

Only one of the UK's top five supermarkets has a website that meets even the most basic accessibility needs of disabled consumers, a survey by the charity AbilityNet ( has found.

"State of the e-nation: online supermarkets" is an audit of websites operated by Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Somerfield and Tesco. Each site was tested for usability and accessibility using Watchfire's "Bobby" software ( and a range of manual checks. The sites were then ranked on a five-star scale, where one star signifies "very inaccessible" and five stars mean "very accessible."

The highest score of four stars went to Tesco's "alternative" site-- was the only site that could be easily accessed by those with visual impairments, dyslexia or a physical disability. Asda (, Morrisons ( and Sainsburys ( scored one star each, while Somerfield ( and Tesco's mainstream site ( fared marginally better with two stars.

Common problems encountered by AbilityNet's researchers included "hard-coded" text which could not be enlarged; a lack of text labels for images; and the use of JavaScript mini-programmes which aren't recognized by some older browsers or by some of the specialist browsers used by the visually impaired.

The report praised Somerfield for having the "most accessible of the 'mainstream' supermarket websites." However, its site is not e-commerce enabled and so doesn't offer the convenience of online shopping for disabled users, said the report.

"We are quite pleased with our two-star ranking, which is better than some of the other supermarket sites," said Nicholas Hall, marketing controller at Somerfield. "But we don't think we should be harshly judged for not offering an e-commerce site. It is a deliberate part of our strategy not to be an e-commerce operation, because we are a local high-street retailer that encourages people to physically visit our stores. We aren't like some of the larger supermarkets who often have stores out of town and are more suited to an e-commerce offering."

Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys and Somerfield have made pledges to improve the accessibility of their sites. The report says that by having inaccessible sites, the supermarkets are missing out on a market of over seven million people with an estimated spending power of 120 billion pounds a year.

Copyright 2005 Headstar Ltd.:

Entertainment Delivered to The Comfort of Home

Editor's Note: Pamela Munoz is Communications Officer for VoicePrint Canada.

VoicePrint Canada is a not-for-profit charity established in 1989 to enhance access to printed news, information and entertainment by more than 3.2 million vision- and print-restricted Canadians.

We read newspapers and magazines for people who cannot read for themselves 24hours/day and 7days/week. We also provide special programming to discuss issues that impact blind and low-vision communities.

VoicePrint Canada is a service that is currently being provided to you in the comfort of your own home with your current cable, satellite or internet provider!

Our programming is divided into half-hour shows that focus on various topics, from Science & Technology to Arts & Entertainment. We read from more than 100 different publications from coast to coast to coast.

VoicePrint Canada can be accessed on the Secondary Audio Program (S.A.P.) of CBC Newsworld; Star Choice, ExpressVu and Look TV audio channels; and on the web at at no additional cost.

VoicePrint Canada recently launched the SAP-TV Audio Receiver, whereby someone with a vision impairment can independently access the S.A.P. at the touch of a button. This receiver was in response to the feedback we received about the difficulty of accessing the S.A.P. independently.

With this receiver, not only can VoicePrint Canada be heard instantly, so can some of our AudioVision Canada described programming on various channels across the country. This is an exciting solution for everyone to gain easier access to the S.A.P. and its benefits.

Our second division is AudioVision Canada, which is Canada\'s pre-eminent audio description service.

We add narration to the soundtrack of cinematographic works so on-screen action sequences are independently accessible by viewers who are blind or have low vision. This narration does not interfere with the original soundtrack and this allows blind and low-vision audiences to enjoy the film or show with persons who are sighted.

AudioVision Canada\'s products are currently available at your local library and if they aren\'t, we encourage you to ask your library to serve your needs. Catalogues are available at 1-866-966-7667.

We recently started our Local Broadcast Centre initiative, which will open 100 sites across the country. Community news, grocery specials and local events from Victoria to St. John\'s will be made available in an audio format on the internet and available for anyone to access.

For more information about VoicePrint Canada, the SAP-TV Audio Receiver, programming or how to become a member, please call 1-800-567-6755 or visit:

Mixed Welcome For First Accessible Dvd

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from E-Access Bulletin, Issue 59, November 2004.

The RNIB has issued a qualified welcome to a new DVD version of the Shawshank Redemption, the first general release film DVD to be issued with audio description and talking menus for vision-impaired people.

Audio description offers a descriptive narrative of actions, gestures, scene changes and other visual information which would not otherwise be available to vision-impaired people.

The new DVD has been produced by Granada Ventures ( on the tenth anniversary of the film\'s initial release.

The RNIB has broadly welcomed the new three-disc boxed set DVD, although it criticized the fact that only one of the three discs has audio-described content with talking menus. This means that while vision-impaired people can access the main feature and choose specific scenes, they can\'t, for example, access interviews with actors on the other discs.

Additionally, when the discs are put into a DVD player, there is no way of identifying which disc is which.

"The talking menu feature should be available on all three discs. If you couldn\'t see at all and put disc two or three into your DVD player, you\'d have no idea what was on that disc, let alone how to get to the area you were interested in," says Jill Whitehead, broadcasting and talking images officer at the RNIB. She also criticized the fact that the disc that contains audio content only speaks three out of six of its menu options, meaning vision-impaired people are excluded from some content such as the directors\' cut.

"The problem with this product is that the publisher has decided for blind and visually impaired people what they might want to access," says Whitehead. "This is in effect a form of censorship." If Granada Ventures had consulted with the RNIB, it would have been able to avoid such basic design faults, Whitehead says.

However, she welcomed the broad efforts towards accessibility being made. "Granada have made a giant step forward in making DVDs accessible and showing to the rest of the industry what\'s possible, they just haven\'t gone quite far enough. Hopefully this will be the first of many more and, for a first attempt, this is a very commendable effort."

Copyright 2005 Headstar Ltd.:

Shopping: Another Indirect Benefit of The Accessible Internet

Editor's Note: Marcia Cummings is National Secretary of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.

I have always found shopping at a store for anything a stressor. The only times this is not the case are those when I have specific items in mind and can simply walk in and request them. Otherwise, when I want to browse, I have to either beg a friend or relative to accompany me or hope there is a suitably inactive service person at the store who wouldn\'t mind spending some time with me.

Neither is a foolproof method, and therefore shopping has always been stressful for me.

Enter the internet and the many online stores that have sprung up in the past few years.

There are sites selling everything from food to clothes, music to medicine. Not all are accessible, but there are a growing number of them that have made the effort and they have changed my shopping experience forever!

Let\'s compare the old and the new shopping experiences.

I walk into a store with my tentative list of wanted items. My friend, or the store employee, and I begin the tour of the aisles in search of the items.

"Oh, wait," I say. "I just thought of something-do you have this other item?"

Some discouraging remark is then uttered by my guide--"We were just in that aisle-why didn\'t you ask then?" or "I don\'t have all day."

The result?

I give up and buy my original list of items, and make a mental note to find another store to purchase the ones I couldn\'t find that day. I then have words with my friend, if my guide had been a friend, about how frustrating the experience had been.

Now, enter my computer and or any other accessible online store.

I log in and start searching for my list of items, adding each one to my order after verifying price, format, etc. But then, all of a sudden, I think of another movie I want, one not on my original list.

No problem! I simply search for it and voila! They have it! Into my basket it goes-figuratively! No fuss, no complaints, no stress!

Maybe I even decide to browse and just type in a word or two to start a search. Again, the list of results comes up and I\'m free to explore it and choose something--or nothing.

Some people are concerned about the security of online use of credit cards, but my view is that there is no guarantee that the clerk who hands me my card and receipt in the regular store hasn\'t quietly written down the number for later personal misuse.

In fact, since a detailed explanation of an online purchase is always shown before the order is confirmed, including tax and shipping amounts, I actually get more information through the online method than I am likely to get at a walk-in store. And all this information is in a form that I can read myself--without assistance.

Privacy at last!

There are certain types of items, of course, for which there is no substitute for actually going into a store and examining the merchandise-things like clothing and jewellery.

But for many other items, you can\'t beat the internet. I have browsed and made purchases at many sites, including, and

There is only one disadvantage to this shopping method-it encourages the impulse buy. But I\'m learning to resist-slowly!


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