Blind Websites

The internet is becoming a necessary tool for many things in life. And for the 54 million people in the US who have a disability it can be frustrating accessing that information. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports a national non-profit group is challenging web-savvy professionals to design accessible websites.

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Sharron Rush is the executive director of Knowbility. She says accessibility to websites has become an issue as the internet has grown.

"When the internet began of course it was all text based which is pretty accessible to all kinds of different technologies. And then as more and more graphic elements and interactive elements have been introduced that's where the accessibility barriers come in."

Screen readers for the blind have difficulty reading information that is presented graphically on an internet website. Rush says the internet has a lot more audio content that isn't transcribed ... that's a problem for the deaf. Point and click navigation and pull down menus are problems for those who are disabled and can't handle a mouse.

"But when you think of something like a navigation map, like say you have hot points on an image that are actually navigation to another part of your website or another part of the internet and those aren't announced to the screen reader or if they are not available to the key board, then somebody who has a mobility impairment who can't use a mouse also won't be able to get to that information."

Former president of Taping for the Blind Robert Bartlett says it can be frustrating.

"I for instance am blind so I use a screen reader. Well somebody who codes a website with a log of graphics and has no description of the graphics and has no other information on it like that, it makes it totally useless to me."

Bartlett says awareness about accessible websites got a boost when laws were passed requiring government sites to be accessible.

"This is morphed into people becoming more and more knowledgeable about how to make an accessible website, what constitutes an accessible website and why you need an accessible website. You know for a business, any given business, if they don't have an accessible website, they are shutting out customers frankly."

Rush, with Knowbility, says bells and whistles on an internet site do not have to be eliminated in order to make the site accessible to those with disabilities.She says adopting universal web standards doesn't just benefit the disabled.

"For example when you use web standards and accessibility standards your website then also becomes much more usable and accessible to all those mobile browsing devices that people are using. So if you have an accessible website it's much more usable on a cell phone, on a PDA, on kiosks, on all kinds of alternative browsing devices."

Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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