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How disabled users access the Internet

In 1995 a new era of accessibility for disabled people began. The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) was passed, stating that:

“It's unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public.”

A website is regarded as a service and the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and DRC (Disability Rights Commission) have been quick to apply pressure on to organisations to push this law into practice. Indeed, the DRC has now published a report on its formal investigation into 1000 websites.

So, how do disabled people access the Internet?

Blind users

Internet users who have no sight at all may utilize a screen reader, which reads the content of the web page, or rather the HTML code of the page, back to them. These machines sift through the HTML code and the technology deciphers what needs to be read aloud and what should be ignored. You can download the IBM Homepage Reader for a free 30-day trial. Once you've downloaded it, go to your website, turn your monitor off, and try to navigate your website.

Partial/poor sight

To take full advantage of the Internet, users with partial or poor sight may need to be able to enlarge the text on web pages. Check if your website allows them to achieve this on Internet Explorer by going to ‘View > Text size > Largest’.

If your site is accessible to this group of users then the size of the text throughout the page will increase. Text embedded within graphics isn't resizable and may cause difficulties for this group of web users.

Users with poor vision may also use a screen magnifier to enlarge the text size. Again, text embedded within graphics may cause difficulties as it can appear blurry and pixelated when magnified.

Colour blindness

It's estimated that one in 12 men and one in 200 women have some form of colour blindness (Source: IEE). You can check how Internet users with different strains of colour blindness are viewing your website with Vischeck.

Deaf users

Deaf web users are often able to access the Internet in much the same way as able-bodied people, with one key exception - audio content. If it's a key function of your website for people to be able to hear a message, then be sure to provide subtitles or a written transcript.

An additional disadvantage deaf users may face is that British Sign Language is actually their first language. As such, they may be unable to understand some advanced English words and sentences.

Keyboard/voice only users

Some of your site users don't have access to a mouse when browsing the Internet. Try putting yourself in their position by navigating your website using only tab, shift-tab, and the return key.

Other users

Other people who may access your website that have disadvantages include:

  1. Some epileptic users who must always be careful to avoid seeing flickering between 2 and 55 Hz
  2. Web users from outside your industry who may not understand industry jargon or acronyms
  3. Web users whose first language is not English and who may not be able to comprehend complicated language

To really put yourself in the position of one of these web users try out the DRC's inaccessible website demonstration.

This article was written by Trenton Moss. He knows an awful lot about accessibility and the Disability Discrimination Act.

13 Sep 2004
09 dec 2003 - 2634


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