Accessible Technology Bulletin
For more information, call 800-949-4232 (V/TTY)
Welcome to the DBTAC: Great Lakes ADA Center's quarterly Accessible Technology Bulletin
Technology Trainings & Events
Accessible Computer Applications
No type of information technology is more prevalent in the modern workplace than software. Software applications include word processors, spreadsheets, database management, or groupware that enables colleagues to work in a networked environment.
Despite improvements in assistive technology and accessible design many of these applications still pose barriers to people with disabilities. Among the communities most likely to face significant barriers are those who are blind, those with low vision, and those with multiple disabilities. People who cannot use a computer mouse, including those with disabilities limiting manual dexterity or reach can also find it difficult to use mainstream software applications.
When procuring workplace software, especially enterprise systems, it is important to include accessibility in the decision making process. IBM offers a checklist to help determine accessibility for software products and applications that have a user interface.
In general, the basic principles of software accessibility are:
- Flexibility. A flexible, customizable user interface can accommodate the user's needs and preferences. For example, the software should allow the user to choose font sizes, reduce visual complexity, and customize the arrangement of menus.
- Choice of input methods. Software should offer a user's choice of input methods by providing keyboard access to all features tasks using mouse operations.
- Choice of output modalities. The application should support the user's choice of output methods through the use of sound and visuals and of visual text and graphics. These output methods can be used redundantly or allow the user to choose his or her preferred output method.
- Compatibility with assistive technology. The application should integrate and be compatible with assistive technology, such as screen readers, screen magnification, and voice input utilities.
- Consistency. The software application should behavior consistently with other Windows-based applications and system standards. For example, accessibility options in the operating system for font sizes and or keyboard feedback.
The Great Lakes ADA Center is hosting an Online Seminar Series on Accessible Technology topics, including Accessible Computer Applications for Employment. The series is free. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to register for a session or for more information.
Accessibility of Online Student Services in Community College
Community colleges play a vital role in educating students with disabilities and are a crucial link to better employment. Technology can open doors to education for students with disabilities, but inaccessible web sites can pose significant barriers to people who are visually impaired, deaf, or have learning disabilities. The Employment and Disability Institute (EDI) at Cornell was funded by the U.S. Department of Education to study internet-based student services at community colleges. EDI worked in collaboration with the Institute for Community College Development (ICCD) at Cornell University.
As is shown in the chart below, the majority of the 700 community colleges surveyed said that they use the Internet to provide Bursar billing services (60%), course registration (81%), financial aid applications (84%), admissions (85%) class schedules (94%), and course catalogs (95%). Some colleges have made a few of these services available only on the web, with serious implications for students with disabilities, who will encounter potentially insurmountable barriers if web pages are not well designed.
Accessibility and usability testing of a sample of college web pages found many problems. Both disabled and non-disabled users were frustrated by inaccessible pages, unclear instructions, confusing navigation, and unfamiliar terminology. Many required assistance to complete the application form, and the majority reported confusion with the entire process.
Virtually all of the websites examined performed poorly on both the accessibility evaluations and the usability testing. Barriers existed on many college websites that could prevent users from being able to complete an admissions application. Figure 2 shows the results of our testing of two typical community college online admissions applications. Many testers, regardless of disability status, required assistance to complete the application. Due to usability and/or accessibility issues, a number of testers with learning disabilities or visual impairments (screen reader or screen magnifier users) were unable to complete the application even with assistance. Four of five of the control testers without disabilities required assistance with the online application on College 2's site. Our usability testing illustrates how critical user testing is in web design for all users, not just users with disabilities.
This study led to the development of a tool to help college administrators and others who wish to address the broader issues of web accessibility to improve the accessibility and usability of their websites. The Web Access Toolkit (www.webaccesstoolkit.org) provides resources and a process for achieving long-term web accessibility and enhanced usability for all users, disabled and non disabled alike.
On March 3, 2008 Great Lakes ADA Center hosted a webinar seminar on this topic. An archived version is available (toward the bottom of the page). There is no password necessary. For more information on this project, contact Bill Erickson at email@example.com, or call Cornell University at 607-255-7727.
The Great Lakes ADA Center provides expert assistance via a national toll-free information line 800-949-4232 (V/TTY) or Online via Contact Us and presents customized trainings for employers, businesses, government, and individuals with disabilities regarding accessible technology and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.Great Lakes ADA and Accessible IT Center
University of Illinois at Chicago
Department of Disability and Human Development (MC 728)
1640 West Roosevelt Road, Room 405
Chicago, IL 60608-6904