February 24, 2016

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What is Accessibility? What are its Requirements, Tools & Challenges?

The purpose of this paper is to understand the landscape, drivers, and risks of Accessibility compliance. This will help you on how to identify applicable Accessibility standards for your projects, to enable inclusive user experience in your applications and increase compliance.

"For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible."

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility means creating experiences for all people of all abilities. This is done by enabling the individuals to adjust their user experience to meet their unique visual, mobility, hearing, cognitive and speech needs through the use of accessible and assistive technologies.

Disability in Software space can be physical, psychological, technological, or situational

Physical: Blindness or impairment

Psychological: Cognitive

Technological: low bandwidth, dial up network, old browsers, screen resolution

Situational: accessing phone in sunlight, answering phone in noisy environment, accessing device while driving etc.

What exactly is Assistive Technology (AT)

As defined in the Assistive Technology Act of 1998; AT is any item, piece of equipment, or system, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that is commonly used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. “

Accessible technology is technology that you can adapt to meet your interaction preferences, regardless of disability or special situation. It includes the ability to customize sound and tones, supporting user color schemes (high contrast), or the ability to display large text, icons and buttons.

Assistive Technologies enhances the accessibility technology experience by providing tools (Hardware, Software or combination) that meet a specific user need.

AT enables people with disabilities to be as functionally independent as possible, provided it successfully interfaces with their environment.

Example of assistive technologies are:

  • For Visually challenged : Screen Readers, Screen Magnifiers , Braille display
  • For motor disabled: Voice recognition software, alternate keyboards, pointing devices, mouth sticks, head wand etc.
  • For audio impaired: Close Caption
  • For Cognitive disabled: scanner/reader, word prediction software

Why accessibility is important?

Importance of accessibility is increasing day by day. Key drivers of accessibility compliance is economics, legal regulations and social responsibility

Economics

More than a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability (based on latest WHO population estimates). This is about 15% of world’s population. In Australia this is nearly 20% of the population. One in six person in Europe has some sort of disability.

The number of people with disabilities is growing as national populations grow older and global chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, increase.

Using digital technologies can be a problem not just for the visually impaired but for a much wider section of the community. Hearing impairment, dementia, arthritis, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia are just some of the conditions that can make it hard for people to utilise the Web.

Legal regulations

Governments are legislating to ensure that accessibility issues are taken seriously, and commercial entities are looking at their own social responsibilities as well as the financial benefits of making their products and services accessible to a larger consumer base.

Following are the key legislation, regulations and standards:

  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act specifies that Agencies must identify which standards apply to the procurement of ICT, perform market research to determine the availability of accessible products and services, and document the results of their market research (www.section508.gov).

     

  • Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities. FCC rules cover all hardware and software telephone network equipment and telecommunications equipment used in the home or office. Such equipment includes telephones, wireless handsets, fax machines, answering machines, and pagers.
  • 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). The CVAA updates federal communications law to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications, updating accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s to include new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations.

Legislation and accessibility initiatives: accessibility of IT and information has become an area of increasing legislative importance.

Social responsibility

Everyone wants to be treated well and want to treat others the way we want to be treated. The small steps we take to enable social inclusion “making it easier to work, travel, shop, watch a movie, surf the Internet” will have a significantly large impact on people with disabilities. Disability is part of the human condition, almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently affected by a disability at some point in life.

Eliminating barriers that prevent people from fully participating in the society is not only the right thing to do, but universal accessibility standards and Universal Design principles enrich the lives of all: from families travelling with young children and older parents to shoppers to tourists to students of all ages to those with a disability and those who will over time develop a disability.

Accessibility Tools

Following are few software accessibility tools which helps in evaluating Web Site for Accessibility compliance:

By making websites and digital technologies accessible, we help to create an inclusive environment for people with a disability. Accessible websites enable people to make independent decisions, and provide greater opportunity for participation, interaction, education, and employment.

Research has shown the main impetus for corporate and commercial organisations to tackle accessibility is financial benefit. Adhering to international accessibility guidelines as part of a social responsibility program has also helped to establish a positive point of difference for these organisations in the eyes of their consumers.

In summary, we should work towards an accessible future. It is clear that an opportunity exists for all to develop new solutions that can enable businesses to compete in growing number of markets defined by accessibility requirements.

Disabled and older people don't want 'special' products, but they are hungry to be included in the mainstream consumer experience.” It is win-win situation for end users, businesses, and community

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