For Internet Users with Visual Impairments

The internet enables users to access material and information on virtually any subject form anywhere there is an internet connection. For many users the internet offers a visual interface that can be used to find their way through the world wide web, but for those with visual impairments the visual cues do not server them as they do for seeing users. Consideration to those with visual impairments is imperative as the number of individuals with visual impairments increases. A visual impairment does not have to stand in the way of someone excelling in the Internet world or at web design schools.

Content & Structure vs. Format & Images

The main reason for a web page is information, or content; the first versiones of the internet could only be viewed in teletype mode. There were no graphical browsers or user interfaces in the early days of the internet which made it far simpler for visually impaired individuals to access information. Most browsers today have sophisticated imaging protocols to account for the use of images and multimedia to attract web surfers and it adds to the visual format of the design of the page. While the art and graphics attracts the seeing user it does little for those who are visually impaired. By separating the content from the design aspects HTML offers a medium that can be used by the visually impaired to access the internet and use it as any other seeing individual. The mark up or coding of the page needs to have a few simple tweaks to improve the use of it for the visually impaired.

How to Evaluate Existing Pages

A user can evaluate the content of a web page by turning the graphics off; nearly all of the current browsers allow for this in the settings or preferences. This will allow an individual to “see” only the content that can then be interpreted by a text to speech program for surfing and content acquisition. By not displaying the images and media, the end user will know if the site can be used with a screen reader for their convenience. Screen readers enable a visually impaired user to access the site and information via spoken word and commands. The content needs to clean and clear for the screen reader to work properly; in addition some sites use complete images to contain the information of the site and if this is the case it will be found out when the graphics have been turned off. This works well for those sites built with Flash as they too cannot be read using a screen reader.

LYNX: Text without embellishment

In a world of graphics and eye candy it sometimes crosses the mind of users as to why non-graphical based operating systems are still being used. Linux offers a wealth of resources to the visually impaired for use on their systems. Linux uses a desktop environment for its graphical desktop interface and beneath it is nothing but command line prompts. This makes the use of text top speech programs simpler and easier as no graphics need to be ignore nor can the graphics contain pertinent information that could be otherwise looked over. Linux users benefit from having specially designed programs for visually impaired software and web developers as well as large resources for research all with solutions for those with visual problems.

Image Maps and Alternatives

In order for a screen reader to “read” images special tags must be used for the software to interpret them. The standard image map does not function in the screen reader’s ability to navigate the page and images. When using an image map alternate text for each image map hot-spot must be used in addition to using the alternate text for the images in HTML. This will allow the screen reader to access the image map and for the end user to be able to use the image map which allows for greater ease of user interface. Both “alternative” texts should be used as some users have client side screen readers while others use server side screen readers which differ on what text they read.

Reasonable Accommodation vs. Total Access

Web designers and developers are faced with the decision to make the entire site accessible or only the most important items. A page should always have the appropriate “alt” tags in the image locations regardless of the intent to have the site accessible to the visually impaired; this will accommodate most users using screen readers. A designer should only use graphics when needed, this is a basic element of web design, and when graphics are used they should be accompanied by the proper alternative text to help those users with screen readers be able to “see” the information. Should the web page or site be very artistic and graphic heavy, then a designer should include a text only version for those with visual impairments. The best practice a web designer can have is asking for feedback from the visually impaired users to improve the design of the site. Again, it is important to emphasize the fact that visual impairments should not hinder a person’s access to advancing technologies. Visual impairments do not have to hold a person back from a career in web design, just surfing the Internet, or computer animation schools.