For its part, Microsoft says its made a significant investment in time and money to address the needs of the disabled. For instance, Windows 98 includes an accessibility wizard to help users customize their screens with type magnifiers and so-called sticky keys that do away with simultaneous keystrokes. IE has some of its own accessibility tools, including shortcuts such as Ctrl-Tab to jump between Web page frames. Similarly, F5 refreshes the Web page, and Esc ends a page load.Why cant Microsoft do more? Lacy says it is because its difficult for the company to determine the disabled communities unique needs. The company relies on input from third-party companies that produce products such as screen readers and text-to-speech technology to report the needs of the disabled market. In addition, Microsoft contracts with research companies that poll disabled users. The company also takes suggestions for new features coming in via e-mail and by monitoring discussions in appropriate newsgroups. But when Microsoft tried to organize focus groups with disabled people, it didnt locate any volunteers. Campbell, however, said he believes the makers of feature-rich browsers could do more to make their products more accessible. Ironically, the ramping up of wireless applications for the Web may be the biggest boon yet for disabled surfers. Small, handheld devices such as smart phones are forcing engineers to rethink how people navigate the Net. "Theres a lot of excitement in the disabilities community over wireless," said Larry Goldberg, director of the Media Access Group at WGBH, a Boston public television and radio station. Thats because their limitations may finally get noticed. "When you look at the issues surrounding mobile computing, you realize theyre very similar to accessibility for disabled people," Goldberg said. Which means the revenue-generating wireless community could ultimately benefit the disabled by encouraging vendors to push out more one-button solutions to navigate the Web. Campbell looks forward to that day.
Tim Lacy, Microsofts accessibility program manager for Internet Explorer and Visual Studio, in Redmond, Wash., said that the problems mentioned by Campbell are valid but believes key positioning issues are best addressed by additional hardware available to customize keyboards.