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By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2000-04-16 Print this article Print

: Web Blind Spots"> One way in which Web site designers can avoid future accessibility problems is to minimize their use of frames. Thats because frames break pages into separate windows that are difficult to navigate with linear text readers. "If you decide to go with a frame set, youve created more work for yourself already," Green said. Experts dont necessarily recommend crossing frames off a Web architects design palette entirely. But its important to plan ahead to avoid painting a site into an inaccessible corner, said Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, the author of the OrbitAccess report. One way to get around accessibility problems brought on by frames is to label them, so that disabled visitors know whether a frame contains information or is simply decorative, Bathory-Kitsz said. An even better alternative is to employ so-called user agent information, which lets a server determine the browser being used so that it can present Web pages in the appropriate format.
All this advice is fine for heading off accessibility problems that might be encountered by the visually impaired, but the hearing-impaired community has particular problems when it comes to getting access to online audio content. Even sites such as and music page maintained by Bathory-Kitsz-have a difficult time posting text transcripts because they cant keep up with constantly changing content for which they have no written record. And automated speech recognition software is still not robust enough for such applications, experts say. Therefore, the hearing-impaired miss out on being able to read Gores speeches, for example, or getting transcripts of interviews with composers on Bathory-Kitszs site.
"Audio output can be a barrier when it comes to access to the Internet," said Herk Herkimer, disability community specialist for Can Do Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., who himself has had difficulty accessing the Web because of a hearing disability. "[For example,] AOL says, Welcome, youve got mail. A deaf person cant hear that." Lining up support Even when the technology is available and relatively inexpensive, IT managers and other advocates for Web site access for the disabled often face challenges gathering political support for the investments necessary to make Web sites accessible to the disabled. At Nynex, lining up management buy-in was a piece of cake, according to Kathy Ives, the former managing director for electronic services at Nynex, now an analyst at The Kelsey Group Inc., of Pembroke Park, Fla. Thats because, she said, she presented the change as a way to increase the companys online audience. "It wasnt so much, This is something we want to do thats good for the visually impaired, because [management] didnt understand so much the technology," she said. "The sell was, If you want as many people as possible to see your directory product, we have to get it on as many platforms as possible." Getting designer buy-in, on the other hand, required a bit more education. "[Our] designers thought the site would look like a generic box of crackers with a white background and black type," Bell Atlantics Ellis said. "But when you look at a Web site, its hard to say whether its accessible or not. Its things behind the scenes. Its things that say, This is a navigation bar, rather than saying Click here." Still, say advocates for the disabled, theres a lot of progress needed in lining up support for accessibility from the powers that be. When OrbitAccess released its assessment of the disabled access provided by presidential candidates sites, for example, the report drew zero feedback from the candidates. "We were disappointed that the candidates didnt take the issue more seriously, particularly the front-runners," said DAnne Hotchkiss, communications director with OrbitAccess, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "I think its an indication of lack of respect. I think they dont take people with disabilities seriously. I think they perceive them as not having political clout, and so therefore they can be ignored." Or can they be ignored? Considering the size of the disabled market and the rapidly changing regulatory and legal environment, e-businesses would do well to take off the blinders now and begin providing Web access to all-before competition steals the market, and before a judge takes off the blinders for them.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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