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Accessibility

The Role of Technology:

Students will analyze the relationship of telecommunications technologies and government policies to improvements in the lives of people with disabling physical or cognitive conditions.

 

Objectives

1. Students will identify specific telecommunications technologies, services, and devices that can enhance, for people with disabilities, the capacity to learn and participate in the world.

2. Students will identify the government’s role in telecommunications for disabled persons.

Accessibility Pre-Quiz

 

Telecommunications Technology—Serving People with Disabilities

What would your day be like if the Internet, email, and wireless phones were no longer available? How would it change the way you connect with the important people in your life?

These technologies have revolutionized the way we live. Most of us are now dependent on them for work, learning, fun, safety, and communication with family and friends. They may be even more important for people with disabilities. Approximately 54,000,000 Americans – or 20 percent of the population – are disabled. The Internet and email make it possible for people with physical or cognitive impairments to interact with the outside world in new ways. The Internet, in particular, offers great promise for enhancing the lives of people who are disabled.

For the Internet to live up to its potential, it must be *accessible* to as many people as possible. Technology already makes it possible for people who are blind to “read” as text is translated digitally into “talking books.” For people who are deaf, sounds can be digitally changed into text presentations. Computers, keyboards, and Web sites can also be designed to help those who have problems with *motor control* or learning disabilities use the Web. The Internet can be the eyes or ears and even the legs for people with disabilities.

Universal Design and Assistive Technologies

People with disabilities want to live as normally as possible, and they may want to limit their use of *assistive devices* that make their disabilities evident to other people. They also want to be able to participate in all the activities of people without disabilities. For example, those who are wheel-chair bound want to be able to move around as efficiently as people who are walking.

Recognizing this fact, architects developed *universal design,* a concept based on the idea that everyone should be able to “enter and use” buildings. They wanted to design buildings that could accommodate the needs of as many people as possible, of all ages and abilities. To accomplish this, universal design architects insisted that doorways and hallways be wide enough for wheelchairs, for parents pushing strollers, for thosemoving large objects – for everyone. Universal design enables those with disabilities to join in the life of a community without depending on others. Applying universal design concepts also lessens the need to use devices that may separate and distinguish those with impairments from the more able-bodied. Most homes now have universal design features incorporated into every room in the house.

Applying the concepts of universal design is also important for telecommunications technology. People with disabilities want to access and use technology that does not set them apart. One example of universal design is the wireless telephone that has a voice output function that announces the numbers of incoming calls, tells when the battery is low, and has call logs and other information. This is a useful feature for people who are visually impaired, but it is also convenient for busy parents and others who want to screen their calls.

Engineers, Web designers, programmers, educators and others hope to develop other universal design solutions that make it easier for everyone to use telecommunications technologies. However, at this time, people with disabilities frequently must choose from an array of assistive devices for access, such as alternative mouse systems, screen magnifiers, screen readers and talking browsers, voice recognition systems, and onscreen keyboards, among others.

The design and flexibility of a Web site play a key role in making it accessible to those with disabilities. The Web transmits content *digitally*, a technology that supports a huge capacity for sending data by *broadband*. The data, which are sent in *bits* and *packets*, can include sound, text, graphics and video. With the right software and an accessible Web site, users can then choose the data in the form they desire or need. A person who is blind could choose sound only, or use a *refreshable Braille reader*. A person who is deaf may choose text and video, but not the audio. For those with dyslexia, the combination of audio and text can be helpful.

The United States and many other countries require that government Web sites and those of most employers be accessible by people with physical or *cognitive* disabilities. The

*Americans with Disabilities Act* (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities in work places, public services, and public places such as restaurants, hotels, and theaters. The United States Department of Justice has ordered that the ADA also be applied to cyberspace.

Many of us will be disabled at some time in our lives and will expect the Web to play an important role in our lives.

Accessibility Pre-Quiz

 

What resource is available for people who are deaf to communicate by telephone?

The Telecommunications Relay Service

 

Can Web sites be made more accessible for people with cognitive disabilities?

Yes, through a variety of strategies:

  •  Visual examples (diagrams, icons, drawings) in addition to text descriptions
  • Spoken equivalents for all visual information
  • Written equivalents for all auditory information
  • Descriptions of pictures
  • Captions with audio
  • User control of size, placement, and appearance of display elements
  • High contrast
  • Large print
  • Bullets
  • Strong highlighting
  • User control of pitch, volume, rate, and repetition of auditory information
  • Screen magnification
  • Simple screen layouts
  • Providing a way to speed up, slow down, or repeat information until it is acted upon
  • Ability for user to set pace of interaction with the system

 

Are most television sets usable by people who are deaf?

Yes, most can be programmed for closed captions.

 

What other kinds of products use universal design?

Home appliances, electronics, consumer products, cabinets, tools and many other items can become more functional when they employ the principles of universal design.

 

Why is designing a Web site to HTML standard an example of universal design?

These text-based standards make Web sites more accessible, not just for those with disabilities, but also for those using PDAs, WebTV, or browsing using a telephone. In other words, they are more accessible to everyone.

 

Is the Telephone Relay Service available using VoIP?

Yes, but it sometimes garbles messages.

Accessibility Pre-Quiz