Published: Sunday, Aug 29, 2010, 8:53 IST
By Vaishalli Chandra | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA
Recently, Yahoo! India R&D received NCPEDP (National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People)-Mphasis Universal Design Award for Accessibility.
The award recognised Yahoo! for making its properties accessible for disabled people. In a talk with DNA, Srinivasu Chakravarthula, who manages the Accessibility Lab at Yahoo! India R&D, elucidated how the Internet can be accessed by people with disability
Yahoo doesn’t develop any software, yet it supports NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access), an open-source screen reader as good as Jos. Yahoo! makes sure all its new products are compatible with accessibility standards.
There isn’t a need for individual websites to install technologies to assist people with disability. What’s needed is to ensure the website is compatible
with tools that people with disabilities use.
For instance, if a blind person is visiting a website means he or she is switching on the browser, and typing the web address in the address bar. This means the person already has a tool that helps logging onto the website. Moreover, disabled persons use several websites like everybody, hence they don’t need any special software to access the website. In fact, by doing so, one would be making the process tedious for them.
Imagine there are five websites that have their own screen reader. The user will take at least 30 minutes to get acquainted to the accent on each website.
Hence, the key is to enable the user to use same “screen reader” across web pages.
This can be done by complying to Web Content Accessibility guidelines, a compliance checklist that enables assisted technologies work well with the disabled. If the software is slower, the disabled cannot compete with ‘regular’ users. It’s here that technology steps in.
A blind person can use a computer by listening to the screen reader. But what if the person is blind and deaf? The user cannot see or hear, but can feel
by touching objects. This is how a blind and deaf person will access a computer — Braille (used by people who are blind or even deaf and blind).
Similarly, a USB device called Refreshable Braille display helps in connecting to a laptop or computer. It converts whatever is typed or heard on the computer to Braille.
Disability isn’t just about being visually-impaired. For those with mobility issues, the user can use a computer with aid of a track ball. Even if the user
does not have fingers, by just using the palm, the user can access the computer using a device called jelly bean switch.
What if the user doesn’t have both hands? Voice recognition software used in cellphones is useful. However, this software needs to be updated to get used to voices.
Why have labs like this? What is the need?
For example, while filling in a form on a travel site, the monitor is turned off.Using a screen reader is ineffective as it reads “Row 7, Column 2. Edit
has blank.” This doesn’t help while filling the form.
The barrier has been created at the code level since there are no labels for a search engine, nor a speech reader to read this form. The issue here is not
accessibility or disability. It is actually a basic best practice of HTML.
When images are inserted into a MS Word document, what is the procedure? After inserting the picture, the user clicks on the image and opts for the ‘format picture’ choice and then goes to “web” to type the image description. But if there is no description, then the screen reader will not be able to assist
Instead, it will read the entire path. Accessibility is nothing special. It doesn’t require special effort if we take care to implement the correct techniques
at the coding level and design level. Yahoo! is making sure that accessibility is taken into account at the design stage itself. The work done is a collaboration between engineers and product managers to make sure accessibility standards are met.