Saturday, February 23, 2008

Web 2.0 Accessibility and Disability is an online community for people with disabilities where members can, among other things, blog about their experiences, research relevant information on health and lifestyle, and find resources on disability related policies.

An article that appeared in Wired in 2005 highlighted how the online virtual world, Second Life, was being used by individuals with certain disorders “to experience being around other people without being judged”:

"Many of the real-world challenges are bypassed in Second Life," said June-Marie Mahay, who works with the nine at an adult day-care center in Mattapan, Massachusetts. "Fewer folks have a problem hanging out with them, which is quite the opposite in real life. Also, due to their speech challenges, many would need help understanding them in real life, but in Second Life, I just type what they say and do what they want."

Added Mahay, "They felt stigmatized by their disabilities, (which) kept them from the normal social integration we take for granted. Second Life removes both of these things."

Mahay's charges spend their in-world time on the small island known as live2give. Another in-world island, known as Brigadoon, is a place created for sufferers of autism and Asperger's syndrome to try out the social interactions that are so hard for them in the real world.
The Internet in general can make independent living easier for those with disabilities by providing opportunities for distance learning, online shopping, and rapid exchange of health-related information, to name just a few examples.

But Web 2.0 is raising some concerns. Although its development has allowed for many positive advances in social interaction, with more complex functions come greater challenges to accessibility and inclusion for disabled individuals.

Take AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), for example. The programming technique is used to create dynamic and interactive web applications, but continually changing or updated text makes it difficult for screen readers to interpret websites for visually impaired Internet users.

The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides information related to web use by people with disabilities, including an overview of different impairments that may affect web accessibility and scenarios, such as a student with dyslexia using online curricula and a teenager with deaf-blindness seeking entertainment on the web.

Mary Zajicek of Oxford Brookes University’s Department of Computing notes worrying trends related to internet accessibility in Web 2.0: Hype or Happiness?:
The increase in the use of video on Web 2.0 is cited by Liz Ball who is deafblind, and uses Braille output, as causing one of the greatest problems. She says [4] ‘“Video is being used more and more either to augment or instead of other web content. It would be a tragedy if the increased use of video led to deafblind people becoming less and less able to access the web. We need to ensure that people do provide text alternatives.” ...

Many Web 2.0 facilities rely on fast download times, which are unattainable for many disabled people and older people who live on low incomes and rely on dial up. For them large downloads are very slow and therefore extremely expensive...

Isolation of particular groups – while particular disabled groups can gain support and useful information from special community sites there is a danger of isolation. While Web 2.0 has enormous potential to bring people together it could encourage the formation of isolated groups that do not engage in mainstream activities and who develop their own sub culture which excludes others.
WAI also provides a list of guidelines for making web content accessible.

Compliance in some cases isn’t just an ethical question but a legal one. Read more about different countries’ policies related to Internet accessibility and disability here.


Large Marge said...

I wanted to let you guys know about a court hearing for a blog "restraining order" that recently took place in Redding, California regarding blogging. It also made AP newswire on the west coast. Here is the link to our local newspaper:

Aaron Leventhal said...

How about a follow-up blog on the technological solution for Web 2.0 accessibility (at least the dynamic changes in an HTML page)?

There are a lot of docs on WAI-ARIA, and those looking for Web 2.0 accessibility or AJAX accessibility solutions should learn about it:

Best Practices: