Challenged Web users have options to knock down access obstacles

Ever since it became fashionable for agencies to post public information on the World
Wide Web in fancy graphical pages instead of simple text, I've considered the information
less accessible-and not only because indexing and searching are harder.


It seems to me that the move denies information to citizens who lack Internet access
and to those with physical disabilities.


That was one reason I wrote Computers and the Americans with Disabilities Act: A
Manager's Guide
.


The act told employers to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled, such as
buying special computer products.


But if software or hardware isn't commercially available, or changes can't be
implemented at reasonable cost, employers are off the hook.


Fortunately, some progress has been made since 1993.


For example, there's a Braille translation site operated by the University of
Technology at Dresden, Germany, at http://elvis.inf.tu-dresden.de/html2brl/html2brl_form.engl.htm. However, the output at this point is only in German. An English option is
promised.


Although I can read German, I can't read Braille, so I can't vouch for the quality of
this free service. The file format is supposedly compatible with International Committee
for Accessible Document Design standards.


For disabled employees who need access to files stored in Adobe Acrobat Portable
Document Format, there are several workarounds that turn the Acrobat .pdf files into
Hypertext Markup Language. The HTML files are compatible with adaptive software available
from several sources.


If you aren't behind a firewall, you can perform the conversion automatically by
setting your browser to Adobe's access.adobe.com proxy server.


Other options are explained in detail at http://www.adobe.com/acrobat/access.html.


Users with the Netscape Navigator browser should go to the proxy server's
Options/Network/Proxies tab and make the appropriate changes there-see Adobe's Web site
for details.


Microsoft Internet Explorer users should select the Internet icon from the Control
Panel, select Advanced, check Use Proxy Server, then fill out the information required.


For Acrobat files not posted on the Web, disabled employees who run a version of
Microsoft Windows can download the Acrobat Access plug-in from Adobe's Web site. Acrobat
Access is a 360K, 16-bit utility for Windows 3.x or a 460K utility for Windows 95 and NT
platforms.


When the plug-in or the proxy server converts the Acrobat .pdf files to .htm files,it
preserves existing hypertext links and adds at least two new ones at the top of the
document.


The Body Link takes users directly into the body of the translated document, while the
Page Navigation Panel lists pages by number for faster navigation.


Productivity Works Inc. of Trenton, N.J., at http://www.prodworks.com,
offers PwWebSpeak software to make Web sites more accessible to visually impaired or
dyslexic users.


Priced at $125 for government buyers, PwWebSpeak translates Web pages and other files
into a combination of audio and visual displays with adjustable text size.


For computer-challenged road warriors or the visually impaired, NetPhonic
Communications Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., offers the Web-on-Call Voice Browser, which
connects users to HTML documents on Windows NT or Silicon Graphics Inc. Web servers via an
interactive voice-response system.


This approach not only helps disabled workers and outside users, it saves money by
eliminating the need to build and maintain two separate document databases.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.


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