Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

IT accessibility is worth its cost

In his column 'Systems access for disabled is worthy but costly' [GCN, Jan. 24, Page 24], Stephen M. Ryan perpetuates the myth that it is expensive to consider and include the needs of people with disabilities when designing electronic and information technology systems.

Ryan is wrong. The cost of inclusive design and implementation is negligible, and the benefits far outweigh any additional expense.

Ryan writes, 'Everyone agrees that it's basically fair to remove barriers that keep people with disabilities from participating fully in society.' Is it not even fairer to not build those barriers in the first place? We would not need curb cuts if we did not first build the curbs.

Electronic curb cuts are more easily constructed than the physical ones, and if government and businesses are mindful, those electronic curbs can easily be avoided.

Retrofitting an electronic IT system to be accessible is expensive. Poor planning early on can mean that a project's cost almost doubles. But universal design at the beginning of a project adds very little expense.

It is not fair to let a business or agency off the hook because it did not have the foresight to consider the needs of the public before releasing a finished product.

While it is common for lay people to be amazed that a blind person can use a Windows computer, government and industry leaders in technology must be held to a higher awareness standard.

Two examples best illustrate the issues and their solutions. The first is touch-screen-based information transaction kiosks. The second is Web content.

Touch-screen kiosks seem like a tough problem. How can blind people work a touch screen when they don't know where to touch? How can someone with severe motor impairment such as quadriplegia hit the small buttons?

Touch-screen kiosks can be equipped with sound output that lets a blind person know what is happening on the screen. Adding speech synthesis costs only a few dollars.

As for navigating the menus, there are interface protocols that let a person to do so by finding the left edge of the touch-screen bezel.

To address access for a person with a limited hand function, the same design allows full control provided by a single large-format switch.

Again, the additional manufacturing cost, if measurable, is at most a few dollars.

Notice to our readers
GCN welcomes letters to the editor. Letters should be typed double-spaced and must include name, address, telephone number and signature of the author.

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Mail: Letters to the Editor, Government Computer News, 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 300, Silver Spring, Md. 20910

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Details about one design that provides for multimodal control of an interactive touch-screen based multimedia machine can be found at www.tracecenter.org/world/kiosks/ez.

Access to the Web is the first instance in which a disabled computer user with full control of his application, the browser, can still encounter content on Web pages that are not at all accessible. But check out the document 'Does it cost more to make a site accessible?' at www.w3.org/1999/05/WCAG-REC-fact#cost.

There are standards for universal and accessible design not only for Web content but for most other consumer products. These standards, by and large, assert no limitations on the designs that software and hardware developers can pursue.

I encourage readers interested in examining what I have discussed to visit the Web site of the University of Wisconsin's Trace Research Center, at www.tracecenter.org/worldc. The center's mission is to help make IT more usable for everyone.

Bruce Bailey

Webmaster, Maryland Rehabilitation Center

Maryland Education Department


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