Accessibility benefits every user

Ergonomic and accessibility technologies serve all users regardless of their needs, speakers said yesterday at the Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase 2003 in Washington.

'Accessibility to people with disabilities applies equally to people who have none,' said Paul Richard, president of Ergogenic Technology Systems Ltd. of Doylestown, Pa. He spoke during a session on technologies for people with mobility impairments.

Richard, whose company makes ergonomic workstations, stressed the importance of visual ergonomics'for instance, setting up monitors in proper viewing angles to prevent musculoskeletal injuries.

The session also covered accessibility of Web pages and application content.

'One thing that makes me angry,' said Kyle Gingrich of Thomson NETg of Naperville, Ill., 'is when I hear people say 'We're dumbing down our content'' to make it accessible via technologies such as text-to-speech.

'There's no need for that,' she said, arguing that well-written and well-presented content is easily adaptable to accessibility applications.

Gingrich, software project manager for Thomson NETg, said meeting the requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 is an essential goal for agencies because of its value to users. 'Section 508 is not just an objective,' she said, it affects 'people's lives every day.'

The growing importance of government Web sites is another reason to make content accessible. Bob Regan, senior product manager for accessibility at Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco, said it's best to factor in accessibility at the start of page design, rather than try to add it later.

Regan praised access keys, which can take Web users directly to links and provide other shortcuts. But he said it's important to explain what they are because the commands can vary from site to site. The United States, unlike the United Kingdom, does not have a standard approach to access keys, he said.

He also demonstrated navigational keyboard shortcuts for users who have difficulty using a mouse. The shortcuts work under just about any operating system, at least partly because developers like them, too. '[Software] engineers are all keyboard users,' Regan said.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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