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How People With Disabilities Use The Web

Scenarios of People with Disabilities Using the Web

The following scenarios show people with different kinds of disabilities using
assistive technologies and adaptive strategies
to access the Web. In some cases the scenarios show how the Web can make some
tasks easier for people with disabilities.

Please note that the scenarios do not represent actual individuals, but rather
individuals engaging in activities that are possible using today’s Web technologies
and assistive technologies. The reader should not assume that everyone with
a similar disability to those portrayed will use the same assistive technologies
or have the same level of expertise in using those technologies. In some cases,
browsers, media players, or assistive technologies with specific features
supporting accessibility may not yet be available in an individual’s primary
language. Disability terminology varies from one country to another, as do
educational and employment opportunities.

Following is a list of scenarios and accessibility solutions:

  • online shopper with color blindness
    (user control of style sheets)
  • reporter with repetitive stress injury
    (keyboard equivalents for mouse-driven commands; access-key)
  • online student who is deaf
    (captioned audio portions of multimedia files)
  • accountant with blindness
    (appropriate markup of tables, alternative text, abbreviations, and acronyms;
    synchronization of visual, speech, and braille display)
  • classroom student with dyslexia
    (use of supplemental graphics; freezing animated graphics; multiple search options)
  • retiree with aging-related conditions,
    managing personal finances (magnification; stopping scrolling text; avoiding
    pop-up windows)
  • supermarket assistant with cognitive disability
    (clear and simple language; consistent design; consistent navigation options;
    multiple search options)
  • teenager with deaf-blindness,
    seeking entertainment (user control of style sheets; accessible multimedia;
    device-independent access; labelled frames; appropriate table markup)

Online Shopper With Color Blindness

Mr. Lee wants to buy some new clothes, appliances, and music. As he frequently
does, he is spending an evening shopping online. He has one of the most common
visual disabilities for men:
color blindness,
which in his case means an inability to distinguish between green and red.

He has difficulty reading the text on many Web sites. When he first starting
using the Web, it seemed to him the text and images on a lot of sites used
poor color contrast, since they appeared to use similar shades of brown. He
realized that many sites were using colors that were indistinguishable to him
because of his red/green color blindness. In some cases the site instructions
explained that discounted prices were indicated by red text, but all of the
text looked brown to him. In other cases, the required fields on forms were
indicated by red text, but again he could not tell which fields had red text.

Mr. Lee found that he prefered sites that used
sufficient color contrast, and redundant information for color.
The sites did this by including names of the colors of clothing as well as showing
a sample of the color; and by placing an asterix (*) in front of the
required fields in addition to indicated them by color.

After additional experimentation, Mr. Lee discovered that on most newer sites
colors were controlled by style sheets
and that he could
turn these style sheets off with his browser or override them with his own style
But on sites that did not use style sheets he couldn’t override the colors.

Eventually Mr. Lee bookmarked a series of online shopping sites where he could
get reliable information on product colors, and not have to guess at which
items were discounted.

Reporter With Repetitive Stress Injury

Mr. Jones is a reporter who must submit his articles in HTML for publishing
in an on-line journal. Over his twenty-year career, he has developed
repetitive stress injury
(RSI) in his hands and arms, and it has become painful for him to type. He uses
a combination of
speech recognition
and an
alternative keyboard
to prepare his articles, but he doesn’t use a mouse. It took him several months
to become sufficiently accustomed to using speech recognition to be comfortable
working for many hours at a time. There are some things he has not worked out
yet, such as a sound card conflict that arises whenever he tries to use speech
recognition on Web sites that have streaming audio.

He has not been able to use the same Web authoring software as his colleagues,
because the application that his office chose for a standard is missing many
of the keyboard equivalents that he needs in place of mouse-driven commands.
To activate commands that do not have keyboard equivalents, he would have
to use a mouse instead of speech recognition or typing, and this would re-damage
his hands at this time. He researched some of the newer versions of authoring
tools and selected
one with full keyboard support.
Within a month, he discovered that several of his colleagues have switched to
the new product as well, after they found that the full keyboard support was
easier on their own hands.

When browsing other Web sites to research some of his articles, Mr. Jones likes
access key
feature that is implemented on some Web pages. It enables him to shortcut a
long list of links that he would ordinarily have to tab through by voice, and
instead go straight to the link he wants.

Online Student Who Is Deaf

Ms. Martinez is taking several distance learning courses in physics. She is
She had little trouble with the curriculum until the university upgraded their
on-line courseware to a multimedia approach, using an extensive collection
of audio lectures. For classroom-based lectures the university provided interpreters;
however for Web-based instruction they initially did not realize
that accessibility was an issue, then said they had no idea how to provide the
material in accessible format. She was able to point out that the University
was clearly covered by a policy requiring accessibility of online instructional
material, and then to point to the
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0
as a resource providing guidance on how to make Web sites,
including those with multimedia, accessible.

The University had the lectures transcribed and made this information available
through their Web site along with audio versions of the lectures. For an
introductory multimedia piece, the university used a
based multimedia format
enabling synchronized captioning of audio and description of video.
The school’s information managers quickly found that it was much easier to comprehensively
index the audio resources on the accessible area of the Web site,
once these resources were captioned with text.

The professor for the course also set up a chat area on the Web site where
students could exchange ideas about their coursework. Although she was the only
deaf student in the class and only one other student knew any sign language,
she quickly found that the Web-based chat format, and the opportunity to provide
Web-based text comments on classmates’ work, ensured that she could keep up
with class progress.

Accountant With Blindness

Ms. Laitinen is an accountant at an insurance company that uses Web-based formats
over a corporate intranet. She is
She uses a
screen reader
to interpret what is displayed on the screen and generate a combination of
speech output
refreshable braille output.
She uses the speech output, combined with
tabbing through the navigation links on a page,
for rapid scanning of a document, and has become accustomed to listening to
speech output at a speed that her co-workers cannot understand at all. She uses
refreshable braille output to check the exact wording of text, since braille
enables her to read the language on a page more precisely.

Much of the information on the Web documents used at her company is in tables,
which can sometimes be difficult for non-visual users to read. However, since
the tables on this company’s documents are
marked up clearly with column and row headers
which her screen reader can access, she easily orients herself to the information
in the tables. Her screen reader reads her the
alternative text
for any images on the site. Since the insurance codes she must frequently reference
include a number of abbreviations and acronyms, she finds the
expansions of abbreviations and acronyms
the first time they appear on a page allows her to better catch the meaning
of the short versions of these terms.

As one of the more senior members of the accounting staff, Ms. Laitenen must
frequently help newer employees with their questions. She has recently upgraded
to a browser that
allows better synchronization of the screen display with audio and braille rendering
of that information.
This enables her to better help her colleagues, since the screen shows her colleagues
the same part of the document that she is reading with speech or braille

Classroom Student With Dyslexia

Ms. Olsen attends middle school, and particularly likes her literature class.
She has
attention deficit disorder
and the combination leads to substantial difficulty reading. However with recent
accommodations to the curriculum she has become enthusiastic about this

Her school recently started to use more online curricula to supplement class
textbooks. She was initially worried about reading load, since she reads slowly.
But recently she tried
text to speech software,
and found that she was able to read along visually with the text much more easily
when she could hear certain sections of it read to her with the speech
synthesis, instead of struggling over every word.

Her classes recent area of focus is Hans Christian Andersen’s writings, and
she has to do some research about the author. When she goes onto the Web, she
finds that some sites are much easier for her to use than others.
Some of the pages have a lot of graphics,
and those help her focus in quickly on sections she wants to read. In some cases,
though, where the graphics are animated, it is very hard for her to focus,
and so it helps to be able to
freeze the animated graphics.

One of the most important things for her has been the level of accessibility
of the Web-based online library catalogues and the general search functions
on the Web. Sometimes the search options are confusing for her. Her teacher
has taught a number of different search strategies, and she finds that
some sites provide options for a variety of searching strategies
and she can more easily select searching options that work well for her.

Retiree With Several Aging-related Conditions, Managing Personal Finances

Mr. Yunus uses the Web to manage some of his household services and finances.
He has some
central-field vision loss,
hand tremor,
and a little
short-term memory loss.

He uses a screen magnifier to help with his vision and his hand tremor; when
the icons and links on Web pages are bigger, it’s easier for him to select
them, and so he finds it
easier to use pages with style sheets.
When he first started using some of the financial pages, he found the scrolling
stocktickers distracting, and they moved too fast for him to read. In addition,
sometimes the pages would update before he had finished reading them. Therefore
he tends to use Web sites that
do not have a lot of movement in the text,
and that
do not auto-refresh.
He also tended to “get stuck” on some pages, finding that he could
not back up, on some sites where
new browser windows would pop open without notifying him.

Mr. Yunus has gradually found some sites that work well for him, and developed
a customized profile at some banking, grocery, and clothing sites.

Supermarket Assistant With Cognitive Disability

Mr. Sands has put groceries in bags for customers for the past year at a supermarket.
He has
Down syndrome,
and has difficulty with abstract concepts, reading, and doing mathematical calculations.
He usually buys his own groceries at this supermarket, but sometimes
finds that there are so many product choices that he becomes confused, and he
finds it difficult to keep track of how much he is spending. He has difficulty
re-learning where his favorite products are each time the supermarket changes
the layout of its products.

Recently, he visited an online grocery service from his computer at home. He
explored the site the first few times with a friend. He found that he could
use the Web site without much difficulty —
it had a lot of pictures,
which were helpful in navigating around the site, and in recognizing his favorite

His friend showed him
different search options
that were available on the site, making it easier for him to find items. He
can search by brand name or by pictures, but he mostly uses the option that
lets him select from a list of products that he has ordered in the past. Once
he decides what he wants to buy, he selects the item and puts it into his
virtual shopping basket. The Web site gives him an updated total each time he
adds an item, helping him make sure that he does not overspend his budget.

The marketing department of the online grocery wanted their Web site to have
a high degree of usability in order to be competitive with other online stores.
They used
consistent design
consistent navigation options
so that their customers could learn and remember their way around the Web site.
They also used the
clearest and simplest language appropriate
for the site’s content so that their customers could quickly understand the

While these features made the site more usable for all of the online-grocery’s
customers, they made it possible for Mr. Sands to use the site. Mr. Sands
now shops on the online grocery site a few times a month, and just buys a few
fresh items each day at the supermarket where he works.

Teenager With Deaf-blindness, Seeking Entertainment

Ms. Kaseem uses the Web to find new restaurants to go to with friends and classmates.
She has
low vision
and is
She uses a
screen magnifier
to enlarge the text on Web sites to a font size that she can read. When screen
magnification is not sufficient, she also uses a
screen reader
to drive a
refreshable braille display,
which she reads slowly.

At home, Ms. Kaseem browses local Web sites for new and different restaurants.
uses a personal style sheet
with her browser, which makes all Web pages display according to her preferences.
Her preferences include having background patterns turned off so that
there is enough contrast for her when she uses screen magnification. This is
especially helpful when she reads on-line sample menus of appealing restaurants.

A multimedia virtual tour of local entertainment options was recently added
to the Web site of the city in which Ms. Kaseem lives. The tour is
captioned and described —
including text subtitles for the audio, and descriptions of the video — which
allows her to access it using a combination of screen magnification and braille.
The interface used for the virtual tour is
accessible no matter what kind of assistive technology she is using —
screen magnification, her screen reader with refreshable braille, or her
portable braille device.
Ms. Kaseem forwards the Web site address to friends and asks if they are interested
in going with her to some of the restaurants featured on the tour.

She also checks the public transportation sites to find local train or bus
stops near the restaurants. The Web site for the bus schedule has frames without
meaningful titles, and tables without clear column or row headers, so she often
gets lost on the site when trying to find the information she needs. The
Web site for the local train schedule, however, is easy to use because
the frames on that Web site have meaningful titles,
and the schedules, which are laid out as long
tables with clear row and column headers
that she uses to orient herself even when she has magnified the screen display.

Occasionally she also uses her portable braille device, with an infrared connection,
to get additional information and directions at a publicly-available
information kiosk in a shopping mall downtown; and a few times she has downloaded
sample menus into her braille device so that she has them in an accessible
format once she is in the restaurant.

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