Accessibility

Just how accessible are web 2.0 applications?

Accessibility of anything related to the internet is usually linked to people with disabilities who use assistive technology, things like screenreaders (JAWS, Zoomtext, HAL to name but a few) and speech to text software (Dragon Naturally Speaking, for example).

With the flexibility and anonymity offered by the internet and Web 2.0 applications, and with standards available which programmers can follow (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), there should be no reason why those who don't use 'traditional' access methods such as mouse, keyboard and visually looking at a screen, can't have the same experience and find the same information as those who do. Many of them would not describe themselves as 'disabled' either, and with the increase in repetative strain injuries in the workplace owing to mouse and keyboard use, it may not be long before we are all living in a world like Star Trek and talking to our computers.

Anyone thinking about creating a Web 2.0 application should ask themselves just how flexible their programme is. Is there alternative text for images, can people navigate around the webpage just using keyboard shortcuts, or voice software? If you're serious about what you do, you'll ask and invite comments from everyone around and think about user testing as well as using validators.

There are some good articles and resources online, from blogs to companies offering accessibility advice:

Blogs and websites

Brian Kelly - Web 2.0 guru with an interest in accessibility
Access Ability - Ron Graham's Access Ability Blog. Ron is a mine of information from personal experience of using assistive technology and the obstacles come across. Has a good post on CAPTCHA images.
Web 2.0 and Accessibility - From Kath Moonan at Abilitynet, a succinct look at Web 2.0 and in particular the use of Ajax and its accessibility issues.
Are We All Web 2.0 Crazy - Ruth Harris (former Disability Librarian at Oxford University) blogging on use of Web 2.0 applications with screenreading software.

CAPTCHAs

CAPTCHAs [Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart] is a programme that stops bots from accessing websites thereby stopping spam and false registrations amongst other things. As they are designed to be read by humans, accessibility is a major issue, although the CAPTCHA website does state:

"Accessibility. CAPTCHAs must be accessible. CAPTCHAs based solely on reading text — or other visual-perception tasks — prevent visually impaired users from accessing the protected resource. Such CAPTCHAs may make a site incompatible with Section 508 in the United States. Any implementation of a CAPTCHA should allow blind users to get around the barrier, for example, by permitting users to opt for an audio or sound CAPTCHA."

Anyone who uses Google Blogger will notice the disability symbol next to its CAPTCHA edit box. This allows access to an audio CAPTCHA. Not ideal, especially for those who are deaf-blind, but a step in the right direction.

Accessibility issues on CAPTCHAs from Wikipedia (brief)
THaCAA - Telling Humans and Computers Apart Automatically - an alternative CAPTCHA and discussion of issues surrounding it
SAPTCHA - Semi Automatic Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart - an other potential alternative to CAPTCHA


AJAX

Standing for Asynchronus Javascript and XML and is a web development technique used for creating interactive web applications. In short, it combines existing technology (e.g. XML, HTML, CSS, Javascript amongst others) allowing web applications to updateto the user interface without reloading the entire browser page. This has accessibility implications for users of assistive technology, in particular screen reader users.

W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative is looking into ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications). For more information on AJAX, there are some useful resources:
AJAX information from Mozilla - a basic start if you're interested in learning more about AJAX.
WebAim page on AJAX and Accessibility - well written and informative. They also remind us that even if you don't use assistive technology, AJAX isn't any use on browsers which don't support it.

The simpler you keep your information and the way it is presented, in general the more user friendly it is.