The latest version of this document is available at www.w3.org/WAI/intro/people-use-web/.
Please do not link to this page, reference it, or quote it because it is an unapproved draft and some of the information is out-of-date.
This W3C Draft Note provides an introduction to use of the Web by people with a variety of disabilities, for the purpose of better understanding their requirements when Web sites and Web-based applications. It is a supporting document for guidelines and technical work of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
Specifically, this document describes requirements for Web access by people with physical, visual, hearing, and cognitive or neurological disabilities; it describes assistive technologies used by some people with disabilities when accessing the Web; and it provides examples of people with disabilities successfully or unsuccessfully accessing the Web according to the designs of Web sites and Web-based applications. This document is not intended as a comprehensive or in-depth description of disability, nor of assistive technologies used by people with disabilities.
This document is [not yet] a W3C Note made available by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative. This NOTE has [not yet] been jointly approved by the WAI Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG), the Web Content Guidelines Working Group, the User Agent Guidelines Working Group, the Authoring Tool Guidelines Working Group, and the Protocols and Formats Working Group (PFWG). This version is offered for EOWG review and has [not yet] been reviewed by all listed editors.
Publication of a W3C Note does not imply endorsement by W3C membership. A
list of current W3C technical reports and publications, including working
drafts and notes, can be found at
NOTE: This draft has been re-edited through the end of Section one, "How Different Disabilities Affect Access to the Web." Section two is not edited, and section three has not been added yet.
NOTE: This document has been modified after its original date of publishing to correct the "Latest Version" URI.
This section describes several general groupings of disabilities, and how they affect access to the Web. There are no universally accepted or absolute categorizations of disability. Disability terminology varies from country to country, and between different disability communities in the same country. Abilities can vary from person to person, or over time, for different people with the same kind of disability. People can have combinations of different limitations, such as a visual and hearing disability together. This particular combination of disabilities is described below.
The term "disability" itself is also used very generally in this document. Many people with conditions described below would not consider themselves to have disabilities; they may, however, have limitations related to sensory, physical or cognitive functioning which can affect access to the Web. Limitations can include injury-related and aging-related conditions, and can be temporary ,or chronic. An example of an injury-related limitation that is temporary for some people and chronic for others repetitive stress syndrome. There is a trend in some communities away from using medical terminology to describe disability, and a trend in many communities away from using negative terminology or epithets frequently used in the past. This Draft Note does not attempt to comprehensively address these issues of terminology.
Different disabilities sometimes require similar accommodations. For instance, both someone who is blind and someone who cannot use his or her hands require full keyboard support for the commands in browsers and authoring tools, since they both have difficulty using a mouse but can use different assistive technologies to activate commands that are supported by a standard keyboard interface.
The number and severity of disabilities tend to increase as people with age, and may include changes in vision, hearing, memory, or motor function, which can be accommodated on the Web as with any other disabilities.
Many of the accessibility solutions described in this Note contribute to "universal design" or "design for all" by benefiting non-disabled users. For example, support for speech output not only benefits blind users, but also Web users whose eyes are busy with other tasks; while captions of audio not only benefit deaf users but also increase the efficiency of indexing and searching audio content on Web sites.
Solutions for the barriers to Web site accessibility described in this section are available in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. Solutions for browser accessibility are available in the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines, and for authoring tool accessibility in the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines.
[This section has not been revised yet.]
The following is a list of assistive technologies that some people with disabilities use to browse the Web. Assistive technologies are products used by people with disabilities to help accomplish tasks that they cannot accomplish otherwise or could not do easily otherwise. When dealing with the Web, assistive technologies usually refer to adaptive software, specially designed hardware devices, and/or standard devices used in alternative ways to provide access for people with disabilities.
Some assistive technologies rely on output of other user agents, such as graphical desktop browsers, text browsers, voice browsers, multimedia players, plug-ins.
The following composite examples show people with a variety of disabilities using assistive technology or adaptive strategies to access the Web. These scenarios do not represent actual individuals.
Lucia is an adjuster at an insurance company. She is completely blind. She uses a screen reader to interpret what is displayed on the screen and drive a combination of speech output and braille output. She uses the speech output for rapid review of the text in a document, and has become accustomed to listening to the speech output at a speed that her co-workers cannot understand at all. She uses the refreshable braille output to check the exact wording of text since braille gives a more precise rendering of what is on a page. Recently her department started using a PDF-based form set. She is unable to access many of the .pdf forms with her screen reader, even using the .pdf converters that are available, and has asked her department to change back to a standard Web-based format.
Paul is a reporter who must type his articles to publish 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 too painful for him to continue typing. Instead he has learned voice recognition, and he writes by talking to his computer. However he has difficulty using the same editing tool and site management set as his colleagues, because these applications are missing many of the keyboard equivalents for mouse-driven commands. To activate any commands that do not have keyboard equivalents, he must use the mouse with his hand instead of using speech recognition. He finds after several months that he is making no progress on healing the original RSI, since he is continually re-aggravating the his hand muscles by his intermittent mouse use.
Kam is taking several "distance learning" courses in engineering. He is completely deaf. He had no trouble with the curriculum until the university upgraded their on-line courseware to a multimedia approach. Suddenly Kam finds that he has no idea what up to half of the instructional material is about, and his performance in the class starts to slip. After receiving complaints from several students with similar problems, the university looks into multimedia formats that support accessibility, and settle on a SMIL-based application since that includes support for captioning of audio and description of video.
Aisha attends middle school and particularly likes her science class. She has dyslexia which leads to substantial difficulty reading. The school she attends has started to use more and more on-line curriculum to supplement the textbooks in class, and she is worried about keeping up with the additional reading load. She tries out screen reading software with speech synthesis and finds that she is able to read along visually with the text much more easily when she can also hear some of it read to her with the speech synthesis. Since the on-line curriculum has been designed for accessibility, she is able to do this smoothly and to keep up with her class.
Pierre is considering buying some new music over the Web. He has one of the most common visual disabilities for men: color blindness, which for him means he cannot distinguish between green and red. He notices that he has difficulty reading many of the music sites, and wonders if it might be due to his color blindness. He uses his browser settings to turn off the site's style sheets and substitute his own style sheet, which he has configured to provide the optimal contrast he needs. He is then able to read the sites easily.
Ingrid uses the Web to find new restaurants to go to with friends and colleagues. She has low vision and no hearing. She uses a screen magnifier to enlarge the text on Web sites until she can read it, but sometimes that isn't sufficient so she also uses a screen reader to drive a refreshable braille display, which she reads slowly. When she is using the screen magnifier, she also uses her browser settings to turn off the background color and patterns because otherwise there is not enough contrast for her. The city she lives in has compiled a multi-media virtual tour of entertainment options in the area, and Ingrid discovers it has been completely captioned and described. She takes the on-line tour, slowing it down a few times while she uses a combination of braille and screen magnification. Then she sends the URI of the virtual tour to friends, to see if they share her interest in trying a particularly good-looking new restaurant downtown that weekend.
Cyrus uses the Web to review his stock portfolio and manage his retirement funds. He has some short-term memory loss, low vision, and a hand tremor. He customized his portfolio window with the help of his wife to give a streamlined portfolio view, and to automatically check certain stock performance critieria since he has difficulty remembering how to find the information otherwise. He uses his browser settings to enlarge the font on the site so it is easier for him to see even with his macular degeneration. While the icons on the site do not enlarge along with the fonts, they are large enough already that he can not only see them easily, but can select them with the mouse even when his hand is trembling due to his Parkinson's.
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W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) addresses accessibility of the Web through five complementary activities that:
WAI's International Program Office enables partnering of industry, disability organizations, accessibility research organizations, and governments interested in creating an accessible Web. WAI sponsors include the US National Science Foundation and Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; the European Commission's DG XIII Telematics for Disabled and Elderly Programme; IBM, Lotus Development Corporation, and NCR.
Additional information on WAI is available at http://www.w3.org/WAI.
Web accessibility guidelines are essential for Web site development and for Web-related applications development. WAI is coordinating with many organizations to produce three sets of guidelines:
The W3C was created to lead the Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability. It is an international industry consortium jointly run by the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) in the USA, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in France and Keio University in Japan. Services provided by the Consortium include: a repository of information about the World Wide Web for developers and users; reference code implementations to embody and promote standards; and various prototype and sample applications to demonstrate use of new technology. To date, more than 320 organizations are Members of the Consortium. For more information about the World Wide Web Consortium, see http://www.w3.org/
Gregg Vanderheiden, Kate Vanderheiden, Education and Outreach WG [list members]
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