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Can you read me?

by Sanchia de Souza last modified Apr 02, 2011 04:11 PM
Article by Sahana Charan in the Bangalore Mirror, 11 March 2009

Over 90% of govt websites can’t be accessed by people with disabilities; A Bangalore-based social research organisation has now initiated a nation wide campaign to make the web more accessible to them.

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Would it come as a shock to you that more than 90 per cent of government websites, including those dealing with social welfare issues, can be of no use to visually or hearing impaired persons or even some senior citizens? At least, that is what the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) found out when it did a random check on 23 websites of important government organisations. Of the 23 websites that were checked, 21 failed to meet basic standards which could make them accessible to persons with disabilities including those with visual and hearing impairment and motor disabilities.

The study revealed that The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore (IIM-B) websites were the only ones that were designed to meet the needs of all persons including those with disabilities.

When Nirmitha Narasimhan, Programme Manager at CIS, who is visually-impaired herself, ran an automated tool over these websites, she found that most of them failed to meet basic standards. “We carried out accessibility testing on the homepages of 23 sites using an automated tool and of these 21 failed automated verification and only the RBI and IIM-B websites passed verification on the basis of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Priority 1 checkpoints. But even these websites had some problems. Overall the sites that failed the fewest tests were RBI, IIM-B, RTI and CMC Vellore,” she said.

Access for All

Considering that some of the websites that failed the accessibility test were important for all citizens, including the Railways, Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, RTI and National Informatics Centre (NIC) websites, the research organisation decided to take this exercise forward by launching a national campaign for electronic accessibility. Their campaign has been so successful that they are now in talks with the central government to formulate a draft policy on electronic accessibility.

“Persons who have disabilities such as blindness or low vision, deafness, cognitive impairment and so on are unable to browse through websites like other persons, since they are unable to see graphics, flash presentations, hear audio clips etc. They use technologies such as screen readers (like Jaws and NVDA which read out whatever appears on the screen for a blind user) or other kinds of devices to perform the functionalities associated with using the computers. For deaf persons, it is necessary to have captioning for an audio clip to tell them what is being played,” says Nirmitha. But she adds that even for assistive technologies to be used, the websites need to have built-in features that will make them accessible to everyone.

Guidelines

“Most websites have features such as graphics which cannot be interpreted by technologies such as screen readers. In such a case, the website creator has to take care to give alternative texts which describe what the graphic is about. For instance, under a picture of a dog on a website, there should also be a line describing the picture,” adds Nirmitha, who is now working with web developers across the country to create awareness about guidelines for creating a website.

The World Wide Web Consortium (www) has come out with guidelines on how to build websites which are accessible to persons using assistive technologies. These guidelines are called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and address the needs of all disabilities and inabilities. “In the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and many other countries, it is mandatory to implement these guidelines for all websites. Since ours is an internet-savvy nation, it is high time these rules were made mandatory here,” says Nirmitha.

CIS has conducted a series of workshops for web developers from organisations including NIC, JNU and many voluntary agencies so that they could incorporate WCAG. In Karnataka, all government websites are designed by NIC, so it goes without saying that none of them are disabled-friendly.

Their Own Site Too

Karnataka has over 9.4 lakh persons with disabilities of whom at least 10-15 per cent are able to use assistive technology and can access the net. In Bangalore city alone, close to one lakh persons are disabled and quite a few of them have knowledge of computers.

But it is a pity that the website of the Directorate for the Welfare of the Disabled and Senior Citizens cannot be accessed by people who need to use it the most.

Forget being disabled-friendly, the website has not been updated since 2007 and the gallery section still shows pictures of former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy.

What the guidelines say

For sites which have graphics, alternative text should be given at the bottom describing the graphic for the benefit of visually impaired persons.

  1. For the hearing impaired, video clips should be accompanied by text running at the bottom of the clip so that they will know what is being said.
  2. Flickering text that cannot be deciphered by a screen reader (a technology used by the visually impaired that reads out test on the computer screen aloud) should be avoided.
  3. For those with motor impairment, options can be given to avoid the use of mouse and where only one single key could be used.

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 To read the article at the Bangalore Mirror website, click here

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