3 years

extra mile

A Web of Apathy

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It takes only a little more effort to design websites that the differently abled too can use.

The iPad, experts say, is essentially a media consumption device that will make reading off a screen the best thing since sliced bread. Great, but will it make life easier for the differently abled? Not likely. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the onus of constructing websites that are more responsive to the needs of the disadvantaged lies in the hands of website creators, most of who don’t care. No? Fine, let’s examine the evidence.

In 2001, nobody knew how many differently abled people there were in India. Then, in 2002, the 58th round of National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) survey estimated their number to be 18.5 million. Today, that figure has gone up to nearly 70 million—a little less than 7 per cent of the population.

Yet, most of the Indian Government sites and portals are not completely accessible to the differently abled. That apart, websites run by Indian companies don’t bother complying with Web Access Guidelines laid down to make websites easier to use for this stratum of society. As a result, these users with special needs still have to suffer the ignominy of depending on someone else to help them undertake an activity as elementary as surfing the internet.

Differently abled people will tell you that they’d prefer to get more out of the internet because it’s a world that’s physically easier to navigate than the real one. (Or, at least, should be.) Seeing that they constitute quite a sizeable chunk of the population, here’s a quick primer on how to build websites that screen reader software applications can interpret, for differently abled users.

>> Always provide an ‘ALT-tag’ text equivalent for any information you present visually on the website.

>> If you rely mainly on image maps for navigation, also provide text links on the page.

>> Don’t colour-code chunks of information, unless explained with accompanying text.

>> Using an image as a link is fine as long as you label your links as ‘links’ and describe the destination.

>> Ensure there are JavaScript alternatives to all critical functions on your webpage.

Countries like the US, Canada and Australia have enacted legislation that makes it compulsory for web builders to adhere to certain minimum standards for universal web accessibility. In India, access to information, too, is mandated by the Disability Act, 1995. Evidently, this is not enough. We need to do more. Luckily, it’s not much and very doable.

Avinash Subramaniam is a writer and media consultant who lives online.