The web has become a key tool for most people in day-to-day life; however, barriers can easliy occur for people with disabilities if the web page author does not keep accessibility in mind. For example, someone who is blind cannot visually view a website, therefore, graphs, pictures, and photo's may create a barrier for the viewer if the author of the page has not provided additional information about them.
It is essential for web authors to understand the importance of making websites accessible in order to provide equal access and opportunity to people with disabilities. In most cases concerning website accessibility barriers, the problem is the lack of knowledge rather than a conscious decision. The first step in ensuring content on the web is accessible is to simply be aware that people with visual, hearing, mobility, and cognitive disabilities may have different requirements. Once this realization occurs, the next step is to learn the necessary techniques for creating and testing accessible web pages.
The following is a list of resources for gaining further information about accessibility:
To help illustrate an example of overcoming an accessibility barrier, we have created an example of an accessible crossword puzzle which can be found by clicking this link. The traditional method for adding a crossword puzzle to a web page would be to create an image and display it on the page (for users to print). Unfortunately, this is not accessible to a visually impaired person since they cannot see the puzzle. In most cases, providing a line or two of descriptive text to an image (in the code of the web page) will help make an image accessible. However, the barrier is greater in the case of a crossword puzzle since it is not possible to describe all of the necessary information within a few lines of text.
After investigating methods for making a crossword puzzle accessible, we discovered a free software package called Across Lite by Literate Software. Across Lite is a free application for Windows and Macintosh computers that can be used to solve crossword puzzles in an accessible fashion. To make a crossword accessible, the puzzle must be converted by authors into a binary format called ".puz", which can then be made available along with the puzzle image. Many popular websites, such as the New York Times, provide their crossword puzzles in ".puz" format.
The basic idea behind Across Lite is that the puzzle author creates their puzzle in a format (dot PUZ) readable by the software and offers it as a link along with their crossword puzzle image. The end result is a .puz file that can be downloaded to the user's machine and then used either visually (by sighted people) or by using an adaptive technology such as a screen reader, to solve the puzzle.
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