Spring 2000, Vol. 7, No. 2
Could Stevie Wonder Read Your Web Page?
by Marshall L. Smith, Ph.D., MSW, CSW, ACSW, and Elizabeth Coombs
Note: A table of links to resources mentioned in this article and related
Web pages is on page 2 of this article.
Accessibility: A Value of Social Work
Technology has opened doors for people who previously were denied access. It
is now possible to bank, pay one' mortgage, and shop without leaving home.
Computers have made it possible for a person to pursue an education without
being physically on campus. Some say that technological advances could
negatively affect our society by causing it to become more impersonal. However,
others believe that technology can provide unprecedented freedom. Historically,
persons with disabilities have often been forced to rely on family, neighbors,
friends, and paid helpers to perform services such as banking and shopping or to
equalize communication. The Internet offers independence to persons with
disabilities. Independence promotes dignity and self-worth.
Independence, dignity, and self-worth, as well as the championing of these
causes, are integral to the foundation of social work. Knowledge of new
technology can enable social workers to be in contact with numerous populations
and to provide informed guidance to their clients.
With so much criticism of the Internet, it is refreshing to learn about
developments that provide services that enhance people' lives. However,
problems can arise for people with disabilities (such as the blind, deaf, and
people of limited mobility) when Web pages are developed without careful
attention to standards of accessibility.
The ethical principle of “Social Workers Challenge Social Injustice” in the
NASW Code of Ethics, states:
Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of
vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’
social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment,
discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to
promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic
diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information,
services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation
in decision making for all people.
Social workers need to become more vigilant in relation to equal access to
information on the Internet. With increasing information being provided via the
World Wide Web, clients are turning to this source for self-advocacy purposes.
As social workers, we must concern ourselves with the information we and our
agencies provide, to insure that it is accessible to all people.
Quick Course in Internet Accessibility
While technology has opened doors, it can also close them. This is the
dilemma currently experienced by many persons with disabilities when it comes to
navigating the World Wide Web. There are numerous ways to make information
technology accessible to all, and navigating the Internet doesn’t have to leave
a person feeling like a fly caught in the spider' web. All that is needed is
the ability to adequately access the computer' input and output. With the
proper tools, a person can produce just about anything with a computer. For
example, speech or screen readers, such as href="http://www.hj.com/JFW/JFW35DemoOp.htm">Jaws®, allow the blind to
navigate Web pages. Low vision persons can use screen magnification software
such as ZoomText®. Persons with learning
disabilities can be provided with the ability to change background colors, or
the ability to simplify the display by enlarging it. Persons with mobility
impairments can use voice recognition software, an onscreen keyboard, various
alternatives to the mouse, or use keystrokes instead of the mouse. These various
technological aids have been instrumental in providing persons with disabilities
the power to transcend the barriers previously considered major stumbling blocks
There are tricks that good Web designers use to reach a wider audience of
people. For example, all information presented auditorially should also be
available in a text transcript file. All video information should be described
and available in an auditory form, as well as a text transcript file. If frames
are used, there should also be a NOFRAME option. A phone number, e-mail address,
postal mail address, or fax number should be provided for submitting
information, even if an online form is also provided. These and other tricks are
easy to learn and very important in order to facilitate access by all
Providing Internet-accessible information is becoming increasingly easier.
For example, a common problem is the browsing software version used by people.
Some Web page content looks great in the latest version of Netscape® or Internet
Explorer®, but not in an earlier version. It is possible to test the viewability
of your Web page by using the href="http://www.delorie.com/web/wpbcv.html">Web Page Backward Compatability
Viewer. This site on the Internet allows you to look at your own site
“through the eyes” of various versions of browser software to insure that it is
accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
Not all Internet users have graphical user interface browsers like Netscape®
or Internet Explorer®. Some users use an early browser, which can only view text
and not graphics. This browser is called LYNX®, and there is a href="http://www.delorie.com/web/lynxview.html">Lynx Viewer on the Internet
that permits you to test your site for accessibility by Lynx®.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web
Accessibility Initiative (WAI) works to “lead the Web to its full potential
including promoting a high degree of usability for people with disabilities.”
They pursue “accessibility of the Web through five primary areas of work:
technology, guidelines, tools, education & outreach, and research &
development.” Understanding the technical jargon might be difficult, so the W3C
has printed Quick Tips* for the beginning
Web page designer:
- Images & animations: Use the alt attribute to describe the function of
- each visual.
- Image maps: Use client-side MAP and text for hotspots.
- Multimedia: Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of
- Hypertext links: Use text that makes sense when read out of context. For
- example, avoid “click here.”
- Page organization: Use headings, lists, and consistent structure. Use CSS
- for layout and style where possible.
- Graphs & charts: Summarize or use the longdesc attribute.
- Scripts, applets, & plug-ins: Provide alternative content in case active
- features are inaccessible or unsupported.
- Frames: Use NOFRAMES and meaningful titles.
- Tables: Make line-by-line reading sensible. Summarize.
- Check your work: Validate. Use tools, checklist, and guidelines located at
Organizations like W3C support the goal of economic and social justice by
aspiring to equal access to all information on the Internet. (See the href="http://www.socialworker.com/accesslinks.htm">Accessibility Links Table
at the end of this article for “Quick Tips” URL.)
Another important resource is href="http://www.cast.org/bobby/">Bobby®, after the British name for a law
officer. Bobby® will scan an entire Web site, review the presentation of
information, and evaluate the site against principles of approved access. The
user will receive a complete report on how the Web site is or is not able to be
viewed by people with various disabilities. Bobby® provides links to tips for
correcting errors and problems. Check out Bobby® at the location in the table on
the next page.
In summary, the Internet can contribute to the isolation and division of
people, or it can serve to bring people together with a greater sense of
community. We, as social workers, need to understand the Web in order to provide
access to those who might not otherwise be included.
Marshall L. Smith is a newly appointed member of the Council on Social
Work Education Commission on Disability and Persons with Disabilities. Elizabeth
Coombs is a non-traditional BSW student at Rochester Institute of Technology and
works part-time for Equal Access to Software and Information, helping to
disseminate information to persons with disabilities.
*(Quick Tips © 2000 World Wide Web Consortium, Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique,
Keio University). All Rights Reserved. href="http://www.w3.org/WAI">http://www.w3.org/WAI)
This table appears in the Spring 2000 issue of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, as
part of the article, "Electronic Connection: Could Stevie Wonder Read Your Web
Page?" by Marshall L. Smith and Elizabeth Coombs. It is posted here to
facilitate readers' access to the listed sites/pages. © 2000 White Hat
Communications. All rights reserved. href="http://www.socialworker.com/electspr2000.htm">Return to main
Firm specializing in products for people with visual
Accessible Web Design
Accessible Web Page Design
Resources for creating accessible pages
All Things Web: Could Helen Keller Read
Inclusive approach to Web design
Authoring Accessible Web Pages
Help for designing universal Web pages
Tool for analyzing the accessibility of Web
Brain Actuated Technologies, Inc.: The
Enables hands-free control of computers and
Center for Applied Special
Organization for the advancement of universal design
Designing More Usable Web
Cooperative effort toward building a more usable Web
Disability Access Symbols
Graphics Arts Guild Foundation
DisAbility Related Graphics
Images for use on Web pages
EASI: Equal Access to Software and
Online & onsite workshops and webcasts on
Exhibitors List for "Technologies and
Persons with Disabilities" Conference, March 20-25, 2000
Complete list of URLs for exhibitors
Henter-Joyce, Inc. (Free downloads to try
Screen reader software and screen magnification
HTML Writers Guild
Online workshops on accessibility
IBM Home Page Reader: Special Needs Systems
Voice translation for blind and visually impaired
IBM Works to Improve PC Access for the
A screen reader
Tool to view your Web page in text-only
NASW Code of Ethics
Ethical guidelines for social workers
National Center for Accessible Media: Web
Project to advance Web access
Page Author Check List
Unified Web site accessibility
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
(Includes "Quick Tips" and Reference List)
Web page authoring guidelines and
Steps for building an accessible Web
Web Page Accessibility
Tools to make your Web pages accessible
Web Page Backward Compatibility
Tool to view your Web page in various versions of
Viewable With Any Browser
Campaign for a non-browser specific WWW
Screen magnification software
Copyright © 2000 White Hat Communications. All rights reserved. From
THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Spring 2000, Vol. 7, No. 2. For reprints of this
or other articles from THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER (or for permission to
reprint), contact Linda Grobman, publisher/editor, at P.O. Box 5390, Harrisburg,
PA 17110-0390, or at href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com.