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Mark Del Rossi

11/18/09

Integrated Information Design Midterm paper Accessibility & Quadriplegia In the early days of web development, design was not taken into consideration as much as it is today. A simple site using generic fonts in headers, navigation, and body copy was sometimes considered enough for a site to be designed well. The field was relatively young and issues, such as designing for the disabled, were not taken into account. This, however, would change with the advent of newer technologies and computer languages. As the web has grown over the years it has become more and more evident that accessibility issues needed to be a part of the equation. In the past, the technology was limited and the priorities were different, so it was more difficult to accommodate those with disabilities. Websites built using simple html tags were restricted in what they could accomplish when it came to accessibility. Over the years, more advanced technologies have made it possible for a designer to create sites that are not only more aesthetically pleasing but function better as well. This, accompanied by a newfound purpose for the Internet in industries such as retail, helped the development of websites explode in the late 1990s.


With this brand new and increasingly large population of users, it became evident that new accessibility standards had to be taken into account. When designing a site, designers no longer had to account for a small niche of people that may have gone to their website, they had to take into account a much larger group of people and this meant a more generic (and ultimately pleasant) form of designing. Since people in western culture have been reading in a top-down left-right orientation, they generally expect the same set up in web design. The nature of our written language, and the way books have been written over the centuries has entrenched this into our psyche, and our websites have followed suit. Navigation bars and menus tend to find themselves in the top or top-left and the rest of the hierarchy tends to follow suit. The more important content will generally place itself in the top left hand portion of a website and will read from left to right and from top to bottom. When it comes to column width on a website, there are many CSS frameworks to guide you but, generally speaking, if 2 or more columns of content have the same importance, they are usually given the same width. Columns of lesser importance when it comes to content, should be put lower in the hierarchy and given a smaller size. The actual numbers of these can vary and really depend on the


importance of the content and the overall personal tastes of the client and the designer. For the color scheme, a designer would want to pick something with high contrast. For those in the general public that happen to be colorblind, this can be a large problem. If two colors blend together too much, they will find themselves unable to decipher the content of a website. Bold colors can make for a confusing design and are generally frowned upon. For the actual content of the site, text is usually given a darker color while the background is lighter. This convention can be modified for other areas of a website, such as the navigation bar, but the most successful sites follow this rule. For text, a clear typeface is needed to make sure the content is legible. In the past, the limited space and cost of paper forced bookmakers and newspaper printers to use a narrow font like Times New Roman. With the advent of online data, this is not necessary. Nowadays web designers use clearer fonts such as Verdana, Helvetica and Arial. The ‘design’ of the content itself is really dependant on the website’s purpose. News websites in particular have to rely on longer content than most websites, but the popular sites of today are geared towards content that is generally shorter in nature. Popular websites


like youtube, twitter and even facebook depend on user generated content that is small in nature. This can help those that suffer from ADHD, but it also provides unnecessary support to those in the general public. Now that the web has grown to its current size, companies have to start taking into account the amount of people viewing their website that are disabled. It is a situation that logically makes sense. More and more people who use the web will have some sort of disability as more and more people use the web in general. If a company would like to compete in the market place, they would have to provide the appropriate accommodations. One disability that is particularly unique to accommodate is quadriplegia. Many people think that if you get trauma of the spine, this will mean that you lose complete ability over your motor functions. While this is true in many cases, in some, it can mean only a limited loss of motor ability. Many people associated with loss of their motor skills, lose the use of their legs. Paraplegia is a loss of motor function of the lower extremities. Individuals like those can go on to live long and fruitful lives. When it comes to web accessibility, their need for newer technology is limited. Paraplegics have use of their upper body and can therefore use the web without problems. Quadriplegics on the other hand, are in a different situation.


Quadriplegia involves the physical impairment or loss of sensory function in three or more limbs and torso. It is a condition that can destroy the lives of those that are affected. It affects hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone. The causes surrounding quadriplegia can range from a variety of sicknesses. Anything from a spinal cord injury, Multiple Sclerosis, to AIDS can be a major cause for quadriplegia. Annually, via 250,000 spinal cord injuries alone, 117,500 Americans are left without the use of the majority of their extremities. That is a rate of 47%. Per year, there are 11,000 new injuries that result in over 5,000 more individuals left quadriplegic. It is a condition that is affecting more and more Americans with every generation. Victims of this condition are getting younger and younger and as such, the newer technologies (i.e. web technologies) of the youth have had to accommodate those in need. The Internet over the past few years has begun to make accommodations for people with disabilities. Newer software, such as screen reader for the blind and closed captioning for the hearing impaired, have been developed to help those that have a physical disability experience the online world. A web designer can take into account some disabilities by using elements of the technologies


available to him but at the end of the day, they will not be able to accommodate everyone. Quadriplegia is one condition that can give web designers troubles. A web designer is limited to what they can put on a website. What a person sees and hears or what their mind perceives does not, necessarily, affect a quadriplegic. A quadriplegic loses their motor function. Their mind, eyesight, and hearing are not necessarily lost to them in every case. Therefore, a web designer must rely on the technologies that have been made available through science and research. One technology that has helped web designers when it comes to quadriplegia is eye-tracking technology. The most widely used technologies are video based eye trackers. The way they work is they will use a camera that will focus on one or both of the eyes and will use reflected infrared light to compute the approximate location of the eye direction of the user. The entire process is much more complex. There are two main forms of eye tracking, including ‘dark pupil’ and ‘bright pupil’, but the general principles are the same. After a simple calibration, a user can get pretty decent results as to where his eyes are moving throughout a screen. Bright pupil calibration is the most effective of the two. When infrared light is shown onto a person’s eye, the light will reflect back to


the source creating a bright color effect similar to that of camera red eye. A similar technology has already been used in simple software applications using the Nintendo Wii. Not only can this technology track movement, but it could also track distance as well. Software designers have been using eye-tracking technology to help them in usability testing. With this technology, a software engineer can see exactly what a person is looking at on their end product. They can use this information to help design a better product for their end user. If they can see what a user has been looking at, they can better design an interface to give priority to the more appropriate portions of their program. The information shows up in conveniently colored hot spots on a graphic. The warmer in color the spot, the more often a part of the screen is looked at. The application of this for quadriplegics is obvious. If there is a product that can tell you what people are looking at then you would, obviously, use this for people that only have control over their eyes. They can use this program for any application involving their desktop. The applications are not just limited to web design. Any program that any programmer would create is now accessible using this technology. When it comes to designing a site, the consideration that you have to take into account is the nature of the technology being used.


If you were to make a site with a quadriplegic in mind, you would have to take into account the technology that he or she would be using. The higher end eye tracking technologies can track eye movement fairly accurately and would cause very little issues when navigating a desktop. However, if you had a lower end device, it would be more difficult to navigate a site that had smaller links built into it. The eye tracking can get jittery at times causing all kind of problems getting through a website. The best way to accommodate this is to create a site that uses large anchor tags and graphics to navigate the site. This way, when a user with the applied eye tracking technology navigates to the website, they will be able to move through the pages gracefully and with minimal issues. Large elements are key in designing a website. Everything from the header to the body copy should be kept legible and brief. Too much navigational information packed into too small a space can wreak havoc for someone without the use of his or her extremities. If a site has too much content, having to scroll through the information, can become irritating, exerting, and problematic as well. A designer has to take these into account when building a website.


Works Cited Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Statistics http://www.sci-info-pages.com/facts.html An Alternative to the Computer Mouse http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/18254/?a=f WAI Guidelines and Techniques http://www.w3.org/WAI/guid-tech.html


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