The GNOME Accessibility project has been functioning since October 2000. Since that time, the project has created the industry leading AT-SPI (Assistive Technology Service Provider Interface), won several important awards, and (most importantly) created a free open source platform that provides compelling accessibility for a wide range of disabilities.
To learn more about accessibility, the GNOME Accessibility Developer's Guide contains informative sections on "What is Accessibility?" and "Types of Disability." The remainder of the content on this page describes solutions for specific disabilities and relevant accessibility laws from around the world.
Assistive Technology for Computers
Assistive technology, also called accessibility aids, are added to computers by people who use them to make computers more accessible. Some common aids include the following:
Screen magnifiers help people with low vision. These utilities are like a magnifying glass. People using them are able to control what area of the computer screen they want enlarged, and can move that focus to view different areas of the screen. They are also known as screen enlargers or large print programs.
Screen readers are for people who are blind. These aids make on-screen information available as synthesized speech or a refreshable Braille display. They can only translate text based information. Graphics can be translated if there is alternative text describing the visual images. They are also known as blind access utilities or screen reviewers.
On-screen keyboards are used by people who are unable to use a standard keyboard. An on-screen keyboard lets people select keys using a pointing method such as pointing devices, switches, or Morse-code input systems.
Keyboard enhancement utilities are used by people who have trouble typing and controlling a mouse. They allow the user to perform complicated key sequences serially (e.g. Control-C), control the mouse pointer and buttons from the keyboard, and set the key repeat and acceptance rates. These ehancements are built into the base platform and are known as AccessX on Solaris/Linux, AccessPac on Microsoft Windows, and EasyAccess on the Mac.
Speech recognition programs are primarily used by people with mobility impairments. These utilities enable people to control computers with their voice instead of a mouse or keyboard. They are also known speech recognition programs.
Alternative input devices allow individuals to control their computers through means other than a standard keyboard or pointing device. Examples include smaller or larger keyboards, eye-gaze pointing devices, and sip-and-puff systems controlled by breathing.
The following is a larger list af assistive technologies broken down by the disability type who benefits from them.
Assistive Technologies for Physical Disabilities and RSI
|Assistive Technology||Function Provided|
|Alternate Pointing Device||Gives users with limited or no arm and hand fine motor control the ability to control mouse movements and functions. Examples include foot operated mice, head-mounted pointing devices and eye-tracking systems.|
|Screen Keyboard||On-screen keyboard which provides the keys and functions of a physical keyboard. On-screen keyboards are typically used in conjunction with alternate pointing devices.|
|Predictive Dictionary||Predictive dictionaries speed typing by predicting words as the user types them, and offering htose words in a list for the user to choose.|
|Speech Recognition||Allows the user with limited or no arm and hand fine motor control to input text and/or control the user interface via speech.|
|StickyKeys||Provides looking or latching of modifier keys (e.g., Shift, Control) so that they can be sued without simultaneously pressing the keys. This allows single finger operation of multiple key combinations.|
|MouseKeys||An alternative to the mouse which provides keyboard control of cursor movement and mouse button functions.|
|RepeatKeys||Delays the onset of key repeat, allowing users with limited coordination time to release keys.|
|SlowKeys||Requires a key to be held down for a set period before keypress acceptance. This prevents users with limited coordination from accidentally pressing keys.|
|BounceKeys||Requires a delay between keystrokes before accepting the next keypress so users with tremors can prevent the system from accepting inadvertent keypresses.|
|ToggleKeys||Indicates locking key state with a tone when pressed, e.g., Caps Lock.|
Assistive Technologies for Low Vision and Blind Users
|Assistive Technology||Function Provided|
|Screen Reader||Allows users to navigate through windows, menus, and controls while receiving text and limited graphics information through speech output or braille display.|
|Braille Display||Provides line by line braille display of on-screen text using a series of pins to form braille symbols that are constantly updated as the user navigates through the interface.|
|Text to Speech (TTS)||Translates electronic text into speech via a speech synthesizer.|
|Magnification||Provides magnification of a portion or all of a screen, including graphics and windows as well as text. Allows users to track position of the input focus.|
Assistive Technologies for Hearing Disabilities
|Assistive Technology||Function Provided|
|Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD)||Provides a means for users to communicate over telephone lines using text terminals.|
|Closed Captioning||Provides text translation of spoken material on video media. Important computer applications include distance learning, CD-ROM, video teleconferencing, and other forms of interactive video.|
|ShowSounds||Proposed standard would provide visual translation of sound information. Non-speech audio such as system beeps would be presented via screen flashing or similar methods. Video and still images would be described through closed captions or related technologies. This capability would be provided by the system infrastructure.|
Relevant Accessibility Laws
In addition to being the right thing to do, accessibility is supported by a number of laws around the world.
Australia passed the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 with specific provisions to accomodate people with disabilities. Under Web & IT Accessibility, Austalia has established policy initiatives for accessibility of electronic commerce and new service and information technologies for older Australians and people with a disability. As a part of this, the Cabinet on 21 March 2000 adopted specific accessibility requirements for Commonwealth sites as part of its policy for use of the internet, including requirements for:
- All Commonwealth departments and agencies to evaluate their sites for compliance with the W3C accessibility standards from1 June 2000
- All new contracted site work to include accessibility benchmarks from 1 June 2000
- All Commonwealth sites to pass accessibility testing by reference to W3C standards by 1 December 2000.
Policy on the Provision of Accommodation for Employees with Disabilities. This policy became effective July 1, 1999 and outlines the responsibilities regarding the employment accommodation of employees with disabilities. In discharging this policy, the Government of Canada recognizes that the work environment of employees with disabilities must be adapted to meet their employment-related needs of employees with disabilities in the federal Public Service are met within reason - IT accommodation is an important part of this.
Freedom to Choose Action Plan for IT Use by People with Disabilities. It essentially says the Danish info-society must be open to everyone - including people with disabilities. "Freedom to Choose - Action Plan for IT use by People with Disabilities" follows up the Government's IT Policy Action Plan 1995. In particular it says: "States should ensure that new computerised information and service systems offered to the general public are either initially accessible or are adapted to be made accessible to persons with disabilities."
2003 has been declared the European Year of People with Disabilities. The European Commission launched the eEurope initiative on 8th December 1999 with the adoption of the Communication eEurope - An Information Society for all. The eEurope Action Plan associated with this initiative has set the following goals.
- By the end of 2000: Review Information Society legislation and standards on accessibility. Recommendation to take account of people with disabilities in the public procurement of information and communications products and services.
- By the end of 2001: Commitment to make all public Web sites and their content accessible to people with disabilities.
- By the end of 2002: Create centres of excellence in each Member State to develop an EU curriculum in Design-for-All.
The official web-page of the responsible government agency (german only).
The Irish government has The Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act, which are modern anti-discrimination measures, and the Equality Authority Act, which is chartered to address violations of the first two Acts. The law also created the National Disability Authority Act led to a group who is responsible for, among other things, advising the Government on the coordination and development of policy disability issues.
The Portuguese Accessibility Special Interest Group successfully petitioned and obtained a commitment on web site accessibility from the government of Portugal. Accessibility is now mandatory in Portugal for public and Administrative web sites.
The Spanish Law 51/2003 (LIONDAU) establishes the basic conditions of accessibility and non-discrimination for access and use of technologies, products and services related to the information society and social communication media. It extends the reach of the Law 34/2002 (LSSICE), and includes design for all as a consideration into all technologies, products and services from their conception to roll out on the market. However, it is the Royal Decree 1494/2007 that translates the principles from these laws into specific regulations. In practical terms this means:
- Computer equipment and computer programs used by the public administration, whose intended purpose is use by the public in general, must be accessible to the elderly and disabled in accordance with the guiding principle of "Design for all" and the specific accessibility requirements demanded, with preference given to the national technical standards that incorporate European standards, international standards, other systems of technical references prepared by the European standardisation bodies or, failing that, national standards (Standards UNE 139801:2003 and UNE 139802:2003)
- The information available on the public administration websites shall be accessible to the elderly and disabled, with a minimum level of accessibility that shall meet priorities 1 and 2 of Standard UNE 139803:2004.
- The public administration shall promote measures for raising awareness, informing, educating and, especially, training in the area of accessibility.
In August 1996 the Government commissioned the Swedish Handicap Institute to develop a programme of IT-based measures aimed at disabled and elderly people. The aim of the program is to provide the basis for a more concerted effort within the area of IT for disabled and elderly people. The work has been carried out in close conjunction with the organisations and authorities concerned.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 originally primarily covered employment issues and the provision of goods, facilities and services. Another act, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, extends this act to require schools to put in place plans to provide equal access to educational materials and their delivery.
There are three key pieces of legislation relating to accessibility in the United States:
- Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. The onus is on the U.S. Federal agency to only purchase accessible information technology. Section 508 went into effect June 21, 2001, and was refreshed in April 2008.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (see overview) recognizes and protects the civil rights of people with disabilities and is modeled after earlier landmark laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and gender. The ADA covers a wide range of disability, from physical conditions affecting mobility, stamina, sight, hearing, and speech to conditions such as emotional illness and learning disorders.
- Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act provides that a manufacturer of telecommunications equipment or customer premises equipment shall ensure that the equipment is designed, developed, and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. Further, a provider of telecommunications services shall ensure that the service is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. Along with Section 508, Section 255 was was refreshed in April 2008.
DocumentationGNOME Desktop Accessibility Guide
The GNOME Desktop Accessibility Guide is for users, system administrators, and anyone else who is interested in how the GNOME Desktop supports people with disabilities from an end user point of view.GNOME Accessibility Developer's Guide
The GNOME Accessibility Developer's Guide is for developers who want to ensure their programming efforts are accessible to the widest audience of users.GNOME Documentation Library
The GNOME Documentation Library includes the accessibility user and developer documents listed above along with many other documents for users, developers, and system administrators. From here, you can also access the documentation translated into many different languages.