NSF Effort To Increase Access To The Web By People With Disabilities

October 22, 1997

The National Science Foundation, with cooperation from the Department of Education's National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research, has made a three-year, $952,856 award to the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative to ensure information on the Web is more widely accessible to people with disabilities.

Information technology plays an increasingly important role in nearly every part of our lives through its impact on work, commerce, scientific and engineering research, education, and social interactions. However, information technology designed for the "typical" user may inadvertently create barriers for people with disabilities, effectively excluding them from education, employment and civic participation. Approximately 500 to 750 million people worldwide have disabilities, said Gary Strong, NSF program director for interactive systems.

The World Wide Web, fast becoming the "de facto" repository of preference for on-line information, currently presents many barriers for people with disabilities.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), created in 1994 to develop common protocols that enhance the interoperability and promote the evolution of the World Wide Web, is working to ensure that this evolution removes -- rather than reinforces -- accessibility barriers.

National Science Foundation and Department of Education grants will help create an international program office which will coordinate five activities for Web accessibility: data formats and protocols; guidelines for browsers, authoring tools and content creators; rating and certification; research and advanced development; and educational outreach. The office is also funded by the TIDE Programme under the European Commission, by industry sponsorships and endorsed by disability organizations in a number of countries.

"I commend the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education and the W3C for continuing their efforts to make the World Wide Web accessible to people with disabilities," said President Clinton. "The Web has the potential to be one of technology's greatest creators of opportunity -- bringing the resources of the world directly to all people. But this can only be done if the Web is designed in a way that enables everyone to use it. My administration is committed to working with the W3C and its members to make this innovative project a success."

"The World Wide Web Consortium realizes the critical importance of the Web for people with disabilities, and is committed to making the Web Accessibility Initiative a success," said Judy Brewer, new director of the W3C International Program Office. "We are proud to host this unique partnership. Through the International Program Office, we will be coordinating with industry, government, and disability communities to ensure that needs related to accessibility are addressed throughout the consortium's work, and that the message of an accessible Web is carried as broadly as possible."

"Computers can be a vital tool to remove barriers for people with disabilities," said NSF's Gary Strong. "If designers take into consideration that people have varied needs, the payback can be tremendous."

NSF-funded basic research in computer science and engineering can have countless applications for people with and without disabilities, he said.

"Such research will help move the nation toward an age where powerful, networked computers provide useful information in a usable format for all citizens," Strong said.

Issues of accessibility are timely this month: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month; the Access Board will soon be releasing its guidelines for accessibility of telecommunications products under Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act; and, the National Research Council report, "More Than Screen Deep," addressing the issue of every-citizen interfaces, has recently become available.

National Science Foundation

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