World Wide Access: Focus On Libraries

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D., and Dan Comden,
University of Washington

Presented at CSUN Adaptive Technology Conference, 1997

The dramatic growth of both electronic information sources and adaptive technology make it possible for libraries to serve visitors with disabilities as never before! Libraries can play a key role in increasing the independence, participation, and productivity of people with disabilities. Besides providing access to adaptive technology, they can help assure that their electronic resources are accessible when using that technology. This paper summarizes guidelines that can be employed to make electronic resources in libraries easier to use by patrons with a diverse set of characteristics. World Wide Web access issues are highlighted.

The varied features of the World Wide Web are attractive to a wide variety of users. Yet many Internet surfers are unable to view graphics and photos because of visual impairments, or cannot hear audio because of hearing impairments. If "universal design" principles are employed, all visitors to Web pages can access the content. Universal design means to concentrate on content rather than flashy graphics and audio and consider the full spectrum of potential users. Documents, menu items, graphics, video clips, and other materials are made as accessible as possible.

As a Web developer, you need to consider the diversity of people who may visit your Web pages. Some visitors:

These difficulties may occur because they have learning disabilities, English is their second language, or they may be younger than your average visitor.

Perhaps the most important consideration in designing Web pages is to make sure that a Web site visitor is not required to use a specific browser to access the information provided at that site. Today, numerous Web sites require the use of a particular version of Netscape. Although this is a popular browser, it is not the only option. For Web site developers, accessibility to the maximum number of potential customers should be a top priority. Many of the accessibility issues and tips described below make a favorable impression for all Web users, regardless of disabilities.

General Web Design Tip

When care is taken to assure that Web sites adhere to universal design principles, a larger audience of Internet users will be able to make use of the wealth of information resources on the Net. Libraries are in a unique position to demonstrate universal access features and to provide universal access to information resources, including those offered on the World Wide Web.

DO-IT Resources

A videotape and handout titled "World Wide Access" is available through the DO-IT program for $20. A good launching point to find resources for making accessible Web pages is the DO-IT HTML Guideline page at

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation. Additional funds for helping libraries make electronic resources accessible to people with disabilities are provided by the Telecommunications Funding Partnership.

DO-IT University of Washington
4545 15th. Avenue N.E.
Seattle, WA 98105
Voice/TDD (206) 685-DOIT
FAX (206) 685-4045

Note: This paper, which was delivered at the California State University Northridge Conference "Where Assistive Technology Meets the Information Age" (March 18 - 22, 1997) is reprinted with permission of CSUN's Founder and Director, Harry J. Murphy, Ed.D.

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Sheryl Burgstahler
Last updated: Feb 4, 1998