CODI: Cornucopia of Disability Information

Why Make Application Software More Accessible?

				   Part I
	       Why Make Application Software More Accessible?

There are many reasons for a company to consider making their applications
more accessible.  They include:

    1) One in ten citizens has a disability of some type.  It is
       estimated that seven to nine out of every ten major
       corporations employ individuals with disabilities who may need
       to access software as a part of their job.

       There are between thirty and forty million people in the United
       States who have disabilities which affect their ability to use
       computers and application software.  At the same time,
       computers are becoming integral parts of our living,
       educational and working environments.  As a result, there is a
       growing concern that if computers, operating systems and
       application software are not accessible to this fairly large
       portion of our population, they will be unable to participate
       effectively in these environments.

    2) Our population is rapidly aging.  The number of individuals
       with disabilities or who have functional limitations is
       continually growing.  Every year, this population includes more
       and more computer users.

       The population is steadily growing older.  As we age, most of
       us lose some of our physical, sensory, or mental abilities.  By
       age 55, 25% of us will experience functional limitations (see
       Figure 1).  By age 65, this percentage will rise to 50%.  For
       the growing number of us who will live to be 70 years old or
       older, 75% will experience functional impairments.  In fifty
       years, it is estimated that more than a third of the population
       will be over age 55 and a sixth will be over 70 (based on US
       Congress Office of Technology Assessment OTA-BA-264).


       Figure 1 shows a series of 8 pie charts, each representing an
       age group and the percentage having functional limitations or
       severe functional limitations:
          15-24 years:  1% with functional limitations; minimal with
          severe limitations
          25-34 years:  7.5% with functional limitations, 2% with
          severe limitations
          35-44 years:  13.4% with functional limitations, 3% with
          severe limitations
          45-54 years:  23% with functional limitations, 6% with
          severe limitations
          55-64 years:  34.2% with functional limitations, 12% with
          severe limitations
          65-69 years:  45.4% with functional limitations, 18.5% with
          severe limitations
          70-74 years:  55.3% with functional limitations, 22% with
          severe limitations
          75+ years:  72.5% with functional limitations, 41% with
          severe limitations

    3) Standard software which is designed to be usable by individuals
       with performance limitations is also usually easier to use by           
       everyone else.

       Curbcuts were put into sidewalk street corners for people in
       wheelchairs, but for every one person in a wheelchair who use
       these curbcuts, there are ten individuals with bicycles, carts,
       baby strollers, etc. who use the curbcut.  Similarly, the
       adaptations to software for people with disabilities that make
       the software easier to see on the screen, operate from the
       keyboard, understand, etc., also make the software easier to
       use quickly, efficiently, and without errors for individuals
       who do not have disabilities.  One example is MouseKeys, a
       feature that was added to operating systems to allow people who
       cannot use a mouse to move the mouse cursor from the keyboard.
       This feature is also commonly used by people doing graphics
       layout to make fine adjustments in graphic positioning, because
       it allows precise, pixel-by-pixel movement from the keyboard
       which is not possible using the standard mouse.

    4) Software compatible with accessibility software is usually also
       more compatible with software extensions and to cross-program
       scripting utilities.

       Some of the principle strategies for making application
       software more compatible with disability access software

         -  doing things in the standard fashion (i.e., following user
            interface guidelines),
         -  using system tools,
         -  supporting inter-application communications and other
            means for one piece of software to issue commands to, and
            extract information from, another application program.

       These also make the program more compatible with other
       nondisability-related system extensions and inter-application
       macro and scripting utilities.

    5) The Federal government is interested in software applications
       that are more accessible and "accessibility aid friendly."
       Some of this interest is backed by legislation.

       Among the legislative efforts is Section 508 of the
       Rehabilitation Act.  This mandates the General Services
       Administration of the U.S. Government to work with the National
       Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to develop
       guidelines for the purchase of computers and other electronic
       office equipment in order to ensure that the equipment
       purchased by the Government is accessible to its employees with
       disabilities.  The text of Section 508 is provided in Figure 2.
       A copy of the 508 related regulations and guidelines is
       included in appendix D. At the present time, the GSA Guidelines
       describe features that would be desirable in computers and
       operating systems.  Discussions are underway, however,
       regarding an extension of the GSA Guidelines to include
       application software, to make sure that applications cooperate
       with access features being built into the operating systems as
       well as lending themselves to access and use by people with
       disabilities.  This White Paper reflects these discussions, and
       provides industry with a mechanism for participating in the
       exploration and discussion of these topics as well.  Review,
       comment, and feedback on this White Paper and subsequent
       cooperative Industry Design Guidelines can help provide
       guidance to others in industry interested in this area.  Also,
       in that interested people within the government also receive
       and review this document it can act as a means of communication
       and input to government processes and deliberations on this             
       topic as well.

       The recently enacted Americans with Disabilities Act requires
       that companies make their work environments more accessible to
       individuals with disabilities.  As a result, not only the
       Federal government but the public sector and private companies
       will be increasingly interested in software application
       programs which are more accessible and work well with existing
       and future special access features and accessories.

                              Figure 2
                Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
    Sect. 508. Electronic Equipment Accessibility
    (a)   (1)  The Secretary, through the National Institute on
           Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the
           Administration of the General Services, in consultation
           with the electronics industry, shall develop and
           establish guidelines for electronic office equipment
           accessibility designed to insure that handicapped
           individuals may use electronic office equipment with or
           without special peripherals.
       (2)     The guidelines established pursuant to
           paragraph (1) shall be applicable with respect to
           electronic equipment, whether purchased or leased.
       (3)     The initial guidelines shall be established not
           later than October 1, 1987, and shall be periodically
           revised as technologies advance or change.
    (b) Beginning after September 30, 1988, the Administrator of
     General Services shall adopt guidelines for electronic
     equipment accessibility established under subsection (a) for
     Federal procurement of electronic equipment.  Each agency
     shall comply with the guidelines adopted under this
       (c) For the purpose of this section, the term special
     peripherals means a special needs aid that provides access to
     electronic equipment that is otherwise inaccessible to a
     handicapped individual.

    6) It usually adds little and sometimes nothing to manufacturing
       costs for a product.

       The bulk of all accessibility design features cost little or
       nothing once they are included in the basic design of the
       product.  For software products the difference in manufacturing
       costs is often zero.  In exchange, the products are usually
       easier for everyone to use and the products are applicable to a
       wider market.

    7) It's the appropriate thing to do.

       The ability of people with disabilities to work, receive an
       education, or even access information and other services from
       their homes, is rapidly becoming dependent upon their ability
       to access and use computers.  If computers and application
       programs are not accessible, then individuals with disabilities
       will not be able to participate in education, employment, or
       daily living.  It isn't appropriate to design software that
       cuts off that many people from such an important area when more
       accessible software costs no more to manufacturer and is
       generally faster, easier, less fatiguing, and less error-prone
       to use for everyone.   

   In summary:
      If properly done, making software more accessible:
        - usually adds little or nothing to the cost to manufacture
        - provides new insights into improved human interface design
        - increases the market for the product
        - brings products into compliance with current and
          government purchasing requirements
        - allows most people to access and use the software in
          education, and home.