Internet access for the 'differently-abled'

March 9, 2010 3:52:52 PM PST
See amazing new technologies that give Internet access to disabled people.

About Victor Tsaran:

Victor Tsaran is one of those people whose story makes you stop in your tracks. He grew up in a Ukrainian orphanage and is now a talented computer engineer in the U.S. He's an accomplished musician and songwriter. And he also happens to be blind.

There are more than 50 million people in the U.S. with disabilities, including blindness, hearing-impairments, mobility difficulties and cognitive and neurological problems knowing how disabled people use the Web is the first step to making the Web accessible.

Victor runs a special program at Yahoo! specifically developed to help people understand the various assistive technologies that are available to help those with disabilities use the web.

Victor Tsaran created the Yahoo! Accessibility Lab, which helps people, including Yahoo! developers, understand the various assistive technologies out there.

In the lab, disabilities like being blind, deaf, paralyzed, etc. (ie, they're told they've just had a stroke and are given a rubber ball to try to type their name with) are simulated. Victor has brought more than 75 product teams through the lab and they always leave with a new appreciation for the importance of making our sites accessible.

And Victor argues that an accessible site makes it a better site for everybody -- it's just better design (think about how curb cutouts are a godsend to people with strollers and shopping carts).

The Lab has been really effective in getting developers to make accessibility a goal before they write their first line of code. Victor's made it his mission to educate our designers and engineers, helping change their assumptions that accessibility somehow requires sacrifice or compromise.

The Accessibility Lab (based at Yahoo!'s headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA) is filled with a wide array of assistive technologies - screen readers, onscreen keyboards, interactive Braille displays, etc. When participants arrive, they're told they've just had a stroke and can't type with their fingers. They're given a rubber ball and asked to type their name.

Next, they're fully paralyzed. "OK, try to send an email." Uh? After they're introduced to the technology solutions, they watch videos of disabled people in action.

The goal of this lab is to develop assistive technology. Victor's lab has helped to insure that anyone can access rich features and tools on products like Yahoo! Sports, My Yahoo!, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Messenger for the iPhone. It's why third-party websites that are inaccessible in their own right are now entirely accessible via the new "favorites" area on the Yahoo! Homepage.

For more information people can search for information related to any of their disabilities and general questions, go to help.yahoo.com


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