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Carter Williams,

How programmers are helping improve internet access for those with disabilities

By Carter Williams, | Posted - May 17th, 2018 @ 4:03pm

SALT LAKE CITY — About 1 in 5 people living in the U.S. have a disability, according to latest U.S. Census data.

Adding in temporary or situational disabilities each day, Jen Luker, lead software engineer at programming company Formidable, said web companies aren’t making it easy for a good chunk of people who use their sites.

“By not having an accessible website, you’re cutting out 20 percent of the possible users on your website,” she said. “Even if you don’t take that into account, it’s the right thing to do for (people like) the elderly generation or a returning vet who may have lost a limb. It’s the right thing to do for businesses.”

With Thursday marking Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Luker visited Deseret Digital Media, which owns, and discussed all the things website designers can do to assist those with disabilities.

Company employees were given a chance to use Deseret Digital Media websites and sister website using glasses that hindered vision or special gloves to hinder hand movement to simulate certain disabilities those trying to access the internet may face any given day.

The simulation came after the company held a couple of keynote speakers and an open discussion about problems those with disabilities face while using online content. For example, one person mentioned captions on Netflix TV were helpful for his hearing problems.

The point of Thursday’s meetings was to further explain the problems those with disabilities may have online and showcase changes coming to company websites to address the issue.

“As we make our products more accessible, it’ll probably improve the product for everybody,” said Jim Harker, senior interactive designer for Deseret Digital Media, during a panel discussion about the topic.

Luker said Global Accessibility Awareness Day has helped companies understand there is a problem, and companies are slowly fixing it. She estimated about 90 percent of the internet was inaccessible to those with disabilities before Global Accessibility Awareness Day began.

Those numbers are rising, but still aren’t where she believes they should be.

“It is so far from 100 percent,” she said. “Though the awareness has been increasing, implementation has been lagging behind.”

Stephen Tolman, vice president for technology at Deseret Digital Media, said he felt the meetings were productive in finding ways to expand accessibility for those using Deseret Digital Media websites.

It’s an issue, he said, the company has focused on improving its products for those with disabilities. The company plans upgrades to and in the coming weeks to address navigation accessibility as the first of future projects.

“Frankly, we haven’t done a great job in the past, but we want to do better and our plan is to get better and integrate accessibility in our product creation process,” Tolman said.

Luker recited a quote she heard from someone else about the issue that she takes to heart when she helps train companies about ways to help make a website accessible to everyone.

"It is not your limitations that make you disabled. It is the limitation to technology," she said. "Taking that into account, the disabilities are moving off of what your body can physically do and moves onto whether your technology allows people to do what everybody can do."

Carter Williams

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