Making Browsers More Accessible

Browsers are the software programs used to access the web, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. All have accessibility features built in; you can add more features by downloading add-ons. This article covers what's available for each of these popular browsers.

Internet Explorer

  • Color, Fonts, and Accessibility buttons on the Tools... Internet Options... General tab. These allow users to set preferences for fonts and color options to be used on web pages wherever possible. The Accessibility button also has an option that lets individuals use a personalized style sheet, which is another way to customize the look of web pages.
  • Zoom feature (in the lower right corner) and a Text Size option (under the View menu). Text Size will work if the website has been set up correctly by the website developer, while Zoom works regardless of page coding. However, Text Size settings will be used when pages are printed, while Zoom settings will not.
  • Accessibility options on the Tools... Internet Options... Advanced tab. These include support for “caret browsing,” which lets users navigate an entire page by using arrow keys, and an “Always Expand ALT Text for images,” which ensures that lengthy descriptions of pictures will always be displayed in full.
  • Additional accessibility information, including links to lists of keyboard shortcuts in Internet Explorer 7 and 8, is available from the Windows website.
  • Relevant and free add-ons available from CNET include ieSpell, a spell checker for form field input; ALPass, which eliminates the need to remember and type login information; and They’re Alive, which allows users to select any text and automatically get a menu with options for defining or Googling the text.

Mozilla Firefox

  • Tools... Options... Advanced tab has options for caret browsing (called “Always use the cursor keys…”), presentation of search results while the user types, and real-time spell checking.
  • Zoom option under the View menu for making text larger or smaller.
  • Tools... Options... Content tab lets users set preferences for fonts, font size, and color options.
  • A list of Firefox keyboard shortcuts is available from Firefox Help.
  • A list of free accessibility add-ons is available from the Access Firefox web site.

Chrome

  • Chrome has a simpler look that may be preferable to people with cognitive disabilities or those who are easily distracted.
  • The Customize and Control menu (the wrench icon in the upper right) has a Zoom option for enlarging or reducing text size.
  • The Customize and Control... Options... Under the Hood tab has options for setting font and font size preferences.
  • Online tip sheets covering keyboard shortcuts, low vision accommodations, and screen reader compatibility.
  • A list of accessibility add-ons is available at the Chrome Extensions web site.

Opera

  • Menu... Settings... Preferences has a Webpages tab with Zoom, font, and font color preference settings. It also has an Advanced tab with a Fonts option that allows detailed setting of font and font size preferences.
  • Menu... Extensions... Get Extensions and Menu... Widgets... Get Widgets bring up lists of add-ons.
  • Tutorial about Opera keyboard shortcuts

There are also free browsers specifically designed for individuals with disabilities, primarily those with visual disabilities. These can make accessing the Internet easier, but may not display all pages properly. Examples include:

•    WebbIE is a browser designed for people with visual disabilities. It reformats web page text into a single column and removes graphics. WebbIE has a simple interface with large, high-contrast icons.
•    Lynx is a browser originally developed to work with older, text-based operating systems such as DOS.  It is still favored by some blind individuals because it formats pages into a screen reader-friendly format and because it can be controlled through keyboard commands.
•    SpeakOn is a “media suite” program. It primarily provides access to materials that are already in audio form, such as podcasts and Internet radio. It also reads materials in formats such as DAISY Consortium.

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A list of alternative browsers, both free and commercial, is available at the a-technic web site.

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