No matter what computer you are using, you will access the Internet through a web browser. The most commonly used web browsers in order of popularity are Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari (Mac OS X) and Opera.
Web browsers have some common accessibility features that can assist people who rely on the use of a keyboard or who need to make a webpage easier to see. These features allow you to:
- increase and decrease the size of text and images on the screen for better visibility;
- change the type and size of the font that is used on web pages;
- change the colours of items such as font or background;
- use keyboard shortcuts to speed up browsing.
The following section briefly looks at the five most commonly used web browsers and highlights unique accessibility features that can assist people with a disability.
Mozilla Firefox has the advantage of custom built add-ons that may enhance accessibility like the Accessibility Extension that allows keyboard access to document structure. Mozilla keeps a list of its accessibility features in Firefox up to date, including the current state of assistive technology support on Windows with Firefox.
Internet Explorer simplifies common tasks using what Microsoft refers to as Accelerators. To use Accelerators, highlight text from any web page, and then click on the blue Accelerator icon that appears above your selection to perform tasks such as blog or email with Windows Live (Microsoft’s blog and email software), translate and define words, or search. There are also more downloadable Accelerators add-ons that offer more features or tasks.
Google Chrome is an open-source browser project. Google Chrome’s unique selling point is its speed, both time to launch and page load times. You can read more about the features of Google Chrome and the difference between Google Chrome and Google Chrome OS.
Reports from the web indicate that despite the many features of Google Chrome the browser falls short of providing an accessible experience for users with disabilities. On their respective blogs, David Bolter wonders about WAI-ARIA support and Steve Faulkner of the Paciello Group questions a number of missing features, including:
- Limited support for keyboard input
- No support for Windows high contrast mode
- Lack of programmatic clues for interface elements
- Information describing links or focused elements not interpreted by screen readers
However, and according to the Google Accessible help pages, Google Chrome now supports the Windows Accessibility API (MSAA) to display accessibility information and events for its features and web content. Many of its features and tasks have relevant keyboard shortcuts and navigation. Some important shortcuts that you can use include the following:
- Shift+Alt+T: Set keyboard focus on the Google Chrome toolbar. Use your right and left arrow keys to navigate to different buttons on the toolbar.
- F6 or Ctrl+L: Highlight the content in the web address area on the address bar.
Safari (MAC OS X)
Safari, built by Apple specifically for the Mac OS, seamlessly integrates with Apple’s VoiceOver technology, which will read what is on a web page out aloud to you. Safari includes all the standard accessibility features of all web browsers which are described on Safari 4’s features on accessibility.
Opera offers some added features that may assist your browsing experience.
- For those who are vision impaired, you can change the text size of Opera’s toolbars and menus to improve readability.
- For those who are using the keyboard and not the mouse, you can remove unnecessary items from the screen such as menus and scrollbars.