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CMU Makes Internet More Accessible for People with Disabilities

Carnegie Mellon University researchers want to make it easier for people with disabilities to read this web story -- and use all web-based services.

The university received a $748,126 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to design systems for people with disabilities - especially vision and cognitive impairments.

Aaron Steinfeld, associate research professor at CMU’s Robotic's Institute, said the Department of Education and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research are very interested in ensuring that websites and the Internet are accessible for everyone.

“The internet has become a really important feature for education and a really important feature for employment,” Steinfeld said. “So therefore, the sponsors want to see people with disabilities being able to access websites both for work and for entertainment and education.”

Steinfeld said there have been good standards for accessible websites, but a lot of web developers are not following them, and others don’t even know they’re making mistakes.

These systems will not just make the Internet easier to use for people with disabilities, they will also help web developers identify and fix these errors.

“We have another project that is looking at really making it easy for web developers to bring in existing components and new components into their websites so that it’s a simple process of dropping in an accessible feature into the website as opposed to having to program it themselves,” Steinfeld said.

Steinfeld said the researchers hope the web developers will realize that people with disabilities are a significant portion of their population and they should be focusing on and encouraging them to use their websites.

He said the researchers are approaching the project using the principle of “Universal Design” - which is a method to try to identify ways of solving problems to improve access by everyone regardless of disability.

He said this approach will also impact the general population.

The five-year project is a collaborative effort between Carnegie Mellon University, Syracuse University and the University of Maryland.