Why not take some time to consider how you can help contribute to making the World Wide Web more accessible for everyone.
Whether you host your own website, or you simply understand the value of the Internet, you may be able to help improve its universal usability.
There are many websites that are designed and edited incorrectly, thus becoming inaccessible for people with disabilities.
It's not necessarily something every Web developer wants to take time for, but that doesn't stop it from being a very critical issue.
Blindness, color blindness, motor impairments, deafness, epilepsy, dyslexia and learning disabilities are just some of the most common handicapping situations, in terms of surfing the 'Net.
Imagine pointing and clicking your mouse on a very small point on the screen while your hands were shaking. Would you be able to successfully do that?
What would you do when you got to youtube.com and were deaf or hard of hearing?
Would you feel comfortable, if you were prone to seizures, visiting a site with flashing elements on the screen, especially if you couldn't turn them off?
For me, as a blind person, I have my own set of challenges and pet peeves to add to the list.
I use a screen reader, which is a software program that translates text on a Web page to synthesized speech output. Many times I run into problems on Web pages with graphical links. Unless the Web developer has used something called an alt tag, or alternative text tag, my screen reader will spit out a long string of senseless numbers, symbols and letters, rather than telling me what the link is.
Similarly, there are a number of things I miss when I'm trying to interact with people on social networking sites. There are lots of cute and funny things people send back and forth to one another, like virtual stickers, bumper stickers, or other little doodads.
Even those kinds of things turn up as lots of odd meaningless computer language to me because of improper alt tags. Fortunately doodads aren't something vital to my overall well-being.
There is another issue I have with Web pages. While I don't like lots of stuff crammed on to one page, I despise Web pages where you have to keep clicking through to new pages to obtain all the information.
I much prefer a Web page that is well-organized with sensible headings, lists and tables. I can easily navigate to these kinds of elements, and once I start reading information I don't have to stop, click through to a new page and reorient myself before continuing to read.
There are numerous issues I run into consistently on the Web and they span from minor inconvenience to major barriers.
There are actual guidelines Web developers should be following when building a Web page. Just look up The World Wide Web Consortium for more details.
If you do not own a website of your own but take interest in helping the effort to clean up the Web and make it more accessible for people with disabilities, you can always become a volunteer for IBM AlphaWorks new program called the Social Accessibility Project.
According to its website, this is "a service that enables accessibility through collaborative authoring of metadata."
And even if you don't know what metadata is, don't feel badly, because I don't know what it is either.
Even so, I just got signed up to contribute to the effort.
People with disabilities mark problems as they find them and send them to the server. Once they reach the server they are accessed by other volunteers, able-bodied and disabled alike, who can follow the guidelines outlined on the Social Accessibility Project website in order to fix the problems.
If website administrators and Web surfing enthusiasts can come together and do even just a little to tidy up their websites and the World Wide Web at large, it would make it a much more equitable environment for everyone.
For more information, check out: http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/
socialaccessibility, or simply do a Google search for social accessibility project.
Kate Pavlacka, a graduate of the State University College at Oneonta, has been totally blind for 11 years.