Accessibility does not just mean access by everybody to Information and Communication Technologies, it also means access to everything available through ICT. It is not sufficient that applications and websites are accessible, it is important that tools, widgets and add-ons are also accessible. The importance of tools being accessible has been highlighted by AVAST Software's recent announcement that it has upgraded its avast! anti-virus program to be fully accessible to the vision-impaired.
Many users of screen-readers, such as JAWS®, had been attracted to avast! because it included an audible alarm when a virus was detected, in addition to the pop-up window. In this way users were made aware of the alert, without JAWS losing focus on their current task, allowing them to deal with the virus alert at a time convenient to them, in just the same way that a sighted user could.
Essentially this meant that the day-to-day use of avast! was accessible. The problem was that the installation, configuration and operation was not accessible and the user of a screen-reader was dependent on the help of a sighted user for installation, configuration and any special operations (e.g. requesting an immediate scan). People with vision impairments want to be as independent as possible and not impose on their friends or colleagues when it is not essential.
The push for this development came from vision-impaired IT geeks who wanted to use avast! Antivirus 5.0. "For the blind, the computer is an absolutely fantastic invention. And for some, it's even their hobby to adjust it," said Radek Seifert, work-team leader at the TEREZA Center, a support centre for the sight-impaired at the Czech Technical University in Prague.
These volunteers fine-tuned avast! so it worked with JAWS. "They said, ‘give us the beta' so we did," remembers Ondrej Vlcek, AVAST Chief Technical Officer. "It was also a complicated issue on our side as avast! does not use the standard Windows controls."
The user interface for avast! needed to be changed in two ways:
- All functions had to be accessible using the keyboard, this is a prerequisite to being able to use JAWS. It has a beneficial side-effect that users who cannot, or prefer not, to use a pointing device have full access as well.
- All the textual information had to be provided to JAWS in an accessible, logical and consistent manner.
AVAST developed a new framework for the user interface which means that other products and new versions will automatically be JAWS friendly.
All through the development the new functions were tested and improved by the vision-impaired geeks thus ensuring that it was not just accessible using JAWS but that it was easy to use with JAWS.
avast! 5.0 was generally available in January 2010 and the new functions came in an update in August 2010; with the new framework the next version of avast!, planned for January 2011, will be accessible at GA.
It is great to see a company reacting quickly to user pressure for accessibility. It is also good to see that the vision-impaired community was actively involved in the development and testing of the new product.
The products should now be accessible to all disabled users, including those with hearing impairments and muscular-skeletal impairments. It is also available in 11 languages so making it easily accessible to users who prefer not to use English.
I hope that other developers of tools, widgets, add-ons and applications will take note and produce fully accessible versions of their products.