Microsoft improves IE8 for disabled users

Microsoft aims to make IE8 more accessible to disabled users with new UI features.

Microsoft will add features to the next version of Internet Explorer to make it more accessible to disabled users of the Web, the company said Thursday.

A post on the IEBlog by Accessibility Program Manager JP Gonzalez-Castellan highlights several user-interface features that should improve the accessibility of IE8, among them Caret Browsing, Adaptive Zoom and High DPI (Dots Per Inch).

The features will improve the browser's usability for everyone, not just disabled people, he wrote. He drew a parallel with the ramps added to public places for people in wheelchairs who can't get up stairs, something required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Airports soon noticed that mothers with baby strollers and passengers with rolling suitcases were using the ramps too, since it was easier than picking up a stroller or a suitcase over the ledge," he wrote. "In much the same way, when you make software more accessible, everybody wins."

Caret Browsing will benefit both low-mobility Web users and those who are visually impaired, according to Gonzalez-Castellan. These people may prefer to use a keyboard or a device that interacts with a keyboard rather than a mouse to navigate Web pages.

Caret Browsing allows users to navigate a Web page using a moveable cursor on the screen and the keyboard. They'll be able to select and copy text, tables or images using only the keyboard.

Adaptive Zoom is also aimed at low-mobility and visually impaired users. It scales elements of a Web page before the page is laid out in the screen, which is different from the zoom function in IE7. IE7 magnifies Web pages, scaling elements post-layout and then redrawing them on the screen. But that means users often have to scroll horizontally as well as vertically to view the full enlarged page.

By scaling elements pre-layout, IE8 will redraw the page and adjust the content to avoid displaying horizontal scroll bars, Gonzalez-Castellan wrote. This makes it easier to browse zoomed pages because a user only has to scroll up and down, and not left and right. An example of what this looks like is available on another IEBlog post.

High DPI is also a revision of an existing IE7 feature. DPI, or dots per inch, is a measure of how dense are the individual droplets of ink -- or pixels on a computer display -- that make up an image.

In IE7, the ability to zoom content on a Web page did not match the DPI Scaling settings in Windows, which allow for images to be viewed at a larger setting than do the browser zoom settings. IE8 will automatically match the DPI Scaling settings, resulting in improved image scaling on Web pages.

Microsoft expects to ship the final version of IE8 early next year. It recently sent an update of the current test build to select beta testers and expects to release one more public test version of IE8 before its final release.

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