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Java Juggernaut Slams Doors Shut On The Blind

February 7, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker


The deployment of Sun’s Java technology is becoming more and more widespread, but virtually all Java software developers aren’t taking advantage of Sun’s accessibility tools. At the point accessibility issues are raised with the developer of a particular Java application, the cost in money and time needed to make positive changes can’t be justified. This state of affairs has resulted in the loss of employment opportunities for the blind!


Java is a programming language and development platform that theoretically enables a programmer to write an application able to be run on a wide variety of operating systems. All that is required on the user’s computer is an appropriate Java runtime environment. The ultimate goal is to make the user’s experience with Java applications secure and seemless across all computers and other devices on which they are run. These characteristics make Java appealing to companies that develop customized applications for use with their own products.


On my current job, I have become personally aware of three companies that rely on Java technology. Java applications are used to control and monitor network security hardware. The ability to independently access and use these applications is an absolute requirement in order to be able to provide competent technical support. In all three cases, Java has represented an insurmountable barrier to my participation on the affected projects! Java programs work with assistive technology only when the developer has taken specific steps to make them accessible. Unlike most “standard” Windows programs, Java applications can’t be made accessible through scripts or other screen reader configuration options if the developer hasn’t made specific allowances for accessibility.


The Sun Microsystems Accessibility Program is intended to provide resources to developers and users of Java technology to enable greater accessibility. Sadly, and with no offense intended toward Sun Microsystems, this program has thus far fallen short of providing true accessibility to 99 percent of all Java applications. Programmers remain largely unaware of the need for accessibility or are unwilling to take the specific steps necessary to become accessible. Most assistive technology remains unable to support Sun’s Java Access Bridge while those that do support it require a complex installation procedure that is extremely difficult for nontechnical users to complete successfully.


While the concerns of assistive technology users can be resolved through increased education and support for Sun’s accessibility technology, the need for application developers to become accessible is of paramount importance. In order for this to happen, it is going to take significant effort on the part of both the blind community and Sun Microsystems. Let’s discuss how best to attack this issue in a constructive manner that achieves our goal of greater opportunity through accessibility!

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2 opinions on “Java Juggernaut Slams Doors Shut On The Blind

  1. I am wondering why no one has mentioned the Eclipse programming environment, which supports not only java (which it was originally developed for) but also has plugins for other languages as well. Eclipse is free (see http://www.eclipse.org) and instead of using Sun’s SWING library and the older accessibility hooks which require the access bridge, it uses the SWT (or standard widget toolkit) which does not require special support for the end user to provide accessibility. SWT also runs on windows, mac and unix/linux. Eclipse itself is also quite accessible and is used by many blind programmers. So while Sun’s old solution was a good start, I think the future is with the SWT and the environment to use is Eclipse, although for those who prefer a command line interface, I’m not sure Eclipse supplies it. Comments welcome. –le

  2. Every single mainstream Java application I have ever tried to use has been
    inaccessible. I have not yet tried to use Open Office.

    Here’s what happens when I bring up accessibility concerns to companies that
    have developed Java applications for inclusion in their product. First and
    foremost, the developers were unaware of the need for accessibility or of
    the tools provided by Sun to make accessibility a reality in their
    applications. As is usually the case, awareness is the beginning of
    accessibility and, oftentimes, it just doesn’t happen. Second, once
    developers are made aware of accessibility, they tend to cite added costs or
    sometimes difficulty in using the tools as reasons for continuing to skip
    accessibility. Third, the inaccessible applications have often been
    deployed on customers’ units. Fixing this would require a “firmware update”
    which really turns developers off.

    I think a big start to the solution would be for Sun to try making the
    process of creating accessibility as easy as possible, requiring minimal
    additional effort. Of course, it goes without saying that Sun could work
    with us in a campaign to raise the awareness of programmers to the need for
    accessibility.

    Unfortunately, I must admit that I am no programmer. I have no concrete
    solutions. I have thus not advocated for any specific action. Some of us
    are programmers who are more knowledgeable on Java and how it works. I am
    hoping that we can find some way to get some relief on Java accessibility
    over time. If we can get more developers to include accessibility during
    the creation of the application, we’re always better off in the long run.

    It is important to note that, in our advocacy for accessibility, we’re not only discussing our ability to write and use our own Java applications. Most importantly, we are discussing our ability to use existing Java applications that have been created by others. We are thus not, in most cases, able to advocate that a developer switch to a different, more accessible development tool such as Eclipse.

    Each time a computer program is written without consideration of
    accessibility, it represents the loss of yet another gob of jobs for the
    blind!

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