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!