WheelchairNet Help graphic

Tips to make it easier to use WheelchairNet

by Mary Ellen Buning


If you want to report a problem...

The job of maintaining a Website is like a mother's work--never done! If you have found something on the WheelchairNet Website or discussion area that doesn't work the way you think it should or if you have questions or comments please contact the WheelchairNet Web Team. If you are reporting a problem to us, please give us the following information so we can more easily work to help solve your problem:

  • What Internet browser are you using (e.g., Netscape or Internet Explorer)? What is the version number of the browser you are using (e.g., Netscape 4.7 or Internet Explorer 5.0)?
  • What computer operating system are you using (e.g., Mac OS 9.1, WindowsNT, Windows95, or Windows98)?
  • What is the address of the Web page you want to discuss (e.g., http://www.wheelchairnet.org/TownHall/Docs/tips.html is the address of this page)?
  • What were you doing or trying to do (such as sending a form or viewing a slide lecture) when the problem occurred?
  • If an error message appeared, what was its exact wording? (You can "cut and paste" the error message from your browser right into your message to us!)

A WheelchairNet site map

A site map is a tool used at many WWW sites that gives the traveler a quick and visual way of seeing how a website is organized and where information is likely to be located. You can see our site map by clicking here. We chose the strategy of laying ours out like an outline so you can see on a single page where all the information resources are located. With this tool you can find your way quickly to "kitchen modification resources", the "text of the ADA," or to information about a specific "kind of wheelchair or scooter." We will soon be adding a search feature which will be another way to help you find what you want on WheelchairNet.

What is a "PDF" file anyway?

As you browse here and there on WheelchairNet and the WWW you will find links to things called PDF Documents or Files. What does PDF mean?

The Adobe Company has created a product called Acrobat which lets you convert any document (e.g., word processing, spreadsheets, diagrams, pictures, etc.) into an Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) file. Acrobat preserves the original appearance of the document while also making it easy to flip through the pages of the document by inserting hyperlinks. Acrobat makes it very easy to distribute documents for viewing and printing on any system whether it is a Macintosh or a Windows computer. At Adobe's website there are support resources that answer many additional questions.

There are many places on WheelchairNet where we have taken advantage of this new technology. For instance all of the slide lectures at Wheelchair University are delivered to you as Acrobat PDF files. We think that Acrobat makes it easy to share longer documents. You have the choice of printing them out to take with you or of viewing them on the screen.

We will tell you how big a PDF file is by reporting its size in Kilobytes or Megabytes (e.g., 32K or 1.6MB). This will give you an idea about how long it will take for your computer and modem to download or bring the file to your computer. A small file will travel quickly where as a large one will take time. Usually your computer will report to you an estimate of how long it will take for the file to get to your computer.

All you need is a free product called Acrobat Reader to view any document saved and presented on a website as a PDF document. If it is not already on your computer, you will need to go to the Adobe Acrobat Reader website and down load (which means get the software sent to you through the Internet). Once it is delivered to your desktop (or where ever you instruct your computer to save it for you) you will need to install it on your computer just like any other piece of software. It should take care of creating a "plug in" which will go into your webpage browser. Then when your webpage browser opens a PDF document, it will automatically launch Acrobat Reader.

Because of the features we have included in WheelchairNet's PDF documents, we recommend that you use Acrobat Reader Version 5.0 or higher. The 5.0 version allows PDF documents to be read by the JAWS screenreader. The current version from Adobe is 5.0. Acrobat Reader is free.

If you need to down load it for the first time for your computer or if you want to update to a newer version of Acrobat Reader click on the logo.

Acrobat Reader

Making PDF documents show up just like another "page" in your browser

If, when you click or select a link for a document that is saved as a PDF file, you get a dialog box asking if you want to download and save the document as a file to some location on your computer, it would be good to make a change. It is possible to immediately see that PDF document displayed seamlessly as a "page" in your browser (just like any other hyperlink) and avoid "downloading and saving" that document to your computer.

First, you need to understand this: When a web browser allows you to look at a PDF page as seamlessly as if it were a regular web page, it is because a "plug-in" is present within the files that go with your browser. A "plug-in" gives your browser the capability to deal with a special kind of WWW file (like a sound file, a movie, a graphic, or a PDF, etc.) immediately and present it to you without "thinking." Here is what you might try: Find your Adobe Acrobat folder or directory. Locate the folder or directory named "Web browser plug-in." Choose the plug-in for the browser you use and move it to the folder or directory within your browser that contains the browser's plug-ins. Restart your web browser. Now when you select a PDF document on a webpage, it should open as another page in your browser.

If you want to download and save the PDF presentation to your computer for reading/reviewing later, this is still possible. Go to "save as" in the File menu and save the PDF document as a "source" (rather than "text") document. Your operating system should prompt you for a name and location for saving.

Accessibility of PDF documents for people with visual impairments

  • Blindness

We realize that PDF complicates the WWW for people with visual impairments. In some places on the WheelchairNet site we felt we had no choice. It was the only way, for instance to capture and save the archives of the TeamRehab Reports for placement on the WWW. In most other situations we have put HTML or text versions right next to the PDF version as an alternative choice. We have not completed this process for the area of Wheelchair University that contains the slide lectures series. Many of these lectures are in PDF format only. Until we are able to complete the translation, we encourage you to use one of the following approaches to access the information.

One approach is to print the slide lecture and scan it using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). We have taken care to use the font, "Verdana," that yield extremely low percentage of scanning errors when accessed using this method.

The second approach is to use either the resource at the Trace Center or the one at Adobe to convert the PDF document. The resource at trace involves using an email address and mailing the pdf document for translation. If the desired output is text use pdf2txt@sun.trace.wisc.edu or if the desired output is HTML use pdf2html@sun.trace.wisc.edu. The resource at Adobe is similar. Send the web address or URL (the URL is the address for a webpage that starts with http://) of the PDF file to Adobe via an e-mail message or by going to the Adobe website and pasting in the address of the PDF file. Adobe converts or translates the PDF into an HTML or text document and sends it back to the user via e-mail.

The third, available only to those using theWindows operating system, is to bring the PDF files to your computer, and then use the Adobe Acrobat Access plug-in for Windows, that is available free of charge from the Adobe site. Use the link Access Adobe to get it. This plug-in displays the textual content of a PDF file within Acrobat Reader or Exchange so that it can be read by a screen reading program.

Adobe is aware that their product creates an obstacle for people using screen reading devices. Currently, their access solutions only create a "patch." Be sure to check the special section on their website called Access Adobe to explain how to use them. However, they are working on a new project with Microsoft and Henter Joyce which should soon make their product more accessible. You can read more about these solution and read some FAQs at Access Adobe.

  • LowVision

For persons with low vision, PDF documents are not so difficulty. It is possible to set the magnification of any PDF page up to 800% of original size. As an alternative solution, we at WheelchairNet have used the san serif font "Verdana" for all our PDF documents. This font supports the highest accuracy for scanning and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. Therefore, if the PDF document is printed and scanned by a system that is based on Optical Character Recognition technology such as Arkenstone Reader or the Reading Edge they can access the information in this alternate way.

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You hold the Power: modifying your WWW browser!

When a WWW page builder uses good, clean HTML coding (HTML is the language that WWW pages are made with. It stands for HyperText Markup Language), it should be possible for you to control some important things about how a webpage looks to you. You hold the power!

You can change the Font size, the font type, the color of the links, and whether or not you will see graphics as they load. All you need to do is go into "Settings" (in Microsoft Explorer) or "Preferences" (in Netscape Navigator) and you will see these options that you can change. We'll talk more about fonts specifically in the next section.

If color-blindness is a problem or if you do better with certain color contrasts on the monitor, change the links and background colors to ones that work best for you. If you need to change it a little, go back and readjust it.

One nice feature is the "Signature file" which automatically attaches an add on to every e-mail message you send. It can give as much or as little information as you want. I like to include my mailing address and a phone and fax number so people have an idea where I live and work and how else to get in touch with me in addition to e-mail. If you set up a signature file in your browser, then every time you use one of the "Email Us" links on WheelchairNet, we will not only know who sent us the message but we will have more options for getting in touch with you.

Maybe you like the homepage that came with your browser... but maybe you don't. A homepage functions like a welcome screen that can help to orient you for your work or surfing session on the computer. It is good to know that you have control over setting your Homepage. You can choose one that gives you access to useful features, news, or links that you use all the time. It is also possible, using some of the web services out there, to customize a homepage that is made just for you. Again head for the "Settings" (in Microsoft Explorer) or "Preferences" (in Netscape Navigator) and select "Homepage" to create your default URL.

Changing your Fonts so they work well for you!

If you have low vision or just middle-aged eyes you can make it much easier to read words printed on the screen. It is good to know that you have the control for setting up the screen to meet your particular visual needs.

Every browser allows you to change the size of your basic or default font. Just go into "Settings" (in Microsoft Explorer) or "Preferences" (in Netscape Navigator) and select "Font" to modify the font that your browser uses. You can change both the size of the default font and you can change the kind of font that you use. If you change the default font in WheelchairNet it will change the look of most every page on the site.

We happen to be big fans of the TrueType font called Verdana, a font developed by Microsoft to have the greatest readability on the computer screen. It is designed to take advantage of the placement of pixels (one of the thousands of the little points of light and/or color that make up an image) on the screen. It will be our standard. If you use Microsoft applications Verdana should be an available font that is already loaded on your computer's operating system. If you do not have Verdana, you can download it to your operating system from the Microsoft Download site. Look for "TrueType fonts on the Web" and choose the version for your computer type: Windows or Macintosh.

Creating a Bookmark for WheelchairNet

One way to get back to places that you have seen and really like on the WWW is by creating Bookmarks (in Netscape Navigator) or Favorites (in Microsoft Explorer). By going up to the menu and clicking on "Add Bookmark" or "Add to Favorites" your browser makes a link . This allows you to come back to this place by just clicking instead of by "wandering in."

After a while bookmarks or favorites can get out of hand. It is good to know that they can be organized into folders so that related topics can be grouped together. A folder called "Places I want to visit" can be a folder in which to store all the URLs (the name for the web address of a webpage) of interesting places that you might find as you are browsing the web. An "organized set of bookmarks" becomes a powerful set of links to places that are meaningful to you and gives you the feeling that you have information at your fingertips.

We hope you will create a bookmark for WheelchairNet and come back often. When you are at the home page for WheelchairNet go up to the menu and clicking on "Add Bookmark" or "Add to Favorites." That way we'll see you often.

Helpful links

Last Updated: 3-2-2006

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Please let us know if you find a link that doesn't work or have an idea about something to include!

Contact information:
  Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology  Telephone: 412.624.6279

 © Copyright 2006 University of Pittsburgh. All rights reserved.
No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WheelchairNet and the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology.


Please note: This information is provided a archival information from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility from 1993 to 2002.

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