Are chat rooms accessible to people with disabilities?

Chat rooms present one of the more difficult web challenges for people with disabilities. Since communication in a chat room tends to be fast-paced, people who type slowly may have difficulty keeping up, and people with cognitive or learning disabilities may have difficulty tracking the multiple simultaneous threads of conversation.

For screen reader users, the accessibility of chat rooms depends in part on how they were developed. Screen readers are able to handle some HTML chat rooms, but most current chat rooms are developed using Java, with little or no attention devoted to the application's accessibility. Even accessible chat rooms, however, can be poor in the area of usability for a screen reader user and can present a confusing, difficult-to-navigate interface, particularly as new content is continually added to the page. WebAim's article Accessibility of Online Chat Programs includes more specific information on chat technologies.

Voice chat products are becoming increasingly popular and allow users to chat verbally through their computer's microphone and speakers. In addition, the text and voice chat features of instant messaging programs like MSN Messenger are generally accessible and are well supported by assistive technologies.

Accessible Chat Rooms

Accessible HTML Chats:
WAPD Chat Rooms - WAPD advances the interests of persons with disabilities at national, state, local and home levels.
Accessible Java Chats:
ParaChat - www.parachat.com/
Chat Forum - http://chat-forum.com/
Instant Messengers (Accessibility varies - check with IM site for more information)
AOL: http://aim.com/
ICQ: http://web.icq.com/
Yahoo!: http://messenger.yahoo.com/