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Do the Blind Deserve More Effort on the Web? 663

Posted by Zonk
from the some-effort-would-be-a-good-start dept.
dratcw writes "An article was posted this week to ComputerWorld, detailing the frustrations faced by blind people struggling to use the Web. The piece shows how little progress has been made and the inadequacy of solutions such as Microsoft's Narrator screen reader. While the article generated many positive comments, one reader said the disabled should 'get a grip' and maintained they 'have no more right to demand that others provide for their needs than I, as a diabetic, have a right to demand that sugar no longer be used.' Should Web sites and software makers do more, or does the reality of today's economics dictate that the blind/disabled will continue to struggle and learn to live with it?"
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Do the Blind Deserve More Effort on the Web?

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  • by seanadams.com (463190) * on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:49PM (#23109632) Homepage
    If we work on the broader problem then we get better web sites for everyone, especially the disabled, without even making any particular effort for them. For example:

    - A link to download a file should just go to the file, not some clever javascript crap that tells you to please wait while you're redirected, your download should start in a few moments etc.

    - Quit breaking stuff up into dozens of tiny bite sized pages. My scrollbar works just fine thank you very much, and it lets me scan all of the content in an instant instead of having to click through it all. Yes, I know that some people do this to goose their ad revenue, but you see it other places too.

    - Don't use clever little graphics and pop-ups for every link, text works much better.

    - I don't need links to "print this page" or "email it to a friend".

    - You don't need to know what region of the world I'm in before I can download a damned printer driver.

    - Don't use ridiculous URLs that query stuff from a CGI with a zillion arguments just to serve up a static page.

    I could go on all day... fixing any of those design problems would automatically improve accessibility, not just for blind users but for mobile devices as well.

    Thankfully we've mostly gotten rid of the horrible "splash pages", flash animations, and musical home pages. I'm sure in due time people will get their head around some of the other basic issues I've mentioned, but unfortunately people keep coming up with dumb new ideas much faster than that.

    • by shrikel (535309) <hlagfarj@@@gmail...com> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:53PM (#23109696)

      Thankfully we've mostly gotten rid of the horrible ... musical home pages.

      Are you kidding? Those at least can be enjoyed by blind and seeing people alike!
    • by zappepcs (820751)
      Thank you.... sigh

      If there were some basic concept of 'standard' web pages it might ruin the creativity of the Internet, yet every web designer can create a 'translation ready' web page of their material for accessability translation by some online service, maybe GoogleSightWeb ???

      Something like the language translation systems.

      Yes, all your content does not need to be in shiny little boxes AND when being translated to speech etc. it doesn't even have to be formatted pretty.

      I'm reasonably certain that many
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by LoudMusic (199347) *

      - Don't use ridiculous URLs that query stuff from a CGI with a zillion arguments just to serve up a static page.
      This is quite possibly one of my biggest irritations with the web. The page never changes, ever. There is no need to build it on the fly.
      • This is quite possibly one of my biggest irritations with the web. The page never changes, ever. There is no need to build it on the fly.

        Why do you care? Because the address bar is long, or it takes a negligable amount of time to build the page?

    • by What Would NPH Do (1274934) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:56PM (#23109742)
      Unfortunately, though, more and more companies are making their pages entirely flash based. I think that's a far more of an egregious problem than the stuff you mention. Why the fuck I need to waste my time loading fucking flash movies to navigate a page when it works better in plain HTML is beyond me.
    • by arakon (97351) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:56PM (#23109756) Homepage
      "Thankfully we've mostly gotten rid of the horrible "splash pages", flash animations, and musical home pages. I'm sure in due time people will get their head around some of the other basic issues I've mentioned, but unfortunately people keep coming up with dumb new ideas much faster than that."

      You've never seen MySpace have you?

      Most of the topics you've covered are that way because someone decided it was a better way to get another opportunity to serve you a targeted advertisement. The download links are that way to prevent other people from stealing your content, denying you ad revenue and leeching your bandwidth... It all comes back to money and some content providers heavily rely on ad revenue to pay their monthly hosting and bandwidth costs.

      Others are just greedy.

      When bandwidth becomes free, maybe you'll see the reverse to these trends. Maybe. Probably not.
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @05:59PM (#23111438) Journal
        Sometimes it just has no excuse. E.g.,

        1. government / local government pages. Even skipping past the issue that they should set an example by obeying the rules they voted into law... Exactly how do those depend ad revenue?

        2. I go to some manufacturer's web page, to buy something or get some drivers like the GP, and... some are really a bad case of flash overdose, and some are full of ads too. Bonus points when occasionally it's not even to their own products. But anyway, WTF? I'm there either to buy something they make, or because I _have_ bought something they make. Why should I be bombarded with ads there? No, seriously.

        And even skipping the banner ads, I've seen a couple where I had to go through loops and plough through pages after pages of marketing gibberish, just to get to the page with the prices. In at least one case I gave up because I just couldn't find the price list.

        And a some have horrible colours, fonts and layouts too, and make wrong use of graphics at that, just because aparently someone thought it's all the rage to look like the funky marketing brochure. Thankfully that became a lot more rare over the years, but sadly it's still not dead, and it keeps coming back like a vampire.

        This isn't just a case of "bad design" as in page layout and technologies used. It's outright stupid. It's not even just a case of letting the marketing drones in charge, it's letting the _stupid_ marketing drones in charge. If you want to sell me something, don't annoy me first and don't make it hard to get to (A) the specs, and (B) the prices and/or online shop pages. No, I'm not interested in how many decades of buzzwords you leverage, nor in your synergies, nor in how award-winning/industry-standard/customer-centric/buzzword-driven you are. I'm not there to play Bullshit Bingo, so just let me know (A) exactly what you sell, and (B) for what price.

        At any rate, the couple of cents they might get in ads there, sorry, just aren't worth losing a potential sale over, no matter how I want to look at it. And it feels _petty_ that when I'm looking to buy something that costs hundreds of bucks, someone tries to shaft a few cents out of me with their maze of ads. It's like meeting their sales guy and seeing him trying to steal my office pens. It just doesn't make a good impression, ya know?

        3. (Or 2B.) Some game publishers' pages. E.g., dunno, I want to know what their latest game is all about. Or I bought it and need a patch. Or whatever, really. And I'm forced to sit and twiddle thumbs while their flash loads, then have to read the information in a tiny window, with a tiny font, split into a gazillion tiny pages, and with a shitty colour scheme to boot.

        I mean, wtf? Either I'm looking to buy their game, or I already blew some money on their game. And especially in the latter case, let's make one thing clear: the whole market for unfinished buggy games exist only because of the promise that they'll make up by offering a free patch later. I'm already annoyed by that deal, don't push it. Making me essentially pay for the patch by watching ads, or worse yet by putting it on some shitty site that makes me wait an hour for the download unless I pay to subscribe, is just adding insult to injury.

        And let's make another thing clear: I _paid_ for that game. Don't make me go through a mandatory form that wants to know even my exact street number, telephone number, birth date, and size of condoms I use. I'm looking at you, EA. I already paid, ok? I'm not your data-mining guinea pig too.

        Admittedly, probably the blind don't play first person shooters or console RPGs much, but I find it just as annoying as a guy who doesn't even need glasses yet.

        4. But perhaps the best way to say it is that I have been before one of the guys who programmed those shitty sites, or helped fix their performance problems. I still have nightmares about some colour schemes like orange on orange-ish yellow, or cyan on bright blue, that I had to implement during the dotcom years. Or the clas
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by arakon (97351)
          Please see he definition of "greedy". I am in no way saying that any of your points are wrong, you can install ad-blocker like I did and block the more intrusive ones (Flash Pop-overs being my arch nemesis) like I have done. My post simply pointed out why it is being done on a large scale. Greed is their reason, They don't need an excuse.

          The game publishers just want to wow you with something to increase the likely hood of a sale. Probably not the type of people who will miss out on sales to the blind.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kesuki (321456)
        "When bandwidth becomes free"

        Bandwidth will never be free, someone has to pay for all the giant undersea optical cables that make the 'internet' global, someone has to pay for all those buried fiber optic cables connecting cities, someone has to pay every time they're broken by a backhoe.

        all the equipment takes a lot of energy, and the price of energy is going up, the cost of glass production may be going down due to the volumes we use to insulate homes, make windows (the kind in your home), make dishes etc
    • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:57PM (#23109774) Homepage Journal
      In addition to the many problems cited by the parent, I'd like to point out that anything that doesn't work in a cross-browser environment is a problem.

      Saying "This site is designed for Internet Explorer only" is like putting up a sign outside the Wal-Mart parking lot saying "This lot is designed for GM vehicles only". You'll still get plenty of visitors, but is there some good reason for keeping people (and their money) out of your business?

      My company is about to move a PC-based system to the Web, and I'm going to be poking around as much as possible to get rid of IE-specific pitfalls. I may not have much luck, though... it's a vertical market app for an environment where "Nobody got fired for buying IBM^WMicrosoft" is very much in effect.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Saying "This site is designed for Internet Explorer only" is like putting up a sign outside the Wal-Mart parking lot saying "This lot is designed for GM vehicles only". You'll still get plenty of visitors, but is there some good reason for keeping people (and their money) out of your business?

        I'm sorry, but that's just wrong (although a popular opinion on slashdot). Until recently, IE enjoyed 90%+ market share and only linux users were completely unable to use IE, so it'd be more like saying that their store isn't designed for people wearing traditional Japanese kimonos and a cowboy hat. But for the analogy to really be correct, you'd have to add that people in kimonos and cowboy hats made it so that building a store and stocking the product on the shelves cost about 2x as much. The motivation

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          "Until recently, IE enjoyed 90%+ market share"
          So, you want me to take 10% off the top of your companies profits, and you won't complain?

          "Over the past 2 years or so, firefox and safari... makes good business sense to accommodate them."
          Repeat above question, and add caveat: "accommodating" them doesn't take any more time or effort than designing for IE alone. That's why w3c, 508, etc. exists.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hobo sapiens (893427)
          Cowboy hat and a kimono...that's actually a good analogy. IE is wearing a the cowboy hat and a kimono...one on each foot. As someone who codes everything according to web standards, I can tell you that IE is the one that doesn't adhere to standards. Coding to artificial standards (as in..."Hey, it works in IE!" is just plain dumb.

          I have found from years of experience that only hacks make claims about cross browser coding taking longer and not being cost effective. It doesn't take long to code properly.
      • You are in Slashdot (Score:5, Informative)

        by Pseudonymus Bosch (3479) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:31PM (#23110276) Homepage

        is there some good reason for keeping people (and their money) out of your business?
        CmdrTaco has said that he is not particularly concerned when some of the new features don't work in IE since most of the readers use Firefox.
    • by Stanistani (808333) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:00PM (#23109798) Homepage Journal
      I'm rewriting my (presently not so good) website from scratch so I can learn more about CSS and W3C-compliant HTML. I'm coding to standards. Style separate from content.

      I notice the standards-compliant code I'm creating is accessible pretty much by default. If I pay proper attention to design (minimalist, easy to navigate) and not add features just because I think they look swell, the final design will be far more accessible than my present one.

      It will be much leaner and easier to update as well. I am adding a content management system. Updates will be easier, and I will test the results using common screen readers.
      • by arotenbe (1203922)
        When designing web sites I always write my HTML to be so flexible with styles you would think it was written for the CSS Zen Garden [csszengarden.com]. Why? Because I know that when I redesign the site's layout, as I inevitably will for one reason or another, I don't have to go mucking around in all my HTML to make the page look different. It certainly doesn't hurt the site's accessibility.
      • by DAtkins (768457) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:24PM (#23110198) Homepage
        Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

        Rather than having html that uses an image link, use an href and swap the link out for an image using CSS. It's easy to do, and makes navigation MUCH simpler to implement and use.

        If you open your page in Lynx (or disable CSS) and cannot decipher it, then it will not work for the blind. Frankly, it also makes me hate the designer. I will refrain from making comments about what Slashdot looks like with CSS turned off :-)
    • by gatzke (2977)
      You may have gotten rid of splash pages, but you will never get rid of the badgers-

      http://www.badgerbadgerbadger.com/ [badgerbadgerbadger.com]

    • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:08PM (#23109920)
      I once worked for a web design company (back when image maps were generally server-side supported, not client-side) that had truly bad design choices. One for a page that used a server-side image map, they tried to include text links at the bottom of the page so that the links could still be followed by search engines. Except they couldn't get the text to position itself precisely on enough clients that it wouldn't break their (NetObjects Fusion) layout table... so they turned the text links into an image of text links and made it another server-side image map.

      This was when the boss angrily declared, "I am not an idiot!" when I tried to point out the problem to him.

      The last thing I ever did for that company was finally give them something they really wanted: a frameset that constrained the usable real-estate on a page to be no more than 640x480. They then converted their own website to use that frameset and quickly went out of business.

      The parent company though still publishes a free, local, ad-supported business magazine. Their website even as an "Accessibility Statement" page.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Moridineas (213502)

      - I don't need links to "print this page" or "email it to a friend".

      I strongly disagree! Very frequently the "print this page" link remedies many of the problems you listed--gets rid of ads, all on one page, gets rid of navigation cruft, etc.

      Also useful if you want to like, print the page ;-)

      The other day an artiest friend of a friend heard I did some web programming and then equated that with web design. He said he was getting into web design too--he's been learning flash and might eventually get around to HTML. It made me sad.

      • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:14PM (#23110034)

        I strongly disagree! Very frequently the "print this page" link remedies many of the problems you listed--gets rid of ads, all on one page, gets rid of navigation cruft, etc.
        A properly crafted site intended to have a printing option has a stylesheet that has @media print rules for restyling the page for printing, automatically removing that cruft.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sm62704 (957197)
      One thing I wish you would have added wouldn't help the truly blind, but it would surely help all the over 40 geezers. That's stop using red on red, blue on blue, and especially gray onb a slightly darker gray.

      Stop using non-scalable font sizes that break Firefox's [CTRL][+].

      Stop trying to make the screen conform to a given size. People have different sized screens with different resolutions. It isn't paper that you've printed and dictate the size of. Your anal control-freakery just gives you a bad, ugly si
    • I was sorry to see the question even asked, who wants to be blind? Why can't web design instruction include the basics of 508 [section508.gov] compliance?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      What we need is a ACID-like test for web sites:
      -Do all relevant pictures have AltText field used and valid.
      -"How annoying is navigating the site" Index
      -etc
  • by Jswalden86 (730666) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:52PM (#23109666) Homepage
    I can't see why not.
  • by Bryansix (761547) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:53PM (#23109682) Homepage
    The biggest thing web designers do that breaks the web for disabled people is not include the alt tag in an image. I mean how hard is that?
    • by Kenja (541830)
      Do you have any idea how much time it takes to write alt tags for all this porn?
    • by elecmahm (1194167) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:26PM (#23110216)

      I disagree -- and if you've ever used a screen reader you'd understand how nearsighted (no pun intended) that comment is.

      1. = Alt tags, yes. But also:
      2. = Long desc on images that are content-heavy or pertinent to the content
      3. = Using a proper hierarchy of header tags (H1/2/3/4/5)
      4. = Using lists (UL, OL, DL, etc.) properly
      5. = Placing the content BEFORE the navigation, or at least providing an internally linked "skipnav" link (use CSS to hide it)
      6. = using title properties on links
      7. = Creating non-flash versions of key items
      8. = Using Javascript as an additional convenience, but not a key element. (I *still* see sites that use window.href onclick events instead of just using an "A" tag.)

      That's just the beginning. Not using alt tags doesn't "break the web" for screen readers, it's just less helpful. But not using semantically accurate tags can make it nearly impossible to read or navigate a page. The screen reader JAWS (what I was trained on) can jump through a page by header tags, so having a proper hierarchy is crucial to them being able to quickly locate the information they need.

      If your site breaks with all plugins, javascript, and CSS turned off, then blind people will effectively NOT be able to use it.

  • My philosophy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Erich (151) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:53PM (#23109692) Homepage Journal
    In my opinion, making everyone change their ways for a few who have an issue isn't ethical, whether it's forcing people to change their web page to make it more friendly to the disabled, or not letting peanut butter sandwiches in elementary schools.

    On the other hand, people should know that if their web page is not available to a group of people, then those people will not get the benefit of the web page. In addition, there is a market for folks to create (and sell, if they so choose) products that help people who have problems get around in society. Thus, wheelchairs and hearing aids and braille and such. It's always been this way.

    To say that everyone must be included in the class of users makes no sense; do you have to make music accessible to the deaf, or visual art available to the blind? Of course not. Should you have to change your personal web page that you use to post pictures for your friends and family to make it more friendly to some disabled user you don't know? Of course not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The question wasn't whether it was ethical to force people to design web pages that way, but whether it was ethical to design web pages that way, nothing more. You answered a question nobody asked.
      • by steelfood (895457)
        The answer to the article's question is only relevant after GP's question has been answered.

        If it is inethical to force web developers to cater to the blind, then it is inethical to assign an ethical value to web developers who do or do not cater to the blind.
    • A lot of the web's content exploits the ability to see. Whole websites are geared to nothing more than pictures and manipulation of them.

      How can rules be applied that would not be biased against the content choices of the providers? If a provider wanted to provide full length movies that they did not originate would it fall on them to provide versions that lend themselves to one disability or another or all?

      The simple fact is, not all aspects of life are enjoyable by all people. The primary limiting fact
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sakdoctor (1087155)
      I think this can be generalised as

      Individualist: We are all different but should be treated equally under the law.
      Collectivist: "Something must be done" to correct a tragically imperfect world.

      The collectivist approach has the propensity to piss me off, because of course it results in more and more obscure laws.
      If your on-line shop is unfriendly to screen readers you will likely lose blind customers. I think that this is punishment, and motivation enough.
    • How are people supposed to study, earn a living, and generally get through life if there are vast parts of socieity closed off to them. It really doesn't require that much effort to make things accessible, and the gain to society as a whole is so great. It just seems mean spirited not to.
    • by Gat0r30y (957941)
      Could designers do a better job? Sure, but the fundamental problem remains that the default interface we have chosen for computer is the MOUSE. This is of no use to the blind, who need to navigate with keyboard shortcuts. Their web experience and for that matter their experience of most any app, is going to be limited to how dependent the interface is on the mouse. Unfortunately for the blind, I don't see that changing significantly any time soon.
    • by beetle496 (677137) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @06:26PM (#23111724) Homepage

      Those of us who work in the field of disability regard this issue as a matter of Civil Rights. Once you understand that about us, it may help you understand why we are dogmatic about it.

      The analogies people make to the build environment (e.g., ramps) are apt. If a designer does not incorporate the best practices that constitute electronic curb-cuts, there is nothing the best assistive technology (even at the helm of the most skilled end-user) can do to surmount the barrier.

      Fortunately, things have matured enough that I no longer have to convince programmers to do the right thing, as the law and economics are on the correct side (this time). If you want to sell to the Federal government [section508.gov] you need to make your stuff accessible.

  • It isn't that hard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HappySqurriel (1010623) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:56PM (#23109740)
    I've worked as a web developer for years and can honestly say that it isn't hard to make an accessable website/webapplication but it doesn't happen because no one is willing to pay for it. Even the fact that there are laws in place in some countries that require certain standards doesn't motivate (most) clients into paying the extra 5% to have an accessable website; on top of this it doesn't help that your (dishonest) VP of marketing just pulls a number out of the air when they go after a project and you are (typically) heavily underfunded for the work you have to do.
  • Googlephone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:57PM (#23109772) Journal
    I tried using Googlephone yesterday and I found it to work quite well. It had some trouble understanding my speech but it got the job done and it didn't sound like Stephen Hawking. Sure it's only a computer substitute for directory assistance but I don't see why this can't be adapted for use by the blind.
  • The potential is there for the web (and the internet as a whole) to improve the life of people with physical handicaps. The same potential has existed for personal computers in general for over 20 years. I remember a co-worker whose father had a stroke some years ago. She was able to identify a few key things that computers - not necessarily the web - might do to help people like her father. I don't think there's a lot of money to be made there and that's why we haven't seen more (no pun intended).

    Blind
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jd (1658)
      One of the underlying principles of things like common law is that everyone deserves reasonableness. Justice cannot be guaranteed, but a reasonable effort to provide it can. Likewise, support for the blind or any other group cannot be guaranteed, but if you move the target threshold to what a reasonable blind person could expect, it becomes easier. This isn't perfect (what is?) as reasonableness is much harder to pin down. What is reasonable to one person may not be to another. I've been told that some spee
  • by Cathoderoytube (1088737) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:03PM (#23109840)
    I think it's a bit of a false dichotomy to compare what it's like being a diabetic to being completely blind. I don't think it's unreasonable to account for some access for people who can't actually see websites. I mean we have diet coke.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by techpawn (969834)
      Can't you go blind having diabetes?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by crossmr (957846)
      We also have twinkies.
      The premise here is that all websites should be coded to be accessible to the blind. Therefore all food should be made to be edible by diabetics without worry.

      The difference between is that sites can do many things while being accessible, but food for diabetics really can't have any sugar in it.

    • by Mexican (323519)
      ...and to me, the response from the diabetic is cowardly at best. It shows a bitterness and a level of immaturity at accepting the diabetic diagnosis, and necessary lifestyle, for what it is.

      Sure, you can take your twinkies and powdered donuts and shove them - I'll have the salad. I'm not happy with that, I'd rather have the sweets.

      But the fact is, I'm stuck with this disease, but yet - I can choose to control it. Not perfectly, but surprisingly well with some discipline and strict adherence to medical advi
  • sigh.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:05PM (#23109866) Journal
    you know, the "to hell with the blind let them fend for themselves" rhetoric is getting old. I mean really, the only arguments so far seem to be either along the lines of it's too expensive to introduce basic accessibility into web pages or that we shouldn't bother because you think it would be an inconvenience. that's... just... disgusting.
  • For those who are completely blind, the research in the Brain-machine interface may allow them to 'see' artificially. In fact, this has already been done and will only get better with progress in technology http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.09/vision.html [wired.com]
  • Why even debate? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FranTaylor (164577) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:08PM (#23109934)
    At least in the US, it's the law that you have to use well-known and available methods to allow handicapped people into your place of business. For example, you don't have to provide access for someone in a ventilator, because that would be impractical, but you do have to provide access for someone in a wheelchair, because it's really not all that hard. The EXACT same principle should apply to the web. Providing access to the blind on the web is probably a lot easier than providing wheelchair access in a bricks-and-mortar store.
  • by jc42 (318812) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:11PM (#23109988) Homepage Journal
    On any number of projects where I've provided a web interface, I've been told in no uncertain words that I was to make pages that were tailored for exactly the browser and screen that the project's manager uses.

    Thus, I've often been told that the pages must be forced via things like width= attributes to be exactly N pixels wide, even when there's nothing in a page that is dependent on any particular width. I've been ordered to present some data in pictorial form, even when simple text data was easier to understand and took less screen space.

    So very often, managers explicitly order their developers to produce web pages that are inaccessible to anyone other than people exactly like them.

    There are some ways that one can fight this. In a few cases, I've found that I can "go over the boss's head" by showing a higher-up something that they find useful. I happen to know that they have a Blackberry or a Treo that they love and use all the time, and my boss's declared page structure won't work on their machine, so eventually orders come down to make the web interface usable on the higher-ups' favorite little handheld gadget. While doing this, I can also sneak in things that make it more accessible to the disabled.

    But this is a passive-resistance approach, and it's not always successful. I like to also try to get across the idea that you, yes you, may find yourself handicapped by this time next week, in a way that you can't predict. The sensible thing would be to guarantee that your minions' efforts are usable even after that accident or medical emergency has left you restricted in what you can see or read.

    But few managers are willing to take such a long-term view of the situation. So all too often, my pages aren't as accessible as I know how to make them.

    It would be nice to learn of other ways that we developers can fight such management intransigence.
  • Being sighted, and not having access to a screen reader, designing a site to be blind-friendly is just too much effort for most designers, and since there's generally nothing in it for them (no extra money, no extra kudos, etc.) it's hard to justify making an effort to do it.

    I think if there were a really easy addon to firefox that said "render for the blind" that didn't actually do the screen-reading part of rendering, but did dump all graphics, render things in "order" rather than how they show up vis

    • As a web developer, I have run into the OPPOSITE problem... as my site is essentially a book in HTML and PDF Format. "I don't LIKE to read books on a computer screen"

      Then give your eyes to someone who CAN'T!


      But to address Merk's comment, he's right, even for the well-intentioned. It's hard to pretend to be blind to test the site, and worse, not being blind, I don't know what they would like to have addressed. Face it, we are ALL Insenstive Clods.
  • by techpawn (969834) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:13PM (#23110016) Journal
    But to a degree the ADA [wikipedia.org] forces a lot of companies hands to make sure that their products and services can be used. It's not unreasonable to think that as a disabled person that I should have access to the same products and services as my non-disabled peers as long as the accommodation's would not cause undue strain on a company.

    Redesigning a web page may or may not fall under undue strain... I'm betting not. Then again not all pages are in the US and would be subject to something in the ADA.
  • by Evets (629327) * on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:21PM (#23110148) Homepage Journal
    I have looked into developing for screen readers in the past, but the biggest problem I've run into is the software being used by the disabled.

    1) there are great disparities between how the screen readers interpret things.
    2) the most popular screen readers are expensive, and offer no free versions for developers.

    The Microsoft Narrator didn't hit my radar. I don't know anything about it, but if it's free and of high quality, that's a major step forward.
  • by brennanw (5761) * on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:44PM (#23110466) Homepage Journal
    ... but some kind of sites are going to have more challenges than others.

    For example, I publish a few webcomics (at Ubersoft.net). A webcomic is an image file (in my case, pngs) which are flat-out useless to the blind. Now, there are specifications about how graphics should be used to make them useful to the blind (i.e., include a complete description of the graphic within the img tag -- using "alt" I think, though I'm not sure) but this seems counterproductive. Webcomics as a whole are somewhat useless to the blind because they are a visual medium. Granted, my art is lousy and static but it is still presented visually.

    So how much trouble should I, a publisher of a medium that seems to fundamentally work against a blind man or woman's browsing experience, put into making my site accessible to them?

    As it happens, I do try some, though I am unfamiliar with the latest accessibility guidelines. I use css and xhtml (as best I can) to tag the site properly and make it navigable to a screen reader. This is a bit challenging since the publishing system I'm using (Drupal) makes it difficult for me to sift through everything, but I'm making slow progress. I've also started transcribing my comic archives -- primarily to make them searchable by my site's search engine, but one of my readers pointed out that it also allows a blind visitor to actually read the dialog.

    There are other types of sites -- political discussion sites, news sites, sites like Slashdot -- where accessibility would be far more useful. The web was originally primarily text, and on sites where the content is still primarily text there's no reason it can't be designed to make that text more easily accessible to the visually impaired.
  • by buddyglass (925859) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:57PM (#23110672)

    ADA being the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a nutshell, all "public accomodations" (such as restaurants, movie theaters, etc.) must comply with certain architectural requirements that make them accessible to the physically disabled. While there's currently no provision for non-brick-and-morter public accomodations, I could certainly see that being added. Of course it would only impact the websites of businesses with a presence in the United States, but that's still a big pool. Note that this would almost surely not cover personal websites that aren't related to any commercial activity. So the guy who hacks together a page of photos for his extended family wouldn't be affected by this legislation.

    http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm#anchor62335 [ada.gov]
  • An Easier Fix (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @05:04PM (#23110786) Journal
    Try reading some HTML as text:

    Greater than, quote, less than, semi-quote, have no more right to demand that others provide for their needs than I, comma, as a diabetic, comma, have a right to demand that sugar no longer be used, period, semi-quote, greater than, slash, quote, less than.

    I got results like that when I tried to use a voice synthesizer to read HTML email. Note that it doesn't differentiate between reading the 'quote' inside the tags and the 'semi-quote' in the quoted text.

    Good luck on trying to get everybody and his invisible pal to reformat all their web and email. Far more likely to succeed would be to entice browser and email client developers to produce smart HTML strippers (and Flash readers, etc.) to produce a text-only output for use in voice synthesizers, and/or develop voice synthesizer plug-ins that process the HTML etc. as proper inflections (for bold, underline, etc) or statements ("quote"/"unquote") to be spoken.

    There's a relatively small but steady market for accessibility-related software. Much of what's produced is subsidized by tax money, of which there's a high user-per capita quotient. A developer might not sell as many of such programs, but with fewer users per dollar, that means less support downstream. And with only a few developers focusing on that market, they can each make some decent money. Of course open developers such as the Mozilla group could do the same, for the usual reasons.

    To hook up with people in this area, visit with the accessibility people found at many public and university libraries (at some universities it's a separate department).

    Another problem needing fixing is closed caption voice-to-text processing, to give the deaf (or the Deaf, the capitalization is an important distinction) the ability to watch the now ubiquitous videos on news site and such, without having to wear their eyes out trying to lipread the low rez/bandwidth video usually produced. Take in video, buffer for later use, read audio and produce closed captioning, and send output to a window with CC synced to and overlaying the previously buffered video.

    Note to commercial developers: producing such things under tax-supported/non-profit/government agency label might not earn a lot of money, but what it does earn can be taken as tax-deductions, as can the "money" that goes into the inevitable (and admittedly high-per capita) support.
  • by davmoo (63521) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @05:11PM (#23110888)
    Since this article hits on both, conveniently I am both diabetic and have vision problems (I can see, but I have a horrid prescription to do so, and even then cannot see anywhere near 20/20).

    While I think its nice if businesses accommodate those who are visually impaired, and I think its in their own best interest to do so (just because I have trouble seeing doesn't mean I don't spend money :-) ), I am (almost rabidly) opposed to the idea of government enforcement to do so. The quickest way to ruin something good is to add government intervention.

    There are a number of websites, both commercial and not, that I have trouble reading. Know what I do? I go browse somewhere else.

    What are we going to require next? Special keyboards at public internet stations for those who are prone to hangnails?

    If I had a commercial website and someone or some government entity *demanded* or *required* that I arrange my page a certain way, etc, quite frankly I'd tell them to go get fucked.
  • We shouldn't forget the welcome side-effects of accessibility requirements; they can often offer positive benefits well beyond their original target audience.

    Take the Americans with Disabilities Act. Among other things, stuff gets wheelchair accessible. Which also makes them stroller accessible! Traveling with a young kid in Europe is much, much harder than it is here, since all the work to make things work for wheelchairs also works with strollers. Moving equipment around on carts is also a lot easier.

    We can get similar effects with metadata. In SIlverlight, we're doing a lot of work for it to support accessibility, both for screen readers and for captioning of audio assets. It turns out that infrastructure metadata is enormously useful for searchability and indexing. Getting a nicely transcribed text stream into media assets enables a whole lot of cool stuff, like being able to automatically build menus and transcripts. And being able to search for, and seek to, keywords.
  • Accessible Web (Score:3, Insightful)

    by esme (17526) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @08:33PM (#23112710) Homepage

    The thing about the changes needed for web accessibility is that it requires web pages that are more machine-parsable (since screen-readers need to parse web pages better than visual-oriented browsers, where the parsing can be all thrown off as long as the end display works out). So it surprises me to see so much opposition to web accessibility when web pages that are standards-compliant and more machine-parsable should be very desirable.

    I, for one, would love to have more of my content in more structured, more standards-compliant formats like RSS and Atom. It would open up more possibilities for autonomous agents, richer interactive clients, less reliance on overwrought Javascript navigation, and would provide better accessibility for the blind at the same time.

  • Designing a website so that it can be properly used by the blind also helps design it well for cellphones. Many cellphones have trouble displaying images, or the connection speed is so slow that many people choose to disable images.

    Clickable images are often useless on a cellphone, which scales down the image to the point of being unreadable, and also lacks a mouse pointer with which to click on the image.

    Flash, and the more complicated parts of JavaScript, are often not supported. AJAX probably won't work.

    And finally, many cellphone users are paying by the KB for their downloads! I certainly don't want that charge to be wasted on a useless Flash animation that only serves as a gatekeeper to the real content I'm trying to get at.

    Designing a website for the blind isn't profitable. However, designing for cellphones is!

    Maybe setting a browser to spoof the User-Agent setting, to appear to be coming from a cellphone, might help?

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