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Wired News :Web News Still Fails Blind Users

From: William <love26@gorge.net>
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2001 05:08:46 -0700 (PDT)
Message-Id: <200109281208.FAA22425@ballys.hotwired.com>
To: w3c-wai-eo@w3.org (outreach update)


A note from William:

   An update to our outreach.
   
   Love.

============================================================

 From Wired News, available online at:
http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,47054,00.html

Web News Still Fails Blind Users  
By Kendra Mayfield  

2:00 a.m. Sep. 27, 2001 PDT 

Within hours of the World Trade Center attacks, Gregory Rosmaita was
online, dispensing vital up-to-the minute updates on where to donate blood, how to locate family members and where to find other emergency information to those unable to watch the images unfold on television. 

Rosmaita, a blind webmaster for the Visually Impaired Computer Users'
Group of New York City (VICUG NYC), provided a lifeline for many of New York City's visually impaired residents. 





See also:
Discuss this story on Plastic.com 
Who Said the Web Fell Apart? 
Amateur Newsies Top the Pros 
Searching for Life Amid Rubble 
Disabled Access Now, More or Less 
Conflict 2001: Fresh Perspectives 
Terra Lycos Special: America v. Terrorism 
Lycos' America Rebuilds Resource Page 







In addition to the WTC Emergency Information Page, Rosmaita posted
updates on transit information, emergency assistance for stranded disabled flyers and a text-to-speech emergency e-mail network on the VICUG list. 

Rosmaita's work was vital to his community because most major news
sites aren't accessible to the visually impaired. 

"It's frustrating to use the Web for news reading," said Sherry Wells,
a visually impaired IBM technical analyst. "I think you can get information faster on TV or radio than you can on the Web. Websites are cluttered with links and graphics. It's easier to sit down and listen to the news on TV or radio." 

Even though she can't see the images on television, Wells still
prefers listening to television reports to sifting through inaccessible websites. 

"(Images are) not really necessary to learn what's going on," she
said. 

The demand for immediate, direct news on the Web during times of
crisis underscores the desire that the visually impaired and others with disabilities have for accessible websites. 

People who can't see pictures on the Web rely upon two things that can
be coded into the design of a website: textual equivalents and textual descriptions. These textual elements can be displayed with Braille terminals or read aloud by screen readers (programs that speak words) such as Windows-Eyes and JAWS for Windows. 

"Most websites, especially news sites, aren't designed for use by
people who can't see -- although they easily could be; they just aren't," said Kynn Bartlett, chief technologist for Idyll Mountain Internet and an online instructor in accessible Web design. "This means that getting news directly can be difficult, especially when you're looking for disaster coordination news rather than just horrific repeats of airplanes crashing into buildings. 

"Without descriptions of the attacks, many Americans and others around
the world are shut out from understanding exactly what happened and how, reducing their ability to come to terms with the horror and the 'shared experience' which was mostly visual for the vast majority of us," Bartlett continued. 

Individuals from across the globe have set up accessible websites to
provide written descriptions of images from the attack, such as WTC captioned photographs from New Zealand and an unofficial collection of pictures for the visually impaired with detailed wording from Israel. 

"Visual information is important to a blind person for the same reason
that it is important to anyone else," said David Poehlman, a consultant in electronic and information technology accessibility who has been blind since birth.  

"They want to know what things look like, they want to know what is
going on," said Poehlman, who uses a screen-access software package with text to speech and Braille display support. 

"Pictures for me are useless," Wells agreed. "(The descriptions on the
Web) were really great. I really got a sense of what the pictures are saying." 

While most major television news outlets or websites didn't provide
descriptive text following the attacks, some visually impaired individuals were able to access audio descriptions of certain events. 

The recent television broadcast of "America: A Tribute to Heroes" was
made available to the nation's 31 million visually impaired through a live telecast. 

Retinitis Pigmentosa International (RPI) provided a special
description of the broadcast on Cable Radio Network to over 10,000 radio stations. RPI described the onscreen telecast using TheatreVisionTM, an innovative process that incorporates a special descriptive soundtrack that runs concurrently with the spoken portions of the program. 

"The nation's blind have been calling by the thousands during the last
few days to RPI'S Woodland Hills headquarters," said Helen Harris, president and founder of RPI, in a statement. "They're outraged and want to help; they want to be aware of the images on the television screen that have been so much a part of this awful week. Their only hope is audio description of their entire world, or they're going to be left behind." 

Experts agree that more needs to be done to ensure that people with
disabilities can access information online during times of crisis. 

"There's definitely a need for more sites which can provide quick and
direct access to information which is accessible," Bartlett said. "People with disabilities of any kind need crisis information as much as anyone else." 

Ideally, sites such as Rosmaita's WTC page may not be necessary, as
mainstream websites adopt techniques that allow everyone full access to websites, including descriptive text. 

"But so far, that day has been slow in coming," Bartlett said. 

Web developers can follow the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines to find out what steps to take to guarantee a broad audience for their websites. 

(Editor's note: At this time, Wired News does not conform in full to
the Consortium's guidelines. Staff programmers are currently looking into updating publishing codes in order to make the site more accessible to the visually impaired.) 

"The major sites need to recognize that there is an audience there,
which may not necessarily have access to the newest and fastest technologies, such as streaming audio and video, animations, graphics and other multimedia," Bartlett said. 

"All websites do themselves a disservice by closing themselves off
from communities on which they might thrive," Poehlman agreed. "Now that the perception has changed, look for initiatives that begin to fall that press for broader accessibility." 

"When I get on the Web for news, it's not just a special occasion,"
Wells said. "I would probably get on the Web at home every day if it were more accessible."  

Related Wired Links:  

Online Donations Set Records  
Sep. 17, 2001 

Amateur Newsies Top the Pros  
Sep. 15, 2001 

Who Said the Web Fell Apart?  
Sep. 12, 2001 

Searching for Life Amid Rubble  
Sep. 12, 2001 

Disabled Access Now, More or Less  
June 25, 2001 

Fed Opens Web to Disabled  
Dec. 21, 2000 

When Your Voice Is All You Have  
Oct. 5, 2000 

More Are Hearing Email's Voice  
March 9, 2000 

Seeing-Eye Software  
Nov. 24, 1998 

The Blind Leading the Blinkered  
July 3, 1997 

Copyright (C) 1994-2001 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved. 
Received on Friday, 28 September 2001 08:08:59 GMT

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