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NY Times: Bringing the Visual World of the Web to the Blind (fwd)

From: Kelly Ford <kford@teleport.com>
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 1998 07:05:22 -0800 (PST)
To: kford@teleport.com
Message-ID: <Pine.GSO.3.96.980326070321.28383C-100000@user2.teleport.com>

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 1998 07:01:02 -0800 (PST)
From: Kelly Ford <kford@teleport.com>
To: webwatch-l@lists.teleport.com
Subject: NY Times: Bringing the Visual World of the Web to the Blind

Hi All,

The New York Times ran a story on the web and folks who are blind this
morning.  The full article with hypertext links can be found at:

   Linkname: Bringing the Visual World of the Web to the Blind


The article is below with the URLs for the referenced web sites included.
I am somewhat disappointed to again read the myth propagated by Microsoft
that the accessibility problems in Internet Explorer 4.01 were corrected
in just over a month.  Interesting to constantly read that when beta
testing of screen readers to work with IE 4 is just now getting started.
Microsoft's constant claims that the accessibility was corrected in about
a month ignore the fact that the version of Active Accessibility was
changed and well I've stated my opinions on this here before.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still thrilled to have access to the web and to be
able to read all I can but I wish some of these articles would really
investigate the claims that get tossed out as fact.  Apologies for the
numbers in brackets in the article but Lynx, my first choice in web
browsers, does this to make navigation easier.  When Will Microsoft
include such a handy feature?

      March 26, 1998
Bringing the Visual World of the Web to the Blind

     Curtis Chong has been using the World Wide Web for three years to
     look up topics like music, fund-raising and medical research. He
     also uses it as a way to teach and encourage other blind people to
     get on the Web.
     How does someone who cannot see the screen navigate the computer
     and Web, which is full of glitzy graphics and icons?
                 Credit: Marty Katz for The New York Times
    Curtis Chong of the National Federation of the Blind helps Partricia
       Maurer, a colleague, use voice synthesis and Braille software.
     Chong communicates all his commands through the keyboard. His
     printer prints in Braille. He uses the Internet Explorer 3.02 with
     a piece of software called a screen reader and a speech synthesizer
     to turn the written words on the screen into words spoken in a
     computer-generated voice.
     "We want to use the Web, and we want to use it like everybody else
     does," said Chong, director of technology for the [4]National
     Federation of the Blind, based in Baltimore. "We don't believe the
     computer is the great equalizer for the blind, but it's one way to
     make our lives better."
     For the more than half-million blind people of working age in the
     United States, getting on the Web may not only mean being able to
     research topics of interest but may also be a necessary skill for
     staying employed.
     "It certainly affects the jobs of thousands of blind people," said
     Gary Wunder, a blind man who is a senior computer programmer at the
     University of Missouri Hospitals and Clinics. He is required to use
     the Web in his job for project assignments and updates. "It isn't
     just optional anymore."
     While current statistics on the use of computers and the Web by
     blind and visually impaired people are hard to find, technology
     companies and advocacy organizations say the numbers are rapidly
     increasing. Tens of thousands of blind people are on computers, and
     every year more of them are learning to use the Web, Chong said.
     A 1991 study published by the American Foundation for the Blind in
     New York found that 43 percent of blind and severely visually
     impaired people were using the computer for writing, said Emilie
     Schmeidler, senior research associate for the foundation. Her
     impression is that more visually impaired people are using
     computers and the Web now, she said, and "more and more jobs
     require the computer."
   Being able to use the Web is critical to thousands of employed blind
     A screen reader or screen access program like the one Chong uses is
     the translator that tells a speech synthesizer what to say when the
     visual icons are accompanied by a text description. "It's my white
     cane that helps me know what's on the screen," Chong said.
     Henter-Joyce, a company in St. Petersburg, Fla., that manufactures
     the popular screen reader called JAWS (Job Access With Speech) for
     Windows, has between 15,000 and 18,000 customers, said the
     company's president, Ted Henter. He said the customer base had
     increased four to five times since 1995.
     At least seven companies make the screen readers. Henter-Joyce's
     JAWS is one of the top sellers and costs about $795; the company's
     new version, to be released this spring, will include a speech
     synthesizer. The National Federation of the Blind Web site includes
     a [5]computer-resource page that has information on how to get in
     contact with the companies that sell the readers.
                                                          RELATED ARTICLE
               [6]Guidelines for Making Web Pages Accessible to the Blind
     But getting the technology right is only one piece of the package.
     If Web pages do not have text that identifies graphics or if they
     have moving type, they will not be accessible. The [7]World Wide
     Web Consortium, made up of universities, corporations and research
     organizations and based at the Massachusetts Institute of
     Technology, started a three-year project in 1997 called the Web
     Accessibility Intiative that is creating guidelines to make
     technology and Web pages more accessible to blind, deaf and
     disabled users.
     The National Federation of the Blind has eight [8]accessibility
     guidelines for Web pages that can be found on its Web site.
     The [9]Center for Applied Special Technology, a nonprofit research
     and development organization in Peabody, Mass., has a free service
     in which it analyzes Web sites and offer suggestions for their
     The change from DOS, a text-based operating sytem, to Windows, a
     graphics-based operating system, was a setback for the blind.
     "The world enthusiastically embraced Windows, and we were left
     out," said Wunder, who is also president of the Missouri chapter of
     the National Federation of the Blind. But in the last two and a
     half years, Microsoft "has shown concern and responsiveness" to the
     blind, Wunder said.
     Version 3.02 of Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer, includes a
     component called Microsoft Active Accessibility, a layer of codes
     that are compatible with accessibility aids like the screen reader.
     In addition to aiding blind users, these codes also hook into
     software that helps users who are deaf or have other disabilities.
     But a newer version, Internet Explorer 4.0, was released on Oct. 1,
     1997, without the Active Accessibility component. Angry letters,
     phone calls and e-mails let Luanne LaLonde, Microsoft's
     accessibility product manager, and others at Microsoft know that
     this was unacceptable.
     "We got a lot of e-mail," she said. In early November, about 35
     days after the release of Explorer 4.0, Microsoft released Explorer
     4.01, including Active Accessibility.
     Web page design, of course, is an element of accessibility. Vito
     DeSantis, manager of field operations for the southern regional
     office of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, uses the Web to
     find research on the eye condition that has made it impossible for
     him to see the computer screen for the past three years. He also
     likes to read newspapers on the Web.
     For visually impaired Web users like DeSantis, the vertical columns
     on the Web present the biggest problem because screen readers pick
     up the information horizontally.
     "You have to really know how to navigate around the screen,"
     DeSantis said. "I imagine quite a few people might get frustrated.
     Sometimes it's just not worth the effort."
     While screen readers help, Wunder said, "no screen reader has made
     the Web as easily accessible for the blind as for the sighted."
     Even with top-of-the-line screen readers, Web pages have to have
     text explanations for graphics and icons or the visually impaired
     computer user cannot move.
     "You get a screen and it says, 'Image, image, image,'" Schmeidler
     said, quoting the sound her screen reader makes when the cursor
     hits an icon without accompanying text. "You have no idea how
     frustrating it is."
     In addition to the advice on making a Web page accessible from the
     National Federation of the Blind and the Center for Applied Special
     Technology, the World Wide Web Consortium has a group of volunteer
     computer experts who are leading the [10]Web Accessibility
     Initiative. The group's goal is to write guidelines for Web page
     authors who want to make their pages accessible for all disabled
     users. A rough draft of the recommendations can be found on the
     consortium's Web site.
     "Everything is voluntary, and the documents are called
     recommendations," said Professor Gregg Vanderheiden, director of
     the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of
     Wisconsin at Madison and a member of the group. But for businesses
     and government agencies, making sites accessible may not be
     voluntary, he said.
     In a policy ruling in September 1996, the Department of Justice
     said the Americans With Disabilities Act did cover access to Web
     "A Web site is an electronic front door," Vanderheiden said. "But
     blind users often have to let individual Web page authors know that
     they can't understand their pages.
     "Sometimes people instantly go and fix it, and sometimes people
     don't care."
     Blind users say they want basic instruction on how to navigate the
     Web and get what they want. They do not need long descriptions that
     are intended to help them see pictures or other graphics.
     "Don't try to tell me how wonderful the Mona Lisa is," Wunder said.
     "You can't do that, but you can tell me how to get the picture and
     print it out for my daughter."
  11. http://www.nfb.org/
  12. http://www.nfb.org/computer.htm
  13. http://www.nfb.org/webacc.htm
  14. http://www.w3.org/
  15. http://www.w3.org/wai
 16. http://www.cast.org/bobby
Received on Thursday, 26 March 1998 10:05:25 UTC

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