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wall st. journal "brace of new federal requirements could help out disabled web users

From: David Poehlman <poehlman@clark.net>
Date: Thu, 08 Jul 1999 06:38:51 -0400
Message-ID: <37847FBB.6963F41A@clark.net>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Sorry if this has been seen but some may not have.  An editorial
comment is in order here.  I've never ordered too much of of any thing
or something mal intentioned. Also, It would have been nice if the
article had given complete web addresses.  I really hate this out of
context quoting stuff too.

On another note, I bet I could if I really tried hack the stamps site.
   July 6, 1999 [Dodge's E-conomy]

Brace of New Federal Requirements
Could Help Out Disabled Web Users

   By JOHN DODGE
   Special to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL INTERACTIVE EDITION

   DOUG WAKEFIELD loves eBay, but he isn't a big fan of Omaha Steaks'
   flashy Web page. Oh, Mr. Wakefield likes the steaks just fine --
it's
   just that he's blind and www.omahasteaks.com is a nightmare for him
to
   navigate.

   Dodge's E-conomy For obvious reasons, blind Web surfers much prefer
   what their sighted counterparts consider dull and boring -- purely
   textual sites. That's because text can be sent to a Braille display
or
   a speech synthesizer so the visually impaired can understand it,
but
   graphics don't register.

   By next summer, however, there's hope that the Web will look
different
   to blind surfers and other disabled people thanks to a government
   effort. Next Aug. 7, suppliers will be barred from doing business
with
   the federal government unless they follow electronic and
   information-technology accessibility guidelines for people with
   disabilities. The hope is that the guidelines' adoption by
suppliers
   will help change Web habits so other sites follow suit. (And if
that
   doesn't work, the fear of lawsuits may do the trick.)

                                                             Omaha
Steaks
                                                     
www.omahasteaks.com

                                                                    
eBay
                                                            
www.ebay.com

                                                        U.S. Access
Board
                                                    
www.access-board.gov

                                                                  
EITAAC
                              www.access-board.gov/
notices/eitaacmtg.htm

                                      Trace Research & Development
Center
                                                      
www.trace.wisc.edu

   The initial guidelines were released to the public May 12 and are
   being firmed up by the U.S. Access Board for a public-comment
period
   beginning in early November. By Feb. 7, they will be set in stone
and
   companies will have six months to comply. The mandate arises out of
   the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, signed into law on August 7,
   1998 and containing amendments strengthening and updating Section
508
   the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

   That guidelines would impose, for instance, that all that all
   government suppliers "provide at least one mode that does not
require
   user vision." One commonly accepted way to accomplish this is by
   providing tags with textual descriptions of graphics and
photographs.
   That way, the 57-year-old Mr. Wakefield would know his mouse rests
on
   a picture of steaks licked by barbecue flames at omahasteaks.com.
Many
   sites do this today -- eBay and the Interactive Journal are just
two
   examples -- but for such tags to be effective, they must be used
   consistently and offer rich descriptions. Unfortunately, that tends
   not to be the case.

   Economically, the disabled represent a powerful chunk of the U.S.
   population. The Census Bureau says one out of five Americans
suffers
   from a disability and one out of 10 grapples with a serious
disability
   -- on the order of 50 million and 25 million people respectively.
With
   the over-65 population expected to increase to 20% of the U.S.
total
   by 2030 from the low teens today, the number of disabled will
increase
   substantially.

   Mr. Wakefield, blind since birth, is an accessibility specialist
for
   the Access Board, a small independent federal agency charged with
   making government services, resources, jobs and facilities
available
   to all U.S. citizens. Despite their hostility to each other in the
   marketplace, leading hardware and software companies such as IBM,
Sun
   Microsystems and Microsoft put down their swords to serve together
on
   the group's Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory
   Committee, or EITAAC, formed last fall to create a universal set of
   guidelines. (In truth, these rivals come together more frequently
than
   you'd think, most often to wrestle with thorny technology issues
such
   as standards.)

   "The incremental cost of adding accessibility features into new
   products is actually quite small." says Microsoft director of
   accessibility Greg Lowney, whose staff of 40 works full time to
ensure
   universal access to the software giant's products. "Accessibility
is
   in everyone's best interest. A person with disabilities affects
five
   other people they interact with. It might be relative or a
co-worker."

   IBM program manager for special needs John Steger is more blunt.
"It's
   good business."

   Indeed, there is one very strong motivation for the private sector
and
   governments to quickly follow the federal government's lead next
year
   -- discrimination lawsuits. For instance, if a disabled person is
kept
   out of a job because of poor Internet access, he or she would
likely
   have a strong discrimination lawsuit, says Joe Tozzi, director of
the
   technology center at the U.S. Education Department, which in early
   1997 came up with "Requirements for Accessible Software Design" for
   its contractors to follow.

    Most Web sites I frequent contain some tags, but their application
is
       inconsistent: Standing items tend to have them, but
time-sensitive
            content such as a news photograph either doesn't or just
says
            "graphic" or the name of the subject. If you're wondering
how
         compliant your site is insofar as tags are concerned, measure
it
         against www.trace.wisc.edu. Just run your mouse pointer over
the
   graphic and if there is a tag, it should automatically appear. Tell
me
              what you find: Share your results with John Dodge and
other
                           Interactive Journal readers, or send e-mail
to

mailto:jdodge@interactive.wsj.com.

   Invariably, new guidelines invite more lawsuits, but that's the
price
   of a better society. "It's kind of like consciousness raising --
all
   of us weren't as conscious 25 to 30 years ago as we are today about
   gender, racial and ethnic issues," says Mr. Tozzi. Resistance to
the
   guidelines and bickering over their substance among the 27 EITAAC
   members has been almost nil, he adds.

   "I have not spoken to a software designer or developer that hasn't
   said, 'Had we thought about accessibility up front, it would have
been
   an easy [problem] to address,' " says Mr. Tozzi.

   The people the guidelines are intended to help often respond with a
   resounding "huh?" when asked about them.

   "I don't know what you're talking about," said Rusty Perez, a
   30-year-old blind high-school teacher in Lakewood, Calif., when
asked
   how the guidelines could help him. As Web-savvy as he is, he still
has
   problems surfing the Net.

   Mr. Perez uses software that reorganizes the Web page into more
   logical form so the text can be read to him. But sometimes the
logic
   of the page doesn't follow, or tags are absent. "Often I come
across a
   link that is not labeled," he says. "Then I've got to sit there and
   wait 35 seconds while the reader goes 'http:// blah, blah, blah'
   before I hear the file name -- which may not be meaningful to me."

   Mr. Wakefield recalls the time he mistakenly ordered four copies of
a
   software package from a Web site instead of the single copy he
wanted.
   "You had to check the number of copies and I just totally missed it
   until I saw my bill," he says. "If you're blind, it was very hard
to
   see. I thought I was being careful."

   The guidelines cover the full range of disabilities, including
   deafness and hearing loss; physical disabilities such as loss of
   strength, reach and manipulation; tremors and lack of sensation;
   speech and cognitive disabilities such as thinking, reading and
   remembering disorders; and other disabilities such as epilepsy and
   short stature.

   "This is almost as big as Y2K in terms of the amount of energy and
   time that will go into this," says Martin Bayne, a 46-year-old
   newsletter publisher in Clifton Park, N.Y., who suffers from
   Parkinson's disease. "This will be the first time sites will have
been
   built from the ground up by both disabled and able-bodied Web
   designers with the scaffolding in full view every step of the way,"

   An egregious omission from any article on the topic of
accessibility
   would be failure to mention The Trace Center at the University of
   Wisconsin-Madison, which has pioneered and catalyzed technology
   solutions for the disabled since 1971. It sat on the EITAAC, and
   influential business leaders such as Microsoft's Bill Gates
   characterize its director, Gregg C. Vanderheiden, as a pioneer in
the
   field.

   Stamps of Approval: Why it is you can never find a stamp when
you're
   sending that late birthday card or overdue bill? Now, you can print
   professional looking first-class postage on demand if you have a
   personal computer, a printer, commonly used office or accounting
   software and a connection to the Internet. E-Stamp.com
   (www.e-stamp.com) promises to launch a nationwide site this summer;
   www.stamps.com is already up and running.

   Both sites have partnered with the U.S. Postal Service Information
   Based Indicia Program, or IBIP, which aims to stamp out (no pun
   intended) postage-meter fraud. The technology, which claims to
   undercut postal meters on a cost basis, uses digital signatures and
   bar codes that the Post Office says it can verify as authentic.

   According to the Postal Service, fraud has been so rampant that it
has
   considered banning postal meters altogether. "The IBI solution
renders
   each indicia [an identifying mark] unique to the mail piece, making
it
   possible to detect duplicates and therefore identify probable
   counterfeit activity," according to the Postal Service online FAQ
on
   the topic.

   Businesses willing to format printed envelopes with Microsoft Word
or
   similar software are the prime target for the service, but as a
   consumer, I plan to give it a try too, so Aunt Ruthie won't have to
   wait an extra couple of days for the birthday card that's already a
   week late. A demonstration of how it works is at www.stamps.com.
Received on Thursday, 8 July 1999 06:37:25 UTC

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