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way to go kim![Fwd: The Salt Lake Tribune: Screen-Reader Technology Makes InternetAccessible to Blind]

From: David Poehlman <poehlman@clark.net>
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999 09:10:04 -0400
Message-ID: <37B1762C.C6C071D@clark.net>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: The Salt Lake Tribune: Screen-Reader Technology Makes
InternetAccessible to Blind
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 1999 17:17:59 -0700
From: Kelly Ford <kford@TELEPORT.COM>
Reply-To: Kelly Ford <kford@TELEPORT.COM>
To: VICUG-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU

Screen-Reader Technology Makes Internet Accessible to Blind
( Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News )
By Vince Horiuchi, The Salt Lake Tribune



Aug. 1--If Kevin Bleyl is not cruising the Internet at least four
hours a
day, he goes into withdrawal.
That may seem typical for a lot of Net-heads, but Bleyl has an
obstacle
most surfers don't face when logging into cyberspace: He' s blind.
Though navigating through the Internet and using computers is based on
visual cues, such as mouse pointers and icons, software designers and
Web
masters are creating new programs and re-designing sites to be
accessible
to the blind.
"Things are a lot easier to get to now," said Bleyl, who lost his
sight
several years ago to diabetes.
Brigham Young University recently retrofitted its Web site at
www.byu.edu
to work with the JAWS for Windows screen-reader program, software that
reads text on the computer screen with a digitized voice.
"We were designing the page as a visual medium, and it hadn't sunk in
to us
that there was a large portion of the audience who couldn' t see the
page,"
said Brent Harker, BYU's director of Web communications.
Then a couple of blind students told him how the pages could be
slightly
redesigned to take advantage of recent screen-reader software.
JAWS, the most popular of 18 such readers on the market, reads aloud
the
text and the names of icons in a computerized voice that is heard over
the
computer speakers. Instead of using a mouse, the user clicks the tab
button
to move from icon to icon. The program also reads what are called
"alt-tags," labels that describe graphics and pictures.
According to the International Braille & Technology Center, there are
two
different Braille note-taker programs, four Braille printers, nine
Braille
translators and 11 voice-activated software programs in addition to
the 18
screen readers. And there are 26 companies that design software and
hardware for the blind. The downside to these programs is they are
expensive since they serve a small market. Expect to pay anywhere from
$500
to $1,500 for a screen-reader program.
While JAWS and similar programs can work with most Web sites, the
sites
still need to be arranged and designed to be more easily navigated
without
a mouse. BYU did that with its official campus pages to make them more
accessible to the blind.
"For the blind, they don't care where the image is on the page, but
they do
care how to navigate through it," Harker said. "The information has to
be
logical and consecutive for them."
There are more than 700,000 blind Americans, and the computerization
of the
work place effectively shut out most of them. But it did not have to.
The nation's overall unemployment rate is at a 29-year low at 4.2
percent,
but unemployment among the blind has remained stagnant, according to
the
U.S. Department of Labor. About 70 percent of the blind who want a job
cannot find one, and computers are a main reason, according to
advocates
for the blind.
"The problem is, the graphical user interface [or GUI, the way Windows
and
Macintosh computers look and function] really slammed the door for
access
for blind people," said Norman Gardner, of the National Federation of
the
Blind of Utah. "When the GUI came along, it rendered the screen
inaccessible to any degree. It took manufacturers years to come up
with
programs to vocalize what was on the screen."
Today, groups like the HTML Writers Guild, the largest international
organization of Web authors, are recognizing the need to reach out to
audiences with disabilities. In fact, the guild declared last April
"Accessibility Month."
While it has gotten better, it is still not enough, Bleyl said.
"I would say more than half of the Web sites are still not accessible,
"
said the 32-year-old Salt Lake City man. "If there is something out
there
that I want to find, it can be very frustrating."
And though Bleyl was a technical research specialist for Novell when
he
could see, he no longer is employed. What employers don't know is that
many
blind people can use the same programs and computers that sighted
workers
use, said Curtis Chong, director of technology for the National
Federation
of the Blind, headquartered in Baltimore.
"Blind people need to have more training in the use of computers and
adaptive technology. Without that, we can't get jobs," he said. "We
need
designers who have an interest and a desire to know about adaptive
technology. Maybe a blind person can use their program."


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Received on Wednesday, 11 August 1999 09:14:16 UTC

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