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[Fwd: NYT: Barriers Online for Those With Disabilities]

From: David Poehlman <poehlman@clark.net>
Date: Wed, 03 Nov 1999 21:24:54 -0500
Message-ID: <3820EE76.75093EEF@clark.net>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
I hope this is not a repeat but I'm reading backwards.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: NYT: Barriers Online for Those With Disabilities
Date: Thu, 4 Nov 1999 05:46:14 -0800
From: Kelly Ford <kford@TELEPORT.COM>
Reply-To: Kelly Ford <kford@TELEPORT.COM>
To: VICUG-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU

November 4, 1999

Barriers Online for Those With Disabilities
By PAMELA MENDELS

Web sites filled with graphics that cannot be interpreted by
text-to-speech
software. Software and systems designed by companies that do not
consider
the needs of disabled people. Inadequate computer equipment for
disabled
students in schools.

These are just some of the barriers encountered by people with
disabilities
as they try navigate a world increasingly dependent on the Internet
and
computer technologies, said participants at a conference this week in
New
York that examined the state of technology for those with
disabilities. The
conference, called "Expanding Cyberspace," was sponsored by the
Digital
Clubhouse Network, a nonprofit organization that provides free or
low-cost
computer instruction.

"The majority of the Web is not accessible to people with disabilities
now," said Judy Brewer, director of the World Wide Web Consortium's
effort
to create voluntary Web standards to insure accessibility. Brewer,
through
teleconferencing equipment, participated in a panel discussion on
"Internet
Accessibility in the New Millennium."

People in the audience, including a number of educators, Internet
industry
executives and activists for those with disabilities, agreed that the
Internet is becoming a more difficult place for people with
disabilities to
negotiate. "All that glitz causes a lot of trouble," said Crista L.
Earl, a
research specialist at the American Foundation for the Blind.

She and others said that more sites are using graphics that cannot be
interpreted by software that reads Web text aloud.

Lawrence A. Scadden, a senior program director for the National
Science
Foundation and moderator of the panel, said he feared that unless the
Internet becomes more accessible, disabled users will be left out of
an
emerging world of online commerce. "There is a huge population out
there
that wants to have access to those products, and it is inhumane to
close
them out," said Scadden, who is blind and has used the Internet for
years
as a rich source of information otherwise unavailable to him.

Jim Tobias, president of Inclusive Technologies, a company based in
Monmouth, N.J., that advises businesses on accessibility issues, said
Web
designers unfamiliar with the needs of the disabled often assume that
taking accessibility into consideration means limiting the aesthetic
possibilities of a site. That is not necessarily true, he said, in
comments
after the conference. One option, for example, is for the site to
provide
pop-up text that gives a description of the graphics and can be read
aloud
by devices for the visually impaired.

In the future, he added, there will be more sound on the Internet,
increasing the need for online captioning to help people with hearing
problems.

A big problem, Tobias said at the conference, is that decision-making
about
Web site design at companies is often fragmented, so accessibility
considerations can get lost. "What happens is, accessibility becomes
the
hobby of one or more people in the company -- and they either succeed
or
fail at converting others," he said.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
----

Schools sometimes prefer to hire an aide to help a disabled student
with
writing, instead of buying products like voice-activated software.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
----




Bureaucracy and lack of understanding hurt young people with
disabilities,
too, said Sheryl E. Burgstahler, who directs DO-IT, a program based at
the
University of Washington in Seattle that recruits students with
disabilities into challenging fields like engineering and science,
then
supports them in their careers. Burgstahler said students with
disabilities
are often the last ones to receive technology that could help them,
because
school officials do not want to spend money on it, they do not know
what
technology is available or they have not even considered the issue.
This
occurs even though many adaptive devices are relatively inexpensive,
she said.

For example, Burgstahler said, schools sometimes prefer to hire an
aide to
help a disabled student with writing, instead of buying products like
voice-activated software that would let the student be more
independent.
This could simply be an issue of having budgeted money for the aide,
but
not for the special equipment. "Our students, when there is so much
potential for them to be using technology as an empowering tool, are
instead not getting the same access as their peers," she said.

Warren C. Hegg, executive director of the Digital Clubhouse Network,
said
after the conference that he hoped to change the attitude of Internet
users
to make cyberspace a place less driven by consumerism and more by the
spirit of inclusion. "Can't we come up with something better than
'Point,
click, hey cool, I bought a book from Amazon?'" he asked.


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Received on Thursday, 4 November 1999 09:25:17 GMT

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