W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > October to December 1999

here's the boston globe article[Fwd: tech: even more on aol lawsuit]

From: David Poehlman <poehlman@clark.net>
Date: Sat, 06 Nov 1999 16:59:30 -0500
Message-ID: <3824A4C2.A9F3EAEB@clark.net>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
I hope I did not send this twice.  It mentions w3c and lg.
Thanks!

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: tech: even more on aol lawsuit
Date: Sat, 6 Nov 1999 14:38:23 -0600
From: Kelly Pierce <kelly@RIPCO.COM>
Reply-To: Kelly Pierce <kelly@RIPCO.COM>
To: VICUG-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU

The Boston Blobe

   AOL sued by blind Net users

   They say service doesn't accommodate their needs

   By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff, 11/05/99

 Nine blind citizens of Massachusetts went to court yesterday
   against America Online Inc., in a lawsuit that could force the
   redesign of thousands of Internet sites. The citizens joined with
the
   National Federation for the Blind to argue that federal law
requires
   that AOL design its Internet service so that blind people can use
it.

   ''Blind people have the same rights as everybody else to take part
in
   the information age,'' said federation president Marc Maurer at a
   press conference in Boston.

   If the suit is successful, AOL would be forced to make its software
   compatible with a variety of computer products that let blind
people
   ''read'' a computer screen. In addition, Maurer hopes the suit will
   force similar changes at every Internet retailer, from the smallest
   electronic storefront to the largest on-line bookstore.

   The case against AOL, filed in US District Court in Boston, rests
on
   the federation's reading of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a
law
   passed in 1990 that aims to give disabled people access to equal
   opportunities in employment and public services.

   A section of the law requires ''public accommodations,'' such as
   businesses, to make reasonable efforts to make their services
   available to disabled people. The federation hopes to convince a
court
   that AOL and other Internet-based businesses are public
accommodations
   under the law, and must be made accessible.

   Although there are legal precedents concerning the need for
businesses
   to make facilities and services available to people with handicaps,
   lawyers for the federation said they knew of no case involving the
   Internet ever going to trial.

   AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato refused to discuss details of the
lawsuit,
   but said AOL is committed to working with disabled people to make
   their software easier to use.

   ''We have a team of people that are working on these issues and
it's a
   top priority for us,'' D'Amato said. He added that the next version
of
   AOL software, due for release next year, will be compatible with
   screen reading software for blind people.

   Concerns about access to the Internet are understandable, given its
   burgeoning importance to the economy and society. Forty percent of
all
   Americans communicate via the Internet, according to Neilsen
   NetRatings. Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, predicts
Americans
   will spend $20 billion at on-line retail stores this year, and $184
   billion five years from now.

   Ben Isaacson, executive director of the Association for Interactive
   Media, a trade group that represents 400 Net firms including AOL,
   Disney and Yahoo, is worried the suit could lead to government
   interference with business on the Internet.

   ''Web sites shouldn't have to comply with any government regulatory
   interest but should be doing self-regulatory programs,'' said
   Isaacson. He said his organization has no plans to become involved
in
   the case, but added that he would be willing to contact members and
   urge them to do more to accommodate disabled Internet users.

   ''This industry will do anything,'' Isaacson said. ''They will bend
   over backward for additional market share.''

   Maurer, the federation president, said blind Americans must not be
   shut out. ''I'm determined that we will have access,'' he said.
''We
   insist on access to everything.''

   Larry Goldberg, director of the National Center for Accessible
Media,
   based at public television station WGBH in Boston, said his group
has
   recently begun working with AOL to make the Internet company's
   software accessible to blind people. ''AOL approached us four to
six
   months ago, and having recognized that they had a problem, asked if
we
   could help them,'' Goldberg said.

   Chuck Hitchcock, who designs software for disabled people at the
   Center for Applied Special Technology in Peabody, expressed doubt
that
   a court would stretch the disabilities act to include the Internet.
   ''I hope they do,'' he said, ''but I'd be quite surprised.''

   But Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet said, ''It makes some
   sense in that the ADA is an extraordinarly broad act.'' Bartholet
said
   the law specifically requires telephone companies to provide
services
   for disabled people; applying it to the Internet may simply be the
   next logical step. ''It's not a frivolous issue,'' she said.

   AOL is the world's largest Internet service provider with 20
million
   users. The service prides itself on its custom-made software, which
   many people find much easier to use than other kinds of Internet
   software. The AOL software also gives its customers access to a
   variety of services not available on the rest of the Internet,
   including discussion groups, chat rooms and on-line shopping areas.

   But AOL's software lacks features that would make it possible for
   blind or visually-impaired people to use the service with screen
   reader software that can read pages aloud.

   Screen-reader programs are compatible with many computer programs,
   such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system and Apple
Computer
   Corp.'s Macintosh operating system. The standard Internet browsers
   from Microsoft and Netscape Communications Corp., now owned by AOL,
   also work with screen readers.

   The AOL software also forces people to use a mouse to go from
feature
   to feature on the screen. Blind people generally can't use a
computer
   mouse and must rely on the keyboard. Many programs make it possible
to
   use the keyboard instead of the mouse to maneuver through the
program.
   But many features of the AOL software can only be activated with
the
   mouse.

   AOL isn't the only company with problems. Goldberg said that only
''a
   small handful'' of the Internet's major sites are accessible to
blind
   people, even though solutions to the problem are well understood.
The
   World Wide Web Consortium in Cambridge, the organization that sets
   standards for Web site design worldwide, has created guidelines for
   Web site designers to help them make their sites accessible to
blind
   people. But most Web sites simply ignore these guidelines.

   Brandy Rose of Taunton, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, is a
   student at Bristol Community College. She said she wanted to use
AOL
   as an aid to her studies, but only got as far as the opening
screen.
   ''I got that far and the screen reader stopped reading,'' Rose
said.
   ''So I gave up.''

   Theresa Jeraldi of Watertown says she wanted to use AOL's chat
rooms
   to stay in touch with her grandchildren. ''But I was told by other
   blind people ... not to even bother with it because it was so
   inaccessible to the blind.'' Both Rose and Jeraldi have signed on
to
   other Internet services.

   This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 11/05/99.


VICUG-L is the Visually Impaired Computer User Group List.
To join or leave the list, send a message to
listserv@maelstrom.stjohns.edu.  In the body of the message, simply
type
"subscribe vicug-l" or "unsubscribe vicug-l" without the quotations.
 VICUG-L is archived on the World Wide Web at
http://maelstrom.stjohns.edu/archives/vicug-l.html
Received on Saturday, 6 November 1999 17:00:24 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0+W3C-0.50 : Tuesday, 19 July 2011 18:13:45 GMT