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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.

-------- 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>

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
   National Federation for the Blind to argue that federal law
   that AOL design its Internet service so that blind people can use

   ''Blind people have the same rights as everybody else to take part
   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
   ''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
   the federation's reading of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a
   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
   that AOL and other Internet-based businesses are public
   under the law, and must be made accessible.

   Although there are legal precedents concerning the need for
   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
   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
   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
   Americans communicate via the Internet, according to Neilsen
   NetRatings. Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, predicts
   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
   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.
   insist on access to everything.''

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

   Chuck Hitchcock, who designs software for disabled people at the
   Center for Applied Special Technology in Peabody, expressed doubt
   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
   the law specifically requires telephone companies to provide
   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
   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
   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
   to feature on the screen. Blind people generally can't use a
   mouse and must rely on the keyboard. Many programs make it possible
   use the keyboard instead of the mouse to maneuver through the
   But many features of the AOL software can only be activated with

   AOL isn't the only company with problems. Goldberg said that only
   small handful'' of the Internet's major sites are accessible to
   people, even though solutions to the problem are well understood.
   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
   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
   as an aid to her studies, but only got as far as the opening
   ''I got that far and the screen reader stopped reading,'' Rose
   ''So I gave up.''

   Theresa Jeraldi of Watertown says she wanted to use AOL's chat
   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
   other Internet services.

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

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Received on Saturday, 6 November 1999 17:00:24 UTC

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