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Letter of Apology and Clarification to Adam Curry: Insistant Accessibility Advocacy is not Impolite

July 23, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

On episode 212 of the Daily Source Code for Friday, July 22, Adam Curry indirectly made reference to my note of disappointment at the choice to implement inaccessible visual verification for the Podsafe Music Network. He inaccurately characterized the note as being “impolite”. Others seemed to agree with his stance. While I do admit there is a slight problem with my initial note to Adam, it is not one of politeness. I should have started the note on a more positive footing and included information on exactly how to provide accessibility to visual verification tests. Please feel free to review a copy of a letter of apology and clarification I have just sent to Adam. Your constructive feedback is always welcome.

Hi Adam,

Though I feel your characterization of my note of disappointment concerning the inaccessible visual verification on the Podsafe Music Network as being “impolite”, is inaccurate, I do apologize nonetheless for the way it may have come across to you. It would have been far better had I started the note on a positive footing and included more details on exactly how visual verification can be made accessible.

In my accessibility advocacy efforts, I have recently given special focus to inaccessible visual verification tests. The purpose of these tests is to prevent the use of automated computer programs for sending spam and otherwise abusing limited Internet resources. The tests verify that a real live human being, rather than a computer, is requesting access to a protected resource. When the implementation of these tests is done without regard to the need for nonvisual access, they represent an immediate and obvious barrier locking the blind out of participation. Since we are, in fact, fully living and breathing human beings and first class citizens possessing the same rights and responsibilities as those whom happen to enjoy the benefit of eye sight, many of us feel insulted when we come across such complete, insurmountable demands that we must do something that is physically impossible for us, see, in order to be granted acceptance. People such as myself and some others in the blind community are not passive. We just can not stand by and accept the obvious harm done to us when we are not, for any reason, granted equal access to the same resources enjoyed by everyone else.

There have been a number of approaches taken toward the blind with respect to the accessibility of visual verification. First, companies like Google have thus far chosen to provide absolutely no accessible alternative to their visual verification tests. Second, companies like America Online, Yahoo and even Podcast Alley have chosen to provide an option to get in contact with a live human being who may, eventually, get around to assisting the blind user with the registration process. Unfortunately, these alternatives do not tend to work, forcing the blind person to wait days or even weeks to complete a task a sighted person is allowed to accomplish instantaneously. Of course, that assumes the e-mails or telephone calls are ever returned, which is certainly not always the case. In essence, this approach is often really no better than simply providing no accessibility option at all. In my experience, GoDaddy is the only company that has implemented a “customer service” option to visual verification accessibility that actually works. The phone is always answered at GoDaddy. The calls are taken by the company’s 24×7 technical support call center. Third, some companies, such as Microsoft, PayPal and SpamArrest, really do their best to provide truely independent, instantaneously accessible verification tests that play the characters to be entered as an audio file rather than only displaying the information as a picture. Of course, a multiple choice is usually best: provide the visual verification test that meets the needs of most users, allow the blind to listen to an audio version and provide a way for those unable to do either to contact a live human being to receive prompt service.

You have already done quite a great deal for the blind in the podcasting arena by mentioning us on your Daily Source Code and putting us in touch with the iPod Lemon project, which has resulted in a wonderfully accessible podcatching client. Despite the perception of my previous note of disappointment, I am very appreciative for all you have done and, hopefully, all that you will continue to do to assure that we are able to participate equally in a technology field (digital audio production, podcasting and podcast listening) that should be especially well suited for the blind. I have been registered as a producer on the Podsafe Music Network approximately three and a half days after my completion of the online sign up process. The assistance is appreciated. I understand that improvements to the accessibility of the registration process are now underway. Thanks for helping to facilitate the accessibility of the Podsafe Music Network. I never miss an episode of your show. Keep up the excellent work; podcasting is great!

Best regards,

Darrell

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