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Podsafe for Peace Inaccessibility: The Controversy That Refuses to Go Away

December 13, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I just posted the following note on the blindcasting mailing list, a discussion group for blind podcasters, in response to the ongoing Podsafe for Peace inaccessibility controversy.

Hi all,

I know Jeff asked for the end of this thread a couple of days ago, yet I just can’t allow the ongoing condemnations and misunderstandings of me and all I am trying to accomplish to go on and on unchallenged. Though I am sure most of you have decided you’re not interested, I am nevertheless going to lay out all the facts as I understand them, then explain the rationale behind my making such an issue of the accessibility problems surrounding Podsafe for Peace for what it is or is not worth to most of you whom seem to have already made up your minds.

Podsafe for Peace is a We Are the World type benefit by podcasters featuring a lot of Podsafe musicians getting together to sing and disseminate a song written and composed originally by Jerry Halatyn and another person. The project is endorsed by Adam Curry and Podshow. The song is available on the Podsafe Music Network (which remains inaccessible to the blind) as well as for PayPal purchase on a web site that does happen to be accessible. Blindcasters may send e-mail directly to Slau for a copy of the track to be played on their podcast. Proceeds from the purchase of this song are going to UNICEF, though this project is, in no way shape or form, officially endorsed by the charity.

On the morning of Sunday, December 4, Jeff Bishop created a fair way to make the Podsafe for Peace track directly and immediately available to blindcasters for download from his web site after providing their name and e-mail addresses for reporting purposes. A reasonable effort was made to insure the track could not be downloaded without completing the form, and language was clearly included concerning the need to report all podplay to music@podshow.com. The system was set up to work around the current inaccessibility of the Podsafe Music Network both for registration (due to inaccessible visual verification) and overall use as we are currently not able to add songs to our playlists once we do manage to get manually registered. More than 60 blind people downloaded the song from using this system. Some were podcasters, while others were not.

On Sunday night, Slau was featured on Marlaina’s show on ACB Radio. I called in to thank Jeff Bishop for his efforts to make this project equally accessible to the blind. I was under the mistaken impression that, despite the inaccessibility of PMN, the blind would, in fact, be permitted full and equal participation in this fun, benefitial project. Sadly, I was to learn in a hurry that my optimism would be quite short lived.

Only a few hours after implementation of this accessible work around, pressure was applied by Slau to require PMN registration despite its current inaccessibility. Even after that change was made, additional pressure was applied to make other changes, such as a request to add a prompt for the downloader’s podcast feed. Within only a couple of days, Jeff simply removed the accessibility to the track from his web site altogether. As is usually the case, the needs and wants of all others trumped our need for equal accessibility and full participation.

Slau is a blind musician who relies on assistive technology such as screen reading software in order to do his job and enjoy the technological part of his life. It is quite reasonable to expect that a blind brother would do everything possible to insure a project he leads is made accessible to the blind. Certainly, it is quite disappointing and unexpected for such a person to take steps to thwart a fairly implemented accessibility work around due to one or two potential concerns that did not even actually come to fruition!

On the Blind Access Journal blog and podcast, as well as the blindcasting mailing list, I called Slau out on the carpet for his errors with respect to failing to take care of the accessibility needs of his blind brothers and sisters. A few days of controversy persisted, largely confined to the blind community, before starting to die down.

On the evening of Saturday, December 10, while checking my e-mail after a great day visiting with the Bishop family, I read a private e-mail from Slau telling me how hurt and insulted he was that I displayed my disappointment in him. I sent him a private response. On Sunday morning, December 11, Slau inappropriately decided to make our private correspondence extremely public by sending it not only to the blindcasting list, but also directly to Adam Curry, C.C. Chapman, Marlaina and Jeff! This improper action added fuel to an otherwise dying fire and served to take the controversy far outside our blind community.

This is where we stand now. Podsafe for Peace is accessible to blindcasters either by way of an e-mail to Slau or by purchase from the podsafeforpeace.org web site. In all fairness to Slau, he is reasonably prompt in his response by blindcasters, providing a link to the song within approximately 90 minutes of my request. This remains far from the equal access Jeff provided, or which would be provided had only the developers of PMN appropriately considered the need for accessibility during the design and implementation of that service! A task a sighted person is able to accomplish within five minutes required more than 90 minutes for a blind person to be permitted the same result.

Most of the blind community is squarely opposed to me and all for which I stand. I am apparently “militant” and unwilling to work cooperatively with others to achieve accessibility. The blind community will prop up any blind person who accomplishes something, even if that person failed to appropriately consider the needs of his own blind brothers and sisters! The community will also quickly and easily slam anyone (over a single controversy) who is working very hard to look out for their accessibility needs without doing their research and having all their facts straight!

For the record, some may consider portions of my accessibility evangelism to be “militant”. I prefer to think of it as insistent. Of course, most of my work is actually quite conciliatory and diplomatic, working to raise awareness of assistive technology and accessibility, asking the mainstream technology industry to consider our needs for accessibility and rationally explaining the human rights aspect of insuring that the blind aren’t simply left out in the cold while technology advances without us, thus threatening to destroy our ability to learn, work and enjoy leisure activities. From this controversy, I have learned a couple of critical lessons. First, keep in mind that your private communications can be made public at any time and in the most inopportune manner possible. Second, the blind community is mostly made up of clueless, immature, selfish, sheltered, ungrateful people, living in their own little fantasy worlds, willing to attack, at a moment’s notice, anything they do not immediately understand!

Merry Christmas my blind brothers and sisters. Have a nice life in your shrinking, increasingly inaccessible world!

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2 opinions on “Podsafe for Peace Inaccessibility: The Controversy That Refuses to Go Away

  1. Hi,

    I have been following this controversy somewhat, though I certainly have not read all the list messages. After reading your message, and getting the song myself, I have a couple of remaining questions:
    1. I would be curious as to Jeff Bishop’s comments on the matter. I don’t know if he has commented, or if I have just missed his remarks;
    2. I requested the song after Jeff’s link had been taken down. I made my request via email. I received the download link with in the same day. I don’t recall exactly how long it took. I gather that you are upset that under Jeff’s solution we had immediate access, and under this email method the access takes longer? But you also say that you think the email access solution is at least reasonably accommodating.

    I do agree with you in the concept you raised in that with a lot of things, the inconvenience related to accessibility is made to impact the user who is blind more than other stakeholders in the process. For example, in this case, they could have left the downloadable track via Jeff’s method up online. This would in a sense make it easier for blind podcasters, and the difficulty or inconvenience would be more on the shoulders of the project. I imagine the difficulty or inconvenience they feared was that just anybody would download the track who was not blind. But the inconvenience, difficulty, or extra steps were moved and shouldered by the user who is blind rather than some other stakeholder in the process.

    One thing I have also not read is a well written articulate summary of why people are upset with you over this issue. I guess one could argue that it is a minor thing, and that it was not done with malicious intent, or that it was not a battle worth picking among many possible battles over accesssibility. However, again, it might be helpful if you provided a link to someone who clearly articulates why they are opposed to the methodology that you employed in this situation.

    It does seem that accessibility was done as an afterthought, and that you called Jerry out on the carpet for not making accessibility a more fundamental part of his project, and for again making the blind people rather than other stakeholders shoulder the inconvenience however minor it might be. In many aspects involving life of people who are blind, society or whatever institutions that are in place ask the person who is blind to jump through hoops rather than say having society or the institution in question jump through the hoops. I would be curious if people who are opposed to your viewpoint would advocate that it is ok that people who are blind should be the party in whatever transaction it is to jump through extra hoops to get something done.

  2. I would just like to make a quick comment if I may. I am not impaired visually at all however I stumbled across your blog and have just read about the post you made to the mailing list.

    I would like to say that I feel it’s not the point as to whether or not the content is still available to you, it’s that it’s as easy!

    For example, I am a strong supporter of standards etc and HATE it when sites only offer media that is viewable in a Microsoft Windows environment. I use Linux and while there are ways I can get around it that’s not the point. Why not just provide things in a format that is equally available to most.

    I obviously understand that you can’t be accessable to EVERYONE for some people don’t have computers etc but HTML is a standard. If you choose not to use that standard, then you limit the people who can access the content.

    It’s no good saying “If you don’t have Internet Explorer then Email us and we’ll send you a copy of the website that’s viewable in your browser or operating system”. It’s no different than having a store without wheel chair access and saying “we can bring you out pictures of our products”.

    I suppose it’s their parogative if they want to limit access to a certain group but there’s clearly NO reason to limit in this particular situation.

    I think you’ve done the right job speaking up. I am sad to say that I have not always considered people you require accessability tools when designing my websites and programs etc and if it wasn’t for people standing up and saying “HEY, we want to have access to this content too” then you and your “brothers” may indeed be left behind as a minority just as non-Windows users are too.

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents worth.

    Regards,

    Todd Harbour

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