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Using Legal Means to Obtain Satisfactory Settlements of Technology Access Issues?

December 17, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I ask Lainey Feingold for advice on how we might be able to achieve positive settlements of technology accessibility issues. Though I prefer working with the technology industry in a cooperative manner to obtain the accessibility we must ultimately be granted, I am certainly open to considering legal approaches. The issues are just too important for us to ignore as a blind community. Our futures are at stake.

Dear Ms. Feingold,

My name is Darrell Shandrow with the Blind Access Journal blog and podcast, where we hit technology accessibility issues hard and press for positive results in order to retain and improve our ability to participate in an accessible world. It seems that, despite all efforts, the amount of technology to which we are able to access with screen readers is shrinking on a minute-by-minute basis. I have recently learned of your accomplishments with the inaccessible Walmart debit card machines and was wondering what advice you may have for dealing with these accessibility issues from a legal or other basis.

Here are just a few examples of serious technology accessibility issues currently on the radar screen:

Software from companies such as Siebel is still being implemented by employers in ways that are inaccessible, even when making reasonable adjustments would be easily done, causing an inability to obtain employment or the loss of existing gainful employment for the blind.

Many companies are moving to the use of visual verification schemes to improve the security of the services they offer. Since most of these CAPTCHA implementations provide no accessible alternative, the blind are being increasingly locked out of the ability to register at many web sites and, at times, even the ability to do business is severely abridged or made completely impossible for the blind. While some accessible alternatives allow independent access through an audio playback of the characters to be entered, others require a separate manual process that is almost never followed through by the company while most simply provide no accessibility at all. Examples of offenders are Digg.com, FEMA, GoDaddy, Google, The U.S. Postal Service, Yahoo and many, many more!

There are also many companies that are simply developing their products and services without any consideration of accessibility, then failing to address the issues as they are brought to attention. Examples of offending hardware that is completely inaccessible would be many appliance manufacturers, most of Apple’s iPod and similar hardware lines, and so many others I just couldn’t begin to count. Software issues are similarly numerous, including Intuit’s Quicken and QuickBooks, numerous software development environments, many Java based applications and many more examples abound. Finally, it seems that more and more web based services are using AJAX, Flash, Microsoft .Net, and other programming languages and techniques in ways that make them completely or partially inaccessible. Again, in almost every case, requests for increased accessibility simply fall on deaf ears or otherwise receive lipservice which is never followed through to a positive conclusion. Offenders in this category include Google’s Gmail, Yahoo’s mail service, Podshow’s Podsafe Music Network, some difficulties with Microsoft’s live services and many, many more.

I am extremely concerned about the certain tragic consequences that will result if we don’t figure out some way to start gaining a foothold in our accessibility evangelism efforts very, very soon. We will, in a hurry, find ourselves not only locked out of the ability to learn and work but even to enjoy any sort of leisure activities if we don’t start seeing some real, significant positive changes in the area of technology accessibility. We currently endure a 75 percent unemployment rate in the blind community. Let’s all get ready to see that number climb much higher in the near future if we don’t start getting a handle on this stuff.

Thanks for any and all advice you can provide in our efforts to evangelize for accessibility and actually get results. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

All the best,

Darrell Shandrow

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