It is confirmed! The debut of the Desert Cafe will happen on Friday morning, August 4, starting at 15:00 Universal Time (8:00 AM Pacific, 9:00 AM Mountain, 10:00 AM Central and 11:00 Eastern) and running for three hours. I hope all who read this blog and listen to the podcast will join me Friday morning on ACB Radio Interactive for some fun music and stimulating talk. While listening, you will be invited to send me your requests and dedications via e-mail or MSN / Windows Live Messenger. See you all there! This is only a cover slot, not a permanent show time. Please stay tuned to the ACBRI schedule for future show times as I cover for other members of the broadcasting team.
I am now a member of the ACB Radio Interactive team of broadcasters. After an audition last Thursday evening, my acceptance was confirmed yesterday. The name of the show will be The Desert Cafe. In the beginning, this show will cover for other broadcasters as needed, but I hope to have a permanent time slot in the near future. Review the show description, Stay tuned to Blind Access Journal and the ACB Radio Interactive schedule for show times and, of course, listen to the show!
Take a seat at the Desert Cafe. Enjoy POP and R&B music from the 1960’s through today along with talk about accessibility advocacy, blindness issues, arts, entertainment, hobbies, recreation and, of course, the latest technology news.
We have received a report that eBay may have recently implemented an audio playback alternative to their CAPTCHA for use by blind and visually impaired customers. The characters are spoken with background audio to prevent recognition by scripts and other automated processes that may employ speech recognition. Blind and visually impaired eBay customers are asked to confirm this positive accessibility move on the company’s part and provide any additional information they may have on the reliability and usability of the new audio playback CAPTCHA.
If you run JAWS 7.1, pick up Freedom Scientific’s first automatic update patch to fix 20 known bugs.
Google Labs has just released an experimental application of its search technology known as Google Accessible Search to provide the blind and visually impaired with a way to find the most accessible content. Like Google’s standard search engine, Accessible Search provides the most relevant results for the words typed in to its edit box. Unlike the standard search, however, Accessible Search further prioritizes the results by placing those from the most accessible web sites at the top. My initial impression of this new project is quite positive. I urge everyone to try Google Accessible Search and comment on its effectiveness for you.
Microsoft Adds Yahoo! Messenger Users to Windows Live Messenger, Makes Instant Messaging Even More Accessible
We already know how the accessibility of Windows Live Messenger allows blind and visually impaired people to communicate instantaneously with millions of other computer users around the world. Now, Microsoft and Yahoo! have expanded this capability to include users of Yahoo! Messenger. That’s right! Windows Live Messenger users may now communicate seemlessly with users of Yahoo! Messenger. This development represents an unexpected improvement in the overall accessibility of instant messaging applications for the blind. As compared with AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger, the Yahoo! Messenger has always represented a less accessible instant messaging path for blind users. When it was necessary to communicate with Yahoo Messenger users, the blind had to cope with an inadequately supported application or ask the Yahoo! users to switch to a more accessible instant messaging client. This problem is now firmly in the past! Simply add Yahoo! Messenger users to your Windows Live Messenger contact list and start communicating with them in an accessible environment! See Talk to your Yahoo! friends from Windows Live Messenger for more information, sign up for the beta, restart Windows Live Messenger and start chatting with your long lost Yahoo! Messenger pals today.
I have officially become a member of BITS (Blind Information Technology Specialists), an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. This means I have reversed my original policy of neutrality with respect to blindness organizations, choosing not to remain “on the fence” so to speak. Though I continue to believe much effective advocacy can be accomplished individually and across organizations within the blind community, it is also important to be involved in one of the two most significant American blindness organizations to have the greatest possible impact.
Just in case anyone still thinks a process requiring manual human intervention is acceptable to provide accessibility to visual verification, please allow me to share yet another example of how this does not work for blind and visually impaired web site users. If you need Earthlink’s help, nobody is home and the company doesn’t care.
Earthlink provides its customers with e-mail spam blocking features. At the highest setting, the company’s spam blocker requires the sender of an e-mail to an Earthlink customer to verify they are a real human being rather than an automated program. Once that verification is made, the sender is placed on the customer’s approved list. It is not possible to get on the Earthlink customer’s approved list of senders unless you first pass the verification process. Without verification, your message is quite likely never to reach its intended recipient. As one might expect, the verification process involves the use of a visual CAPTCHA. One must be able to see a picture of a string of characters and enter them in to an edit box in a form to proceed. If you are visually impaired, a special link is provided pointing to a live text-based chat facility where, supposedly, one can receive help completing this process.
While following a thread discussing Earthlink on one of the blindness mailing lists, I took it upon myself to send an e-mail to Rosemary Jean-Louis, one of the company’s media relations people. As would be expected, I received one of these verification requests. Following the process laid out for visually impaired users, I clicked the appropriate link to begin the live chat. Alas, after more than an hour, I am still waiting for an Earthlink employee to actually begin their end of the chat session!
This incident is yet one more example of how we as blind people must not accept either total inaccessibility of CAPTCHA or the manual human intervention process of accomodation. In many cases, the human assistance is simply never provided, or it is ultimately offered in a manner that cannot be considered timely by any stretch of the imagination. We as blind and visually impaired human beings must absolutely insist on our equal rights to participate in this area of technology. We must ask, and demand if necessary, full and timely access to the same online resources as our sighted peers. This must extend to the accessibility of CAPTCHA schemes.
As it stands right now, Earthlink’s arrangements for providing accessibility to CAPTCHA are totally unacceptable, as they essentially amount to no access at all. The company also has other serious accessibility issues, including the specialized software it provides its customers and its new web mail user interface. Adding insult to injury, it appears to be impossible for us to send an e-mail to the company for the purpose of expressing our concerns and gaining perspective on Earthlink’s position on accessibility. What should we do about Earthlink and similar companies, who persistently and, thus far, successfully ignore the accessibility needs of the blind and visually impaired? The following is a copy of the note I sent to Rosemary Jean-Louis this morning concerning Earthlink’s inaccessible CAPTCHA. Please feel free to share your thoughts.
July 18, 2006
Dear Ms. Jean-Louis:
My name is Darrell Shandrow from the Blind Access Journal. We are a blind community resource that reports and promotes positive action on behalf of the blind and visually impaired to resolve technology accessibility concerns that serve to constrain us from full participation in society. Unfortunately, Earthlink has garnered some negative attention in this area.
Earthlink employs a CAPTCHA (visual verification) scheme for functions such as sign up and spam blocking. In order to complete these functions, the user must be physically able to see a picture of a string of characters, then enter those characters in to an edit box in order to pass the test. Passing the CAPTCHA test is required in order to be granted access to send an e-mail to many of Earthlink’s customers. These CAPTCHAs present an absolute barrier to entry for blind and visually impaired users, who are physically unable to see the picture of the text. This effectively means blind and visually impaired Internet users are not allowed to send e-mail to hundreds of thousands of Earthlink customers.
CAPTCHA can be made more accessible, thus reducing or eliminating the barrier to entry for blind and visually impaired users. An audio playback of the characters can be provided as an accessible alternative to the visual CAPTCHA. One of Earthlink’s competitors, America Online, provides this reasonable accomodation. Other companies, including Google, Microsoft and SpamArrest, also provide an audio playback of their CAPTCHAs. Please see the CAPTCHA article on Wikipedia for some additional detail on CAPTCHA, its impact on users with disabilities and links to information on making it more accessible.
Many people inside and outside the blind community have grown to consider inaccessible CAPTCHAs to represent “no blind people allowed” signs in much the same way as the “no blacks allowed” signs of segregation in the 1960’s and earlier. Locking out and segregating people with disabilities would seem to represent a “bad mistake” in Earthlink’s core values.
I would like to interview someone from your company to discuss Earthlink’s position on the continued use of inaccessible CAPTCHA as well as any plans the company might have to resolve this problem in the near future. Such an interview would be published on the Blind Access Journal podcast as well as other parts of the connected online blind community. I look forward to hearing from a company representative of sufficient authority in the next two weeks.
Listen as I chat about the online coverage of the recently concluded NFB and ACB blindness organization conventions. I continue to be disappointed with the complete lack of coverage provided by NFB. I also briefly touch on the safe return of the Space Shuttle Discovery and the current war in the Middle East. I may also soon be broadcasting on ACB Radio Interactive. Your thoughts on a name for the new show are quite welcome. Enjoy the show and please comment.