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As of Thursday evening, October 12, the programmers at BlogLines have pushed out changes that have once again restored accessibility of the service to blind and visually impaired Internet users. In fact, these changes serve to make a portion of the service even more accessible than it had been in the past. The following modifications have been made:
- The image icons used to collapse and expand the My Feeds tree view have once again been turned into links that may be selected by pressing enter.
- The collapse / expand icons now incorporate an alt tag that changes dynamically, announcing the name of the feed being expanded or collapsed.
- The headings on the collapse / expand icons have been changed to divisions, restoring our ability to practically navigate the list of articles for a selected feed using the heading navigation commands provided by screen readers.
We thank Ben Lowery and his team of developers for making these crucial changes, once again restoring BlogLines to us as the most accessible web-based RSS aggregator for the blind and visually impaired.
The following article is a modified version of a letter I wrote to someone in response to a recent unfortunate incident involving the demands we sometimes receive from others with respect to providing assistance. Though we all wish we could, we are just not able to do everything right now, on demand in exactly the time frames wanted by others in the blind community. I would be interested in any comments from the readership.
We have day jobs, family obligations and many other items on our plates that constrain our abilities to help everyone in the blind community
as much as we might like. Though we are certainly willing to do our best to help everyone who asks, we are not obligated. All our efforts in the blind community are voluntary. We are not paid to do accessibility advocacy, broadcast on ACB Radio, run our blogs and podcasts or provide anyone with technical support assistance. In fact, our volunteer participation in the blind community is a money loser for us. Audio production equipment, computers, Internet connectivity, software, web hosting and all the other things that go into our volunteer work cost money that is almost never recovered. Even more importantly, our volunteer efforts cost time we could otherwise be spending with our families or in paid consulting work. Though we are willing to help if we can, it is inappropriate and rude for anyone to demand that we do so in any particular case. Further, we are not the only resources at your disposal. Please feel free to subscribe to BlindTech and other relevant mailing lists to ask your questions in a more appropriate tone that will encourage your blind brothers and sisters to help you.
Check out this incredibly disturbing story of four blind and visually impaired employees who lost their jobs due in large part to the purchasing and implementation of inaccessible technology without consideration of our needs. It seems the VA Medical Center decided it might be appropriate and acceptable to simply throw away these people like yesterday’s newspaper. In many cases, we are the only ones who will suffer consequences. I hope the Federation’s lawsuit is successful, the medical center pays for their wrongdoing and valuable lessons are learned about making sure the technology required on the job is made reasonably accessible.
Louisville Courier-Journal, KY, USA
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Vision-impaired workers sue over job loss
By Patrick Howington
Four released from VA Medical Center
Lonnie Swafford, who is legally blind, was a switchboard operator at the VA Medical Center in Louisville for more than three years. But that ended last fall when the Department of Veterans Affairs decided it shouldn’t rely on blind people for the job.
That was discrimination, Swafford and three other operators who lost their jobs contend in a recent lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson. The change of workers was triggered by the medical center’s switch last year to a different alarm system. The VA said the new system required that switchboard operators, who monitor alarms and issue alerts to hospital personnel, have good vision. The lawsuit says the VA could have altered the system so that vision-impaired people could monitor alarms more effectively, but chose not to.
Even without such adaptations, legally blind operators manned the new system for several months with no problems before they were let go, said Swafford, 25. “All of us had been in this job with no problems for years,” he said. “I feel angered. I feel like we were excluded just because of our visual impairment.” “I was still able to function and do my job,” said Charla Shown, another former VA operator. Because she is totally blind she didn’t monitor the screens, but performed other functions such as issuing alerts.
Shown, 52, said she lost her apartment because she couldn’t pay the rent after losing her job. She moved in with a daughter, while her 18-year-old son who had lived with her moved in with his older brother. “It’s a big change, not having your own place. But we have to do what we gotta do.”
Shown, Swafford and other blind operators were replaced by people with other disabilities, under a government program to provide such employment opportunities. The VA Medical Center and the Department of Veterans Affairs declined to comment because the litigation is pending. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville by an attorney for the National Federation for the Blind. It has five plaintiffs — the four former operators and another man who kept his position but claims he was denied a promotion because of poor vision. The Department of Veterans Affairs hasn’t yet submitted a response to the complaint, which was filed Aug. 14. That’s because the department hasn’t been served with a copy of the complaint, a spokesman said.
Swafford and the other former operators were employed by Raleigh Lions Clinic for the Blind, which had a contract to provide switchboard operators for the center, 800 Zorn Ave. The nonprofit North Carolina agency is associated with National Industries for the Blind. Under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, federal agencies must purchase some services from nonprofit organizations that employ blind or disabled people, including agencies in National Industries for the Blind’s network. In addition to working the phone system at the medical center, Raleigh’s operators monitored alarm systems that detected fires, patient emergencies and other problems. That involved reading text messages on screens at their desks. Swafford said he and two other legally blind operators could see well enough to do that, sometimes using magnifiers.
“They were good employees,” said Janet Griffey, president and chief executive of Raleigh Lions Clinic for the Blind. “I even offered jobs to them here in Raleigh.” But in spring 2005 the center installed a new fire and security alarm system, Swafford said. Instead of a screen at a desk, it displayed messages on a wall panel, he said. Swafford, who has 20/600 vision in one eye and none in the other, said he could read the panel, but had to walk across the room to do so. He said two other former operators had better sight than he does.
Swafford said the three were able to use the new system, but the VA didn’t give them a chance to prove it. When the contract with Raleigh came up for renewal, the VA specified that one operator on each shift must have 20/70 vision or better, the lawsuit says. That effectively kept blind operators from working the evening and overnight shifts, since only one operator works then, the lawsuit says.
Raleigh lost the contract last fall to Employment Source, a Fayetteville, N.C., agency that employs workers with disabilities — but with sight. Employment Source is affiliated with NISH, formerly called National Industries for the Severely Handicapped. Employment Source’s president declined to be interviewed.
Swafford and Cathy Jackson, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky, said the VA could have adapted the new alarm system for vision-impaired employees. Technology exists to translate written alarms into spoken ones, Swafford said. The National Federation of the Blind has a department that researches such adaptations, Jackson said. “They chose not to ask anyone who is blind, who works with the blind, any of these questions,” Jackson said. “They just said it couldn’t be done, and that was that.”
“I understand where the VA was coming from, to a degree, as far as it being a safety concern,” Swafford said. But in their months of monitoring alarms under the new system, the blind operators “demonstrated that we were able to do it.” The lawsuit seeks to recover lost wages and benefits and other damages.
Swafford now works at a Citigroup call center in eastern Jefferson County. He said he earns less money, but has better benefits. He bought his Clifton-area house so he could walk to his job at the medical center, Swafford said. Now he rides the bus or with a co-worker. “I got a feeling of satisfaction with helping the veterans,” Swafford said. “To be honest, it may have been a better move in the long run, to go to where I am now. But still, it doesn’t justify what happened.”
Reporter Patrick Howington can be reached at (502) 582-4229.
Many of us have relied on BlogLines to read and organize our blogs and other RSS feeds. Unfortunately, recent changes to the service have rendered it virtually inaccessible to those of us who rely on screen readers to access our computing world. Despite attempts at contact by several blind and visually impaired users, BlogLines has, thus far, persistently turned a blind eye and deaf ears to our accessibility concerns. Perhaps, the BlogLines folks just aren’t hearing from enough of us to make the right decision to take our needs seriously. I urge all blind and visually impaired BlogLines users to take two actions right now. First, use the contact form to ask the BlogLines developers to restore and insure continued accessibility to the service for everyone, including those of us whom happen to be blind or visually impaired. Second, write a short note to Darcy Cobb, the press contact for Ask.com (the owner of BlogLines.com), letting her know about the loss of accessibility and asking her to investigate the matter for the sake of the company’s positive ongoing public relations.
If any response is received from Ask.com or the BlogLines people directly, either positive or negative, please report it to us so that we may either take the appropriate additional actions or thank the appropriate people for doing the right thing. The BlogLines folks don’t understand what they have done to us. They may not be hearing from a sufficient amount of people to make the proper decision to take us seriously. Let’s fix that by constantly sending them accessibility requests from as many blind and visually impaired, and those who care about us, as possible to get our point across effectively.
Thanks for reading and, hopefully, for taking the actions necessary to restore access to a useful resource.
The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado is pleased to announce that we will be streaming this year’s state convention on the Internet. The stream will be available on Friday the 6th of October from 11 A.M. until 1 P.M. for the initial session and the legislative lunch. It will then be available all day Saturday for the general sessions and the banquet. The final day is Sunday. The stream will be up from 9:00 until 11:30 A.M.
You will need either Winamp or Windows Media Player to listen to this stream. We can support a maximum of 30 listeners at any given time. If you hear a message stating that the stream is either down or full, please try again in a few minutes.
Over the past week, I have heard from several blind people concerning recent changes made to sports related web sites, including the American Hockey League, that resulted in their becoming largely useless to blind web surfers. I decided to do some basic initial advocacy by writing a letter to Infinity Pro Sports, the designers of the AHL web site, asking them to consider making accessibility enhancements to their sites and providing resources and suggestions for getting started effectively. In less than a day’s time, I received a note from Uri Geva, President of Infinity Pro Sports, indicating a commitment on the company’s part to make the American Hockey League and other web sites they develop accessible in the very near future. I responded with a nice, short thank-you note.
We’ll be watching for improved accessibility to the American Hockey League and other sports related web sites very soon. Like our sighted peers, many blind and visually impaired people enjoy participating in or watching sports. This includes all the associated online activities. It stands to reason that all possible attempts should be made to insure our ability to participate on terms of equality with the sighted when it comes to sports related web sites, and we hope this commitment by Infinity Pro Sports represents just one of many more steps in the right direction.