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FeedBlitz Adds Audio CAPTCHA, Tears Down "No Blind People Allowed" Sign

September 25, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In a Sept. 24 post on the company’s news blog, the self-proclaimed “Email Marketing Service for Blogs, Social Media and RSS” announced it has added an audio CAPTCHA. This facility delivers an audio alternative to the distorted text sighted users are asked to enter during registration or subscription, permitting access for blind and visually impaired users to the same resources available to the sighted.

“FeedBlitz has added an audio version of the visual CAPTCHA (which has also been slightly updated) used on all FeedBlitz subscription forms,” according to the statement.

The new audio verification system can be heard on the company’s registration page. A clear voice is used to announce the letters and numbers to be entered. No background distortion is heard. Audio playback is delivered in the form of a standard MP3 file that can be opened and played according to the user’s needs and preferences.

FeedBurner, a Google property competing with FeedBlitz in the RSS space, continues to lack audio playback functionality, thus barring access to blind people.

Should Focus be Placed on Concrete Accessibility Issues or on an Abstract Fight Against Blindness Stereotypes?

September 18, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Many in the blind community are enraged after discovering an article entitled How to Care for a Blind Person on a popular how-to Web site, but are the misconceptions and stereotypes found in such content the most important issues we should be addressing? Several blind people have spoken out on Twitter.

“We all have to set our priorities, we think that people need to know that blind people are not retarted invalids,” said Bat. “You can have access to every bit of tech, if people think you are an idiot how much luck do you think you will have?”

Bat continued: “Both (accessibility and perception) are equally important and must be addressed at the same time. Progress in one makes progress in the other easier.”

Ricky Enger said: “The concrete and the abstract are both important. But with concrete battles, seems you always have to start from the ground up. By addressing the underlying abstract concept, which is that we should truly be viewed as equals, the concrete issues take care of themselves. People then address accessibility issues because it makes sense, not because it’s been mandated. Example: we could advocate for access to Kindle all we want. But if people consciously or unconsciously believe that we are all low income and have caregivers, as portrayed in the eHow article, we’ll be perceived as an unimportant share of the market and not worth satisfying until failure to do so brings about legal action.”

“A great mentor of mine always taught me that perception was stronger than reality,” Ranger said. “Swinging at every pitch results in a lower batting average instead of waiting for the right pitch to hit.”

“I think the two are very different issues,” said Steve Sawczyn. “Why choose one or the other? Why not work on both fronts?”

Shannon C. said “Well, the stereotypes should be combatted before accessibility will become a greater issue.”

“No more jobs if the employers think we aren’t competent to hold them, no matter what the accessibility is,” said Buddy Brannan.

Chris Meredith said “I think the stereotypes should be fought concurrent with the concrete issues, because I think they feed on each other.”

“I think they (inaccessibility and stereotypes) are both important and need to be fought equally,” Amber W. said.

Let your voice be heard. Should we focus on combatting inaccessibility, battling stereotypes or both? We await your comments.

Guide Dog Users Group Features Inaccessible Convention Streaming

July 7, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Investigating a report late Sunday evening, we confirmed that GUIDE DOG USERS, INC., an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind is broadcasting its convention using an inaccessible embedded Flash media player. Blind users can listen to the broadcasts but unlabeled buttons provide an inferior experience for the blind as compared to that enjoyed by the sighted.

“We will make efforts to make our site more accessible,” said Bill Clanton, founder and producer of All Pets Radio, the company through which GDUI outsourced the streaming. “Some of the changes you’ve suggested will take some time to redesign, but we want to make All Pets Radio available to all audiences, so we will make the necessary changes.”

“I wonder why they didn’t use ACB Radio for this?” asked Karen Shandrow, a guide dog owner and potential target audience for the broadcasts.

GDUI’s webmaster, Earlene Hughes, was not available for comment.

Newegg Adds Audio CAPTCHA, Demonstrates Ongoing Accessibility Commitment

July 7, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Newegg announced Tuesday that it has implemented audio CAPTCHA on its login page as part of its ongoing commitment to accessibility. The audio playback features an easy-to-understand foreground voice reciting the alphanumeric code to be entered with a background sporting an outdoor sound scheme.

“We at Newegg want to make our website accessible for everyone, including our visually challenged visitors. To demonstrate our commitment, just recently Newegg was awarded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification for implementing Deque System’s Worldspace product,” said an unnamed Newegg representative. “Newegg voluntarily implemented the CAPTCHA on our website. We always appreciate suggestions that make our site more user-friendly and since becoming aware of your comments we have installed the audio CAPTCHA for your use.”

Blind customers appreciate this positive move. “The NewEgg audio CAPTCHA works great, simple, fairly straight forward, and not a million characters to remember!” said Tina Ektermanis, a blind college student who experienced difficulties making a purchase on the site in June.

NFB’s Accessible Convention Broadcasts Highlight the Organization’s Responsiveness

July 7, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

On Sunday, we reported the inaccessibility of the live convention broadcasts of the National Federation of the Blind. A new, accessible streaming option was released by the organization Monday morning.

“You’re 100 percent correct about the inaccessibility of Silverlight. The first time we realized the company who donated the streaming to us used Silverlight was when we saw your blog post,” said Chris Danielsen, NFB’s Director of Public Relations. “The NFB will never purposely launch an inaccessible technology. We make every effort to make sure we’re practicing what we preach. In this situation, we screwed up. But we rectified it immediately.”

We jumped the gun by writing the story without giving NFB officials a chance to remedy the issue.

“You could argue we should have been aware of it, but we weren’t. As soon as we found out about it from you, we rectified it. I wish an e-mail had come to us before the blog post. I wish you would’ve confirmed this before blogging,” Danielsen said. “In the future, please talk to us before calling us out.”

“The fact that the organization was able to remedy the situation very early on when few staff are in their offices is promising,” said Angie Matney, a blind law school graduate and NFB member. “It demonstrates that NFB is committed to ensuring the best possible convention listening experience for all who were unable to attend.”

Thought Provoker: Accessibility Evangelism or Something Else?

July 6, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A reader shared with me her thoughts on the term “accessibility evangelism” as a description of the work I do to promote equal opportunity for the blind through access to information and technology. I have honored her request to remain anonymous.

I don’t like the term evangelism because of the connotation. By definition, evangelism is associated with zealots and fanatics. In my mind, evangelism, zealotry and fanaticism are things you want to stay away from because the connotation is that you will do anything to achieve your goals. The impression the term gives is of a group of people that are willing to go to any lengths to promote accessibility and I think that is a little scary or fanatical. I definitely think that the phrase accessibility evangelism is off putting.   Instead of evangelism, I would suggest champion, proponent, advocate, or campaign.

Another reader, Amber, weighed in with her own thoughts:

Well, in general, evangelism makes me think of those preacher guys on TV, you know the ones who are very powerful preachers and generally I get turned off by that. But I think it’s the term evangelism that makes me think of that.

I guess the term to me would mean someone who works tirelessly to get equal access to services and goods. And that’s not a bad thing, just tireless and thankless.

For example, I wonder if we see the similar thing with African Americans. So many people fought tirelessly for civil rights, but do African Americans think of these things when they vote, sit anywhere in a bus, or run for political office or is it something they take for granted? I’m not saying people need to be overly thankful just remember. This goes for many groups.

Steve asked “are you going to sell me an accessible bible?”

Karen has expressed similar thoughts about associating the term”evangelism” with fallen televangelists like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

On the other hand, an evangelist can be a positive supporter of an operating system or particular technology in the computer industry. There are evangelists for the Apple Macintosh computer, the Linux operating system and the open source software movement. Oracle even has an “accessibility evangelist” on staff who works to ensure the company’s products meet established guidelines and rules like Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Now it’s your turn. What comes to mind when you hear the term “accessibility evangelist”? Do you find this term confusing? Why do you think this term should or should not be used to describe efforts to increase accessibility for the blind? I welcome your comments to this thought provoker.

NFB Provides Fully Accessible 2009 Convention Streaming Option

July 6, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The National Federation of the Blind announced Monday morning that it has made available a fully accessible streaming option for its 2009 national convention.

“We have placed a different streaming link on the home page that should open the stream in the user’s default media player of choice instead of the Silverlight player,” said Chris Danielsen, Director of Public Relations with the National Federation of the Blind. 

“We apologize for any problems that this has caused anybody,” David Andrews, the organization’s webmaster and mailing list administrator, said.

NFB Streams 2009 Convention Using Inaccessible Silverlight Technology

July 5, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In an overwhelming display of hypocrisy, the National Federation of the Blind, claiming to be the representative voice of all blind people in America, has chosen to stream its 2009 national convention using inaccessible Silverlight technology.

While blind people can listen, they can’t control the volume, mute or use any of the player’s controls. While NFB is the primary actor in a lawsuit against Arizona State University over inaccessible textbooks, the organization delivers a listening experience to blind people that is inferior to that provided to the sighted for the purpose of hearing their own convention broadcast live on the net! Shame on the National Federation of the Blind for insisting that others be accessible while failing to practice the very message they claim to preach!

In contrast to NFB’s poor example, The American Council of the Blind is broadcasting their convention coverage live through its long-established ACB Radio outlet using fully accessible technology. We urge all of you to enjoy the ACB convention and use the feedback option, one of the few accessible elements on the NFB’s convention streaming site, to tell the organization’s leadership exactly what you think about their blatant discrimination against the blind community they claim to serve. Choose accessible!

Good Thursday TV Coverage of the Kindle Lawsuit

July 3, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

At around 4:00 Thursday afternoon, I was contacted by Melissa Blasius with Channel 12 News in Phoenix and asked if I could be available at 5:30 to be interviewed for a story that would run on the 10:00 newscast. I discovered I could prepare myself and make the necessary transportation arrangements for this sort of work within one hour after receiving the request.

You may now watch the video of the story on the 10:00 evening news. An article was also written based on this story, though its text is significantly different from the dialogue on the newscast. A copy of the article’s text is provided for easy accessibility.

My thanks go to Chris Skarstad (Toonhead) and CathyAnne Murtha of the Access Technology Institute for their vital assistance making it possible to bring to all of you a direct link to the video despite accessibility issues with the 12 News web site.

Lawsuit says ASU discriminates by using e-books

by Melissa Blasius – Jul. 2, 2009 11:13 PM

12 News

A journalism student has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Arizona State University.

Darrell Shandrow, a junior, wants the university to delay a pilot program for electronic textbooks and readers called Kindles. He says the devices, made by Amazon, are impossible to use by visually-impaired people.

Sandrow, who is blind, says Kindles have a text-to-audio function that can read the books out loud, but he claims on-screen menus have no audio functions. That means he could never navigate to page one. Blind students would have to continue ordering specialty texts in braille or audio formats, and those books can take months to arrive.

Shandrow said, “Asking us to continue on as we’re going is like saying to sighted students you are climbing on to jet age with your e-books, but blind students still need to use the horse and buggy.”

The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which claims ASU’s use of Kindles would put blind students on unequal footing.

An ASU spokesman sent a response to 12 News. It said Kindles would be used “for a single course where students may also access traditional textbooks.”

In the statement, Spokesman Virgil Renzulli also said all campuses have Disability Resource Centers “providing the necessary tools so that all students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to be successful in their academic pursuits.”

Categories: accessibility, Kindle, lawsuit, news, TV