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Let Your Voices be Heard at Foursquare

November 3, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The popular Foursquare iPhone app used all over the world to check into and learn about new places is usable by blind people, but it’s accessibility could be significantly improved by the developers.

A new topic was posted Tuesday on Foursquare’s Get Satisfaction forum asking for labeled buttons, fields and other controls to reduce confusion and make the iPhone app easier to use for blind people who rely on Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader.

We ask all who regularly read this journal or follow us on Twitter to review this topic and leave your own comments. This app has featured many unlabeled controls for a long time now. It’s only through vigorous participation that we’re going to get Foursquare to pay attention to our concerns and fix the accessibility issues.

Letter to Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan About the Need for Accessibility

September 17, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Many of you will note that, recently, I have been posting comments on Twitter about my journalism school’s lack of accessibility. These comments were driven by my frustration with what I perceived to be the school’s lack of interest in improving the accessibility of its websites and other technology resources as evidenced by its ignoring and failing to take seriously previous correspondence I have undertaken with Dean Christopher Callahan.

In response to my tweets, I began receiving direct messages from Dean Callahan expressing concerns and disappointment with my approach to these issues. Haven’t I heard that before?

Stating he had previously invited me to meet with him to discuss solutions, he did so again. I never received that previous invitation. I’m not saying it was not sent, just that I did not, for whatever reason, receive the message.

Those of you who truly know how I approach these matters also know that I never take a fighting stance with anyone who is constructively engaging with me or others to improve accessibility. Doing so would be counterproductive and undeserved. The hammer approach is reserved strictly for those who outright ignore me or who show the bravery to actually make a statement justifying their ongoing discrimination against and exclusion of blind people from full participation through inaccessibility.

Trusting that Dean Callahan previously sent a constructive invitation to engage in discussions, I apologized for the character of my Twitter posts and agreed to an Oct. 5 meeting to discuss how the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication can successfully address accessibility in light of its stated diversity policies.

As part of that correspondence with Dean Callahan, I restated an earlier promise to send him an accessibility assessment of one of the school’s websites along with useful resources for making websites accessible. The following letter, sent to Dean Callahan Friday afternoon, fulfills that promise and serves as my ongoing effort to work with the Cronkite School to become more accessible to faculty, staff and students with disabilities and to educate future online media content creators and editors about the need to make sure their work is accessible to all audience members.

Hello Dean Callahan,

As you have requested, please find two examples of accessible media websites along with some resources that can be useful in making the Web more accessible to people with disabilities.

BBC

The BBC works to make its Web presence accessible. Although it is not perfect in all respects, their efforts are evolving in the right direction.

Here is a link to BBC’s accessibility help page.

The key point to be clearly understood is that BBC publicly states that it cares about accessibility and works to make positive changes in that area so as to include members of its audience who have disabilities.

National Public Radio

NPR also makes the bulk of its Web presence accessible, although it doesn’t state it as loudly as does BBC.

The organization offers a text-only site.

The use of text-only sites is controversial, and I personally disagree with the practice, as the tendency is to update the “graphical” site without providing exactly the same content on the often-forgotten text-only edition. When this oversight is noted, it represents a separate-but-unequal situation which was banned by the Supreme Court in the 1960s as it was being applied in the segregation of African-Americans.

Accessibility Assessment of CronkiteNewsOnline.com

There are a number of unfortunate elements on the Cronkite News website that currently make it difficult to use for blind readers. Further, it seems recent updates to the site are making it even less accessible.

Missing Alt Tags for Graphics

The most obvious accessibility concern with the site is the lack of descriptive alt text tags for images. These HTML tags can provide a text-based description for graphics and they should be used for all important images on a site.

The site’s navigation area sounds like this for a blind screen-reader user:

nav/home
nav/about
nav/stories
nav/newswatch
nav/news21
nav/cronkite
nav/contact

Although this is not a show stopper, the presentation could be easily improved by simply adding appropriate descriptive alt text tags to those graphics.

Other missing alt tags are more serious, as there is no way to determine the content to which they will link unless the user simply follows the link to find out. That’s not right unless a sighted user must play the same guessing game.

For example, a link near the text about downloading mobile apps just says “img/front_cn.” What’s that?

Even the link that says “img/front_azfactcheck” won’t be clear to most readers.

Navigating Stories

Navigating to and reading stories is possible by tabbing to and pressing enter on links, but it could be far better. Consider using headings on the titles for each story. When this is done, as is the case on many blogs and some other media websites, blind and sighted users alike can more easily and quickly move from story to story.

Video Links Next to Stories

A link that happens to be missing its alt text tag, “img/icon-video,” appears next to most stories on the site. Pressing enter on that link seems to do nothing, although it’s clearly meant to allow the viewer to watch a video. What is this link supposed to do once clicked?

Reading and Watching Stories

There are difficulties once a story has been opened for reading or viewing.

Let’s take the Sept. 16 story titled Ranked No. 1 in country for West Nile virus, Arizona is fighting back as an example.

A link at the top of the story is missing its alt text tag. It says “09/16-westnile-video img/tp24.” What does this mean exactly? Clicking the link seems to do nothing.

A text link labeled “watch now” also seems to go nowhere.

It is clear that some sort of video player is being used which doesn’t work on all systems.

What technology is being used to play videos on the site? Is it Flash or Silverlight?

There are some steps that can be taken to make multimedia sites more accessible.

Please see the resources coming right up.

Web Accessibility Resources

These resources are simply examples of sites that provide best practices and other information about making websites accessible.

Accessibility in the Cronkite School Curriculum

Finally, I am deeply concerned about the lack of attention to accessibility in the teaching of classes like JMC 305, JMC 460 and the Saturday online media academies.

Many resources exist for developers to make their sites accessible. Why not include some assignments and good information about accessibility in these courses? After all, creators of online media are going to find themselves confronting organizations and people who advocate staunchly for accessibility and are thus going to find themselves directed by corporate management types who wish to avoid lawsuits, public relations disasters and other similar risks to their bottom lines.

Best regards,

Darrell

After reading the letter, I invite all of you to comment. What did you like? What didn’t you like? What additional resources might help a journalism school make its technology accessible or educate others on accessibility? As always, the door hangs wide open and awaits your constructive feedback.

Apple Needs to Refund VoiceOver Users for Inaccessible Apps

August 15, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

By guest writer Michael Hansen.

With the release of IM+ Pro—an instant messaging client for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad—with VoiceOver support, I got to thinking: I don’t mind paying $10 to an app developer for an app with full VoiceOver accessibility. However, I do mind paying any amount to a developer for an application that I cannot use. The exception is @Planetbeing’s Signal app, which I would buy regardless because he and the Dev Team have done the jailbreak community a great service with all of their hard work on jailbreaks/unlocks for the iOS platform. @Planetbeing’s app aside (which I haven’t bought yet because I cannot currently access Cydia with VoiceOver), I see no reason to pay for an application that I cannot use, be it an iPhone app or something for my Windows computer.

Palringo Poses Problems

Within the last couple weeks, I purchased Palringo Instant Messenger Premium, developed by Palringo Limited, from the iTunes Store. I was able to log into AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), but was not able to log into Facebook. VoiceOver reported “Facebook…logging in,” when I tapped that icon. Even after I confirmed that Palringo accessing Facebook was okay (my account had been frozen because Facebook had not recognized Palringo) I still got the same “logging in” message.

Accessibility Problems Start With AIM

In AIM, the situation was different but no less problematic. While I was able to access my contacts list and receive messages, I was unable to read the messages—VoiceOver would read the contact’s name but not the message itself. There went $4.99. Thanks, Palringo.

Apple Grants One-Time Refund for Palringo…Grudgingly

This afternoon, I contacted Apple through the iTunes Store to request a refund for Palringo Instant Messenger Premium, due to inaccessibility. In an e-mail sent at 6:22 PM CDT today, Apple said they would reverse the charge for Palringo Instant Messenger Premium—just this one time.

“I’m sorry to hear that you can’t use ‘Palringo Instant Messenger Premium’ with your device,” said Lilly, the iTunes Customer Support representative who responded to my request. “Please note that The iTunes Store Terms of Sale state that all sales are final, so this is a one-time exception.”

So what does Apple expect the blindness community to do? Pay for apps and not be able to use them? Install pirated versions to try them out before buying them in the app store? I don’t think so.

Apple needs to consistently provide refunds to VoiceOver users for inaccessible apps—it’s as simple as that. I will never download pirated applications, but honestly, given that Apple does not have an app trial service, I’m not surprised that Piracy is as big as it is—the lack of a trial service effects many more people than just VoiceOver users. It is in Apple’s best interests, no matter what way they look at it, to institute a trial service—the Android folks have already figured that one out.

I also think that Apple should require developers to list VoiceOver support in their application descriptions in the iTunes store, similar to how they list iOS version compatibility.

Next Steps Likely Uphill

I plan to contact Palringo Limited to ask about future accessibility of their products. I am also going to present my concerns to Apple.

Please stay tuned, as I will write when I have any updates.

Michael Hansen is totally blind and is a senior at Addison Trail High School in Addison, IL. Previously, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Skyline newspaper at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, IL, during the 2009-2010 school year. He can be reached at AMTK62 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Proposed Accessibility Advocacy Tracking System: Ideas Wanted

July 30, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

As many of my readers know, I am always dreaming up new ways to effectively evangelize accessibility of information technology for the blind. It’s quite literally my mission in life. But, I also know that the work of one individual means nothing without the participation and support of the entire connected online blind community. Precisely measuring that level of participation has been virtually impossible.

It has always been my contention that frequent advocacy done on a consistent basis is absolutely critical in order for our voices to be heard by the technology industry. The conversations I have with company executives keep baring out this assertion. Agencies, businesses and organizations respond to and prioritize feedback based on both its quality and quantity. Executives are looking for clearly presented, detailed feedback on any issue. They’re also looking for numbers. If one, two or even ten people bring up an issue, it’s not likely to get much play especially in a large company like Google, Microsoft or Nuance. Perhaps, if several hundred blind people keep bringing up an issue frequently, it will have a chance to rise to the top and garner the attention it deserves.

We thus understand that successfully concluded accessibility advocacy often requires persistent contact with companies on the part of many individual members of the blind community. How can we achieve this goal as a blind community? Who is advocating? How are they contacting companies? How far are they getting within a company’s corporate chain of command? What are they telling these people? What is the company’s response to the advocacy? What changes are they making to improve accessibility for us? Has the company committed to accessibility or has only a one-time victory been achieved?

Right now, finding answers to these and many other key questions is virtually impossible. Though some organizations like the American Foundation for the Blind, American Council of the Blind, National Federation of the Blind and a few others advocate, we often don’t know their results until they have explicitly come to the blind community for help, a lawsuit has been filed or we learn that structured negotiations have been completed. Little or no attention is given to the advocacy efforts of individual contributors. What incentives do individuals have to do the hard work necessary for grassroots accessibility advocacy to be effective? How many times could the concerted work of individuals achieve a positive result without the need to involve the lawyers or otherwise turn the process into a messy adversarial battle? How could individual efforts be effectively consolidated into one effective, successful advocacy result?

I propose that an online system be created for the purpose of tracking the accessibility advocacy efforts of individuals in the blind community. If a blind person encounters an issue with a piece of hardware or software or a service and believes it may be inaccessible, she visits a website, fills out a simple form and creates a case. A team of volunteers pull the cases out of a queue and work them to the best of their ability. They consult each other and solicit additional assistance from the rest of the blind community. A note is added to the case for each advocacy attempt with the results being tracked along the way. A case is worked until a successful result is achieved, it has been referred for legal action by one of the organizations or it has been determined that no grassroots advocacy effort will resolve the case in a satisfactory manner. A dedicated steering committee meets once per week to discuss the status of the cases in the queue. Cases may be closed only on a majority vote of the members of the steering committee. If that vote is not unanimous, then the case is closed with reservations. Nobody else, including the original creator of the case, may close the issue.

A case management system for doing accessibility advocacy could bring many positive results. Advocates could see the effects of their work as cases move forward along a well-defined process. Technology companies would feel the effects of consistent, quality feedback from a significant number of members of the blind community. When companies choose to be intractible, lawyers could use the information from protracted cases as leads or potential evidence in lawsuits and structured negotiations. Finally, the reporting capabilities of a case management system might make it possible to obtain grants and other sources of funding for some in the blind community to do accessibility advocacy work on a paid basis, thus permitting a greater level of consistent dedication to this all-too-important aspect of securing equal opportunity for the blind.

There are many milestones that must be achieved in order to get such a case management system off the ground. Who or what organization would be willing to sponsor such a project? Who is available and willing to do the work necessary to program such a complex system? How will it be structured? Would building a custom solution work best or is there an existing customer relationship management application that could be modified to meet our needs? What information should be collected and how would it be used? These and many other questions would need to be answered as a first step toward building a system I believe could help move accessibility advocacy for the blind forward by leaps and bounds over its present state.

I would like to start by opening discussions with those who might be interested in actively and consistently volunteering to participate in such a case management system. I ask all those who think they might be interested to subscribe to the blind-access e-mail list for the purpose of discussing the merits of such a system and coordinating specific meetings as it moves forward.

As always, comments to this article are welcome here on the journal as is e-mail to us at editor (at) blindaccessjournal.com.

Seeking Blind People Tossed Out of Their Jobs by Discrimination, Inaccessible Technology

October 3, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Are you a blind person who has lost your job due to blatant discrimination or inaccessible technology? If so, we want to hear from you!

In a Sept. 30 press release, President Obama said he proclaims October National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Fair access to employment is a fundamental right of every American, including the 54 million people in this country living with disabilities,” Obama said in the press release. “A job can provide financial stability, help maximize our potential, and allow us to achieve our dreams.”

What does this really mean for blind people? Can we have “fair access” to employment while much of the technology used by the sighted remains out of the reach of the screen readers and other assistive technologies that enable us to effectively operate computers? What happens when technology in a workplace changes without a thought to the needs of employees with disabilities? How are we supposed to respond to the removal of “financial stability,” the wasted potential and shattered dreams of blind people who have lost their jobs due to the wreckless actions of thoughtless employers who respond to technology inaccessibility by tossing away the person as though they are yesterday’s newspaper or just so much trash whose usefulness has expired?

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act substantially increased funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and provided more than $500 million for vocational rehabilitation services, including job training, education, and placement,” said Obama. “If we are to build a world free from unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination, we must ensure that every American receives an education that prepares him or her for future success.”

Although blind people continue to face discrimination and negative stereotypes on a daily basis, many are also hired to fill positions in virtually all walks of life based on their qualifications. Through our own experiences in the world of business and employment, many of us are growing to believe the barrier of inaccessibility is a critical factor that holds us down. In an increasing number of cases, employers would love to hire or retain blind people as employees if only the software they must use in order to do their jobs could be accessed with a screen reader.

Let’s use National Disability Employment Awareness Month to make a strong case for greater accessibility. If you have lost your job because of inaccessible technology or were not hired because the software used in the workplace could not be made accessible, we would like to hear from you right away. Now is the opportunity for you to let your voice be heard around the world, not only on Blind Access Journal, but possibly in the mainstream media. Please e-mail employment@blindaccessjournal.com and tell us your story.

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.

The State of Arkansas and SAP A.G. Settle Lawsuit, Make the Accessible Choice!

August 13, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We are happy to report that a 2001 accessibility lawsuit brought against SAP and the state of Arkansas by the National Federation of the Blind has now been settled in favor of the state’s blind employees, who will be granted full accessibility to the state’s ERP system by August of 2009. Read the blog post entitled Arkansas state computer system will be accessible to the blind along with the Computer World article covering the story in the mainstream information technology media.

I posted the following public comment to the Computer World article:

Equal accessibility is a reasonable accommodation under several laws in the United States and other parts of the world. As blind people, we spend thousands of dollars on assistive technology to make computers accessible to us. Our aim isn’t to put anyone out of business or cause anyone an undue burden. We just need and want to participate in the workplace just like everyone else. We must be granted equal access to hardware and software in order to achieve this goal. Accessibility is a meet-you-halfway proposition. Our assistive technology industry works tirelessly to create solutions that make our digital lives accessible. It is now time for the mainstream technology industry to step up to the plate more seriously to meet the other half of this proposition, by ensuring that technology works with screen readers and reasonably accommodates our needs for accessibility.

Approximately three weeks ago, I was laid off my job because SonicWALL refused to make its implementation of the Siebel CRM software accessible. It would have taken only about an hour or so worth of a developer’s time, but SonicWALL made the decision not to accommodate me. The resulting discrimination has turned me from a successfully employed taxpayer to a recipient of Social Security Disability benefits and Unemployment Insurance! I hope other developers of mainstream software and web services will learn a valuable lesson from the settlement of this lawsuit. Make the right choice! Open your eyes and work together with us to ensure a brighter, more accessible future for all your customers and end users, including those of us who happen to be blind or visually impaired!

We ask all of you to take a look at the press release, read the Computer World article and post your own comments in support of equal access to workplace technology for the blind and visually impaired!

Accessibility Evangelism and Unfortunate News From America Online (AOL) Radio

June 7, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Hello Everyone,

As an accessibility evangelist, of course, I disagree with any and all those
who frequently make statements emphasizing our "smallness" and
insignificance in the world at large as a means to justify doing little or
nothing about accessibility challenges. Yes. We are very tiny in number in
comparison with the rest of the population who is not blind, but that really
has nothing to do with how well we can make our voices heard in order to
achieve positive changes for the better. One possible metaphore might be to
compare us with those who profess their faith in the Jewish religion here in
the United States, which is an incredibly small minority in number as
compared with catholics and evangelical Christians. Despite their small
numbers, the Jewish seem to experience little or no difficulty making their
needs known and they tend to enjoy great success and wealth in all walks of
life.

I'd like to see something similar happen for those of us who are blind. We
can't look to others to make this happen, but only to ourselves. It must
start with us! We must decide that we are valuable human beings deserving
of our human rights, of the accessibility and equal treatment with our
sighted peers we must enjoy in order to be able to fully participate in
society on a par with the sighted. Though it starts with us, a
technological world dictates that we have equal access to information in the
information and knowledge age. Accessibility must ultimately be available
if we are to actively and productively participate in such critical areas of
life as education, employment and leisure.

We must achieve equality of opportunity through making our own accessibility
solutions where practical and advocating for reasonable accomodations when
accessibility is required in order for us to participate. The issues boil
down to one of these two needs in all cases. There is no third option of
taking the path of least resistance; not if we want to count ourselves as
fully living and breathing human beings and citizens, possessing the same
inalienable rights and responsibilities already enjoyed by the sighted.

One excellent example of a project where we are making our own accessibility
is Benetech's Bookshare project available at http://www.bookshare.org.

Blind people and others with print reading disabilities subscribe to a web
based service where they may download and read from a selection of tens of
thousands of books available in an accessible, electronic format for use on
their computers and portable assistive technology. This is all made
possible by a team of blind and sighted volunteers who scan books into
electronic format and validators who correct scanning errors and reformat
the books for final entry into the collection.

Another example of making our own accessibility is the existence of the
blindness access technology industry. We spend tens of thousands of dollars
on screen readers, Braille displays, scanners with optical character
recognition software, specialized personal digital assistants (PDAs) and a
myriad of other high and low technology items on which we have grown to
depend in order to adapt ourselves to the world. In many cases, government
agencies purchase some or all of this technology under specific
circumstances, but this is, by no means, guaranteed.

Despite our own efforts, there often remains a wide gap between that which
we are able to make accessible on our own and that technology which we must
use in the classroom, on the job, etc. When we are not able to close these
gaps through our own efforts and assistive technology, reasonable
accomodations on the part of the developer of that technology are required
if we are to be permitted full and equal participation. Failures to
reasonably accomodate our needs often result in the curtailment of
educational opportunities and even the needless loss of jobs!

As a blind community, we can take actions such as the following to improve
our accessibility to the world of technology around us:
* Understand that we need equal accessibility in order to participate in
society on a par with our sighted peers.
* Believe and live the concept that accessibility through reasonable
accomodations is a human right and the right thing to do in all cases.
* Check with other individuals and organizations in the blind community to
see if the technology has already been made accessible.
* Write letters to technology developers asking that they reasonably
accomodate our need for accessibility.
* When available, provide suggestions and technical consulting necessary to
improve accessibility.
* Work to have existing legislation covering accessibility enforced more
consistently and frequently.
* Encourage the passage of new legislation to clarify our needs and mandate
increased accessibility in areas not already covered.

Achieving equal participation in the knowledge age is currently a hard
fought struggle, where we often seem to take a step forward followed by one
or two steps backward. The latest case with AOL Radio represents a good
example. While imperfect, blind people relying on screen readers have
enjoyed access to the company's many radio offerings. We are talking about
listening to the radio, which should most certainly represent an activity
that ought to be inherently accessible to the blind.

We have now learned that, as of Monday, June 9, 2008, AOL and CBS are going
to take away from the blind the ability to listen to their Internet radio
streams through the implementation of a player that is known to be
inaccessible to screen reading software. Many blind people have been
enjoying this content for several years. Simply yanking it out of our hands
is a thoughtless act at best. The director of AOL's accessibility team has
informed us that the inaccessibility of the new player results from
technology used by CBS and tells us that solutions are being investigated
for implementation sometime in the undetermined future. We believe this
answer is not quite sufficient and that temporary alternative listening
options should be made available to the blind until such time as the
accessibility problems with the embedded web based player have been solved.
If you agree that AOL Radio should continue to allow blind and visually
impaired people to listen to their Internet radio channels, we urge all of
you, including those sighted people who care about what happens to us, to
send a note to AOLAccessibility@aol.com asking that they continue working to
restore accessibility to the AOL Radio player and, in the meantime, make
direct links available to the blind for listening on other devices and media
player software. We also ask you to visit CBS at

http://www.cbsradio.com/contact/streaming.html, select your radio station of
interest and request the implementation of a more accessible player to
accomodate the accessibility needs of blind and visually impaired listeners.

As a community, it is both our collective and individual responsibilities to
evangelize accessibility. Simply leaving the work to others is not going to
be effective, especially given our small numbers. This AOL Radio issue is
just one small one among many much more significant challenges. All the
same, let us all take this moment to remind ourselves that we can and must
make a difference! Now, everyone, let's all go forth and make our voices
heard often and loudly!

Response to David Pogue: Are Efforts to Acquire Accessibility by the Blind Being Lumped in with Piracy?

May 25, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

May 25, 2008

Dear Mr. Pogue,

It is really disappointing to see blind people mentioned categorically in a negative light through your article entitled Can e-Publishing Overcome Copyright Concerns? in the New York Times. Unless there have been piracy convictions in a court of law, you have no absolute proof that those two blind people to whom you provided electronic copies of your books were the same ones who posted the illegal copies two days later. As people who lack physical eye sight, or who’s sight is extremely limited, we endure serious information accessibility challenges. This circumstance is completely beyond our control. Despite current technologies, we probably have access to easily 10 percent or less of the printed material you enjoy as a fully sighted person.

There are protected ways in which you may provide your books in an accessible format, one of which is Bookshare at http://www.bookshare.org. You could have also asked for some reasonable proof of disability before sending your books to complete strangers in an unprotected format. Please consider dawning a blindfold and a free screen reader like System Access to Go (http://www.satogo.com) and experiencing the world our way for a few hours, then consider clarifying your position toward blind and visually impaired people and the accessibility obstacles we face.

I hope you will consider making this right, so that your words don’t negatively impact our abilities to acquire an education and avail ourselves of employment opportunities through further worsening of the bleak inaccessibility we continue to encounter on a daily basis.

Best regards,

Darrell Shandrow

Accessibility Evangelist

Visual Verification: Audio CAPTCHA Broken, How Will Web Site Operators Respond?

May 6, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In the article Google’s Audio CAPTCHA Cracked, PC Magazine is reporting impending security challenges for a technology on which we depend in order to reasonably accomodate our need for equal access and participation on the Internet. While companies obviously work to improve the security and usability of visual CAPTCHA, what action will they take toward the blind and visually impaired? Will they improve audio CAPTCHA or will they restore the dreaded “No Blind People Allowed” signs that still bar us from admission to many web sites? How much more difficult has it now become to convince others to unlock their doors to us? As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.