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Call the Number on Your Screen

January 17, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I don’t personally shop by television. I prefer to be a bit more deliberate in my purchasing decisions rather than just impulsively picking up the telephone and calling the indicated telephone number to buy some neat gadget or some CD collection from Time Life. There is apparently enough impulse buying from television advertising to make this a profitable venture for many businesses. Sadly, these companies are probably missing out on a sizeable amount of revenue due to the inaccessible format of some of their commercials.

While watching television, I notice that about half of all television commercials for mail order products provide no verbal information concerning how to place an order. The company’s mailing address, telephone number and web site are shown “on your screen” with none of this information being spoken for nonvisual access. A sighted person who happens to be looking at the screen at the time the commercial is played will be able to read this information, while the blind, those with other print reading disabilities, the illiterate and those who happen not to be in a good position to see the screen will miss out on a potential buying opportunity. Vision loss is a common condition for the aging baby boomer generation, who are in a strong position to purchase these products. When a consumer wants to make a purchase and is denied that opportunity, the seller isn’t doing their job. This results in lost income for the seller.

The solution to inaccessible television advertising is remarkably simple. Verbally provide at least the telephone number and web site address for customers to place an order. Speak the telephone number twice or even three times so that your customers have a chance to memorize it or write it down. Taking these simple steps toward greater accessibility will enable advertisers to gain more blind and sighted customers. What can we do to urge advertisers to provide this basic information verbally? As always, all thoughts are welcome. Please post a comment.

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3 opinions on “Call the Number on Your Screen

  1. This is Jerry Weichbrodt in snowy Michigan.

    Yes, it’s true. One really would think that companies specifically don’t want blind people to buy their products. It’s not just, “Call the number on your screen.” It’s endless web pages where everything is accessible except the unlabeled link to the advertizers. It’s the popups on AOL that often fail to say anything through a screen reader except “No Thanks Button” (the text on the button that lets you dismiss the popup from the screen). I have often seen discussions on various Internet mailing lists of how to bypass advertising on the Net. This can indeed speed up the efficiency with which one gets work done, but there’s a perverse side of me that asks, “Hey, but aren’t the ads supposed to be part of paying the bills at the web site? I don’t mind having to deal with the ad banners, but please don’t give me a slap in the face by putting your ad banners in a format that says, ‘Blind people not wanted.'” Is it really *so* hard to stick a friendly alt tag on a link so I don’t have to listen to “$j7aacae”? If I decide to bypass it with some feature of my screen reader, at least I know what the heck I’m bypassing.

    Regards to all for a prosperous 2005.

    Jerry Weichbrodt

  2. I sent the following e-mail to Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren concerning her not verbalizing contact information during her On The Record show:

    Hi Greta,

    Karen and I watch On The Record almost every night. We happen to be blind. Last night, you instructed us at least five times to call “the number on your screen” without once saying the number. When you do this, your blind listeners are not able to call the number because you haven’t verbalized it at all. In fact, many sighted people who aren’t actually looking at the screen at the moment will also miss that information. Some are also listening to Fox News Channel on XM Satellite Radio or other sources where no video is provided. Please, in the future, verbalize the necessary contact information rather than just saying “call the number on your screen”.

    Please visit Blind Access Journal at for coverage of this accessibility concern and many other items of interest.


    Darrell Shandrow

  3. Wow! That was fast. Greta has already responded to my e-mail to She indicated that I made a good point. Since she was in the “Chicago Bureau” she was also unable to see those telephone numbers on the screen. I was hoping that she would pledge to do better in the future, but, sadly, that just wasn’t to be. Why am I not surprised? Isn’t that typically how it goes with accessibility issues? Just swept under the rug, not taken seriously, etc.

    If you watch On The Record, please write a note of your own to asking Greta to do her best to verbalize the “number on your screen” in the future.


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