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Microsoft’s Latest Anti-Piracy Initiative Locks Out Blind Users

January 26, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

If you are blind, you may soon find yourself unable to fully maintain your computer!

Starting on an unspecified date in mid-2005, Microsoft will initiate Windows Genuine Advantage, a new anti-piracy measure, by requiring Windows users to enter their product key in order to gain access to such services as Download Center and Windows Update. This product key is printed either on the Windows CD-ROM or on a sticker located on the side of a computer with Windows installed at the factory. The physical inability to read print will instantly barr legitimate Windows users who happen to be blind from accessing Download Center and Windows Update. This loss will represent a huge inconvenience for blind users of home computers, while it could result in the possible loss of jobs for information technology professionals who happen to be blind.

It is clear that the people at Microsoft were not thinking about accessibility when implementing this new anti-piracy program. For legitimate blind users of Windows, this product key requirement is nothing more than a test for eye sight before permitting entry in to the promised land! We must absolutely and unequivocally insist that Microsoft find a way to work with the blind community to insure the accessibility of the Windows Genuine Advantage program for everyone who has already paid for the right to use Windows!

Please read Microsoft’s Commitment to Accessibility. Send e-mail to Microsoft’s Accessibility Group and provide online feedback insisting that Microsoft take steps to insure that Windows Genuine Advantage is accessible for everyone.

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8 opinions on “Microsoft’s Latest Anti-Piracy Initiative Locks Out Blind Users

  1. Now you know as well as I do that this means nothing of the sort — its stupid and annoying, however all it means is you have to get someone to read you the key one time and keep it handy, somewhat of a pain in the assk, but not quite so drastic as you suggest.

    John Covici

  2. John,

    This process is only “stupid and annoying” if you happen to be sighted. It is much more than that if you’re blind. I consider the need for a sighted reader as an extremely last resort. The “use a reader” argument can easily be used as an excuse for the inaccessibility of everything, thus locking us out of accessibility to education, employment opportunities and maybe soon even the ability to perform relatively simple, mundane tasks such as cook our dinner on the new, inaccessible digital home appliances! Information should be accessible to us without need of translation by another person.

    Even worse, this new initiative appears to have been invented and will soon be implemented without even a second thought given to the accessibility implications. This is just another example of how a company that has stated a commitment to accessibility finds ways to reverse earlier promises.

    If many in the blind community don’t get it, then how can we expect the sighted to understand the need for accessibility and to act accordingly? Accessibility could easily be defined as our ability to obtain information without need of translation by another person. I hope everyone, including those who will use a sighted reader to obtain this type of information, will write to Microsoft asking that the accessibility of Windows Genuine Advantage will be considered and the necessary adjustments made.

  3. There is a way to obtain a product key. Go to and download the belarc advisor. The windows product key will be under software licenses. And I believe most companies have only one product key that licenses all computers, so iT people shouldn’t be effected.

  4. Unfortunately, though Belarc Advisor is quite accessible, the web site is not. I have written Belarc’s webmaster to request the addition of appropriately descriptive alt text tags.

    In the meantime, Please follow this specific link to download Belarc Advisor:

    I downloaded and installed Belarc Advisor. It provides a complete system profile in an accessible format. Sure enough, I now have my Windows XP product key. I will run this on all our systems and will save the profiles. I recommend all blind computer users to download and install this program right away to get your product key in advance of the coming Microsoft lock out.

    Please understand that I do not consider this work around to be an acceptable ultimate solution. This program is not provided by Microsoft. Any solution not endorsed by Microsoft is ultimately subject to breaking when changes are made to the way product keys are stored. I will accept only a Microsoft solution that gives due consideration of the need for accessibility!

  5. I just attempted to obtain a download key from the Download Center. An alternative is provided for users who are unable to supply the product key from the certificate of authenticity or the sticker on the computer. This alternative requests some additional information concerning where you obtained your PC. Sadly, adding insult to injury, this process requires entry of a six character code shown as a graphic! Clicking the appropriate link indicating that you are unable to see the graphic sends the user to a page explaining how to enable the showing of images in the web browser, then proceeds to explain that no alternatives are currently available for the visually impaired! The blind user is told that this support will be available in the future.

    The Windows Genuine Advantage program apparently remains in the beta stage. It is not currently required. That requirement is scheduled to go in to effect in mid-2005. Will an alternative to the security graphic really be available by the time this program is required, or will we just be locked out altogether?

  6. Let’s hope Microsoft iron out the bugs before the program goes into effect. At the moment I am trying to get them to recognize that they’ve a problem with their audio alternative to the security graphic for people trying to sign up for a .NET Passport. We’ll see what happens. To see what I mean, visit and try signing up for an account. I’m cautiously optimistic since I’ve received back a very cordial note from someone telling me there’s an audio alternative to the graphic. I, in turn, replied, spelling out step-by-step what I had done in trying to sign up for a passport and just when things stopped working as they should.


  7. I know I’m drifting off the original topic of this post, but for anyone who wonders how my experience with the .NET Passport sign-up turned out. Well, I have perhaps some good news and some bad news. The good news is that, in the space of maybe a day or two, I managed, through a little e-mail dialog with support personnel at Microsoft, to get my account set up. They were very courteous. What I consider the bad news is that they never directly addressed the issue of the pesky security graphic and, particularly, that the “I can’t see this picture” link fails on a very reliable basis. I’m glad that support personnel are ready to help. Anyone deaf-blind will really need that since the audio alternative would not be a viable option for them. However, I keep thinking that I could have saved a good day or more of e-mail exchanges if I could have opened the “I can’t see this picture” window and just had the silly graphic read to me. To return to the original topic Darrell was talking about, I would feel more confident about the likelihood of the alternative to the security graphic actually being implemented (and functioning) if someone at Passport had come out and said, “Yeah, we know our audio output page is screwed up, and we’re on it,” rather than sort of brushing it under the rug and proceeding strictly with handling my request manually.–Jerry

  8. I consider waiting a day or two for something to be unacceptable when it is provided instantly to the sighted! I am being told, rather insistently, by some in the blind community that I am overblowing this issue, that there are more important fish to fry, so to speak. In some ways, yes, this is true.

    This issue isn’t as important as the need to make sure employment related applications are accessible to prevent loss of job opportunities. Ultimately, it is possible if inconvenient to obtain sighted assistance to obtain the product key and even to successfully complete the visual security graphic verification process.

    All this is beside the point, however; this issue remains a clear and important example of what happens when accessibility is given insufficient consideration. Again, information should be accessible without need of translation by another person!

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