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Sanctity of Life

February 24, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Terry Schiavo is minimally conscious, but, apparently, that just isn’t good enough. After years of legal wrangling, the feeding tube keeping her alive is due to be removed tomorrow, February 25. After this happens, she will suffer and slowly die of dehydration! While Terri dies, her husband will be free to carry out the rest of his life, perhaps finally marrying the woman with whom he has been carrying on an adulterous relationship, baring two children in the process! Paying the medical bills involved with caring for Terri must represent an “undue burden” which the courts are about to lift from his shoulders forever.

Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is absolutely right in this case when he said on Fox News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes show this evening, February 24, that removal of the feeding tube is tantamount to murder. If the decision to remove Terri’s feeding tube stands, where will the line be drawn in the future? What constitutes an “undue burden” on society? At what point is it justified to murder someone rather than to reasonably accomodate their needs? Today we find ourselves deeply concerned about issues of accessibility, transportation options and social attitudes regarding our blindness. We advocate for such reasonable accomodations as greater accessibility of information technology and the right to continue traveling on airlines with our guide dogs. Some reject our efforts claiming that they represent an “undue burden” to the operation of their business. Where does that “undue burden” argument end? Will we find ourselves in the distant future in a struggle for our very lives? Bioethicists like Dr. Peter Singer must be delighted.

We must speak out loudly and clearly against murder and euthanasia in all its forms: abortion, physician assisted suicide and withdrawal of life saving medical treatment! This should be a relevant and lively topic of discussion. All comments are highly encouraged.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ethics on the Job: Don’t Lie!

February 22, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Once upon a time there was an employee who agreed to work on a holiday. This employee relied on the city bus system in order to travel to work, but was not disabled in any way. On the day he was scheduled to work, he decided he didn’t want to do that after all. He wanted to enjoy a holiday away from the office. When his boss called to ask him why he wasn’t working, he said that the buses weren’t running since it was a holiday. The boss had to make other arrangements to cover the absence.

The reason for the employee’s absence was a total lie. The buses were, in fact, running on that day. One of the employees colleagues explained this fact to the boss. The lie was accepted largely without consequence to the liar. The following lesson was not learned on that day:

Honesty is always the best policy.

Again, I repeat. Don’t lie! It’s wrong! Period.

Categories: Uncategorized

Update: Act Now to Stop Regulatory Threat to Air Travel for Blind Guide Dog Owners!

February 22, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This is a follow up to Red Alert: Act Now to Stop Regulatory Threat to Air Travel for Blind Guide Dog Owners! as posted on Wednesday, February 16. I hope it provides additional clarification of the issue at hand and the kind of comments we feel must be filed with the Department of Transportation in order to best protect the rights of the blind and other people with disabilities who rely on service animals.

The blind community is specifically concerned about the following language in Appendix A of Part 382 concerning service animals that do not completely fit under the passenger’s seat or in front of the passenger:

Part 382 does not require carriers to
make modifications that would constitute an
undue burden or would fundamentally alter
their programs (382.7(c)). Therefore, the
following are not required in providing
accommodations for users of service animals
and are examples of what might realistically
be viewed as creating an undue burden:

  • Asking another passenger to give up
    the space in front of his or her seat to
    accommodate a service animal
  • Denying transportation to any
    individual on a flight in order to provide aaccommodation to a passenger with a service
  • Furnishing more than one seat per
  • Providing a seat in a class of service
    other than the one the passenger has

As airlines try to fit as many seats as possible on the aircraft, leg room is at an all time minimum. This negatively impacts the ability to fit service animals in the appropriate places. There is evidence from the experiences of owners of guide dogs and other service animals showing that dogs that used to fit under or in front of the seat ten years ago no longer completely fit. Truth be told, Karen’s guide dog, Douglas, does not technically fit in front of her bulkhead seat, since he tends to take up space in the adjacent seat when he lies on the floor. Though this is no problem at all when Karen and I travel together, it could present a problem for her traveling alone if the proposed rule amendments stand. Weighing only 65 pounds, Douglas is a typically sized guide dog. Enforced by an airline, the rule above could thus effectively barr blind people who rely on guide dogs from traveling by air at all.

We would like to see this “undue burden” language changed so that airlines clearly understand that they may not violate the human rights of service animal owners. Specifically, we recommend the following new “undue burden” language:

Part 382 does not require carriers to
make modifications that would constitute an
undue burden or would fundamentally alter
their programs (382.7(c)). Therefore, the
following are not required in providing
accommodations for users of service animals
and are examples of what might realistically
be viewed as creating an undue burden:

  • Demanding another passenger to give up
    the space in front of his or her seat to
    accommodate a service animal. It is required to request that an adjacent passenger voluntarily give up this space if no other reasonable solution exists, but that passenger has the right to deny the request.
  • Denying transportation to any
    individual on a flight in order to provide aaccommodation to a passenger with a service
    animal. If no other reasonable solution exists, it is required that such a request be made for an adjacent passenger to take a later flight. Incentives, such as discounted future travel, may be given such a passenger as deemed appropriate.
  • Furnishing more than one seat per
    ticket when the aircraft is completely full.

Though this language continues to recognize situations where an “undue burden” might exist, it provides ways to rectify issues without undue harm to the person with a disability. Note that the original language defining the moving of a passenger to a seat in a different class of service has been removed. We strongly believe that, when no other solution to an issue exists, moving a passenger with a disability to business or even first class seating should be attempted before forcing the passenger to deplane. We at Blind Access Journal will shortly be filing these comments to the Department of Transportation concerning the air travel rights of blind guide dog owners and other people with disabilities. We hope everyone reading this will follow suit. If you have anything to add, please feel free to post your constructive comments to guide this important advocacy process.

Categories: Uncategorized

Red Alert: Act Now to Stop Regulatory Threat to Air Travel for Blind Guide Dog Owners!

February 16, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Proposed regulations by the United States Department of Transportation would require the blind and others who rely on large “service animals” to deplane or ship their companions in the cargo hold! All who care about the blind and others with disabilities MUST act immediately to stop this threat by having the proposed regulatory language changed to allow alternatives that will reasonably accomodate people with disabilities.

What can you do now? Read the Emergency Call to Action sponsored by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners and submit a comment to the Department of Transportation insisting that the language of the new regulations require the airline industry to reasonably accomodate blind guide dog owners by taking actions such as making voluntary arrangements or moving passengers instead of harming the blind by forcing us off the plane or separating us from our dogs. Everyone who sincerely cares about the blind will take this action immediately!

The following are the public comments I submitted to the Department of Transportation’s Docket Clerk:

February 16, 2005

Docket Clerk

Department of Transportation

400 7th Street, SW., Room PL-401

Washington, DC 20590.

DOCKET NUMBER: OST-2004-19482-1

Dear Docket Clerk,

I am a highly accomplished blind information technology professional, accessibility advocate and publisher of the Blind Access Journal. My girlfriend is a blind professional in the resort hospitality industry who also happens to rely on a guide dog to meet her independent travel needs. We both travel on airlines for business and pleasure from time to time.

I am deeply troubled by dangerous language in the NPRM relating to large service animals that might not fit in front of the passenger’s seat or even in the bulkhead area. Persons with disabilities who rely on such “large” animals cannot rightly be expected to allow their companion to be placed in the aircraft’s cargo hold or be forced to wait for a later flight where the same situation might exist. Since we pay our hard earned money to travel just like everyone else, these undue regulations represent a reduction in the service levels we receive in comparison to customers without disabilities. They would also simply represent an ethical, moral and, perhaps, legal violation of our rights as fully living and breathing human beings and citizens of the United States of America, with all the rights and responsibilities that first class status entails. In a case where a guide dog does not fit in the typical spaces, alternatives must be considered that do not result in undue harm to the disabled person or their service animal. Alternatives might include moving either the person with a disability or a nondisabled person sitting in the adjacent seat to accomodate the service animal, even if that entails moving the passenger to seating in a different part of the cabin such as business or first class. Denial of service to a person with a disability is never appropriate under any circumstances.


Darrell Shandrow
Blind Access Journal:

Categories: Uncategorized

Accessible Solutions to Graphical Security Verification Systems

February 14, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Graphical security verification systems (also known as CAPTCHA or Turing tests) are being added to web sites on an increasingly frequent basis. In these schemes, the user is presented with a distorted picture of a word or sequence of numbers and is asked to enter the characters into an edit box. The purpose of these tests is to insure that a live human being, not a script running on a computer, is signing up for an account, placing an order or performing any other task for which spammers and other malicious users of Internet resources might pose a substantial security risk. Graphical security verification tests with no accessible alternatives pose a serious threat to the ability of the blind to continue using the Internet. In the case where these tests are used to secure a registration process, they represent a one-time abridgment of a blind person’s right to gain legitimate independent access to the subscription process. When absolutely necessary, a sighted person can act as a reader, providing the blind user with the information that must be entered into the box. In the case where these tests are applied each time a resource is accessed or an order is placed, these tests represent a complete lock out of the blind from using the resource, since a sighted person isn’t going to be available on a second by second basis. These security tests, when they include no reasonable accessible alternatives, represent nothing less than an artificial violation of the rights of the blind as fully living and breathing human beings and first class citizens, possessing all the rights and responsibilities that status entails. Though these tests claim to check for the presence of live human beings, they are really testing only for the presence of sighted humans. Sight is the price of admission and the blind are essentially being told that they need not apply.

Ticketmaster is an example of a company that has forced the blind to the back of the virtual bus, actually forced them off the bus altogether, by means of the implementation of an inaccessible graphical security verification test. This test comes each time one orders tickets, so it represents a complete, constant lock out. This situation is featured in Turned Away at the Virtual Box Office as published in Voice of the Nation’s Blind, an online magazine of the National Federation of the Blind.

There are currently two common solutions implemented by many companies to work around the visual verification process for blind users: playing an audio file of the contents of the picture and speaking with a customer service representative over the phone. The first solution is incomplete as it remains totally inaccessible for those who are also deaf or severely hearing impaired while the second solution is unacceptable, since these customer service telephone numbers tend not to be staffed 24 hours per day and calls are almost never returned in a timely manner.

Since it is critical for visual verification to include an accessible component, it is equally important that reasonable, workable solutions be devised and implemented in a cooperative fashion between the blind community and the mainstream technology industry. Let’s talk about some specific solutions. I’ll start with the aforementioned audio solution as it currently represents the most widely accepted way of providing immediate accessibility to visual verification. After discussing the audio solution, more innovative techniques will be covered.


An audio accessibility solution to visual verification provides a link next to the picture. When the blind user clicks the provided link, an audio file containing the same characters as the picture is played. Just as the characters in the picture are deliberately blurred to defeat automated optical character recognition, the audio file is distorted to prevent automated speech recognition. The distortion of these audio files often makes this solution difficult and sometimes even impossible for the user, especially if there is any auditory distraction or hearing impairment. This solution is also totally useless to someone who happens to be deaf-blind. Two examples of companies that are currently using the audio accessibility solution to visual verification are PayPal and Spam Arrest.

E-mail Confirmation

A simple, comprehensive accessibility solution to visual verification might be the use of electronic mail. In this system, the user clicks a link next to the picture and provides their e-mail address. The contents are sent to the user who enters the characters into the box to complete the process. This solution would work for all users, including those who are deaf or hearing impaired. There are a few drawbacks. First, some users might not wish to provide their e-mail address for privacy reasons. Second, it may be possible (though extremely difficult) for an automated script to check the address of the e-mail account, retrieve the verification code and enter it into the box without need of human intervention. Third, since e-mail is considered to be an unreliable postcard type delivery system, this solution might not work for all users, especially if the e-mail containing the verification code can’t be successfully received by the user.

Simple Cognitive Challenge Response

Another comprehensive accessibility solution to visual verification might be to present a simple cognitive challenge. In this system, after clicking the link next to the visual verification, the user would be asked a simple question, such as what is the sum of 10 and 35. Providing the correct answer would allow the user access to the resource. A possible drawback to this solution is the ongoing development of artificial intelligence. Given the allocation of sufficient time and resources, a programmer could write code that might be able to read the questions and provide the correct answers. Asking questions in random formats (sum of 10 and 35 versus 35 plus 10) and use of a vast database of tens or hundreds of thousands of potential questions would serve to make this solution unbreakable to all but the most determined computer scientists.

Automated Telephone Verification

Yet another comprehensive accessible verification solution could be the use of an automated telephone system. After the blind user clicks an appropriately descriptive link next to the typical visual verification, another code is presented along with a telephone number to call. This telephone system would be available for deaf or hearing impaired users by way of TDD support. After calling the telephone number and entering the numeric code supplied on the web page, the telephone system would present the user with the contents of the visual verification process for successful entry into the edit box. This solution can be reasonably protected against compromise, just as are the audio solutions now in use. For the hearing user, the visual verification code is provided in audio format. For the user of a TDD, this information is provided in text that is compatible with such a device. It is highly unlikely that a malicious user is going to own a TDD, so this does not represent a significant compromise. This solution essentially extends current audio verification solutions so that they are accessible to the deaf and hearing impaired while retaining the integrity of the visual verification process, being that it is very difficult or impossible to automate this solution. One drawback would be presented for users of old dial-up Internet connections with only a single telephoneline. Keeping the verification code available in the system for five or ten minutes should enable such a user to disconnect, place the telephone call to retrieve the verification code and reconnect to the Internet to complete the process.

Trusted Assistive Technology

Yet another innovative, comprehensive verification solution could be the provision of the visual verification code in an encrypted form directly to “trusted” assistive technology. Adobe Systems uses this methodology to allow users of screen readers like JAWS access to some kinds of secured PDF documents. The verification code would be encrypted and provided to a screen reader by way of a browser extension or special plug in software. The screen reader could receive, decrypt and provide the code in text form to the user, who could then simply retype it into the edit box exactly as the sighted user does now. Copying and pasting of the code would not be allowed. This solution can’t be easily automated or scripted since it is highly unlikely a malicious user is going to spend hundreds of dollars to purchase a trusted assistive technology product. The inability to copy and paste the verification code would represent a further obstacle to a malicious screen reader user.

A number of innovative solutions to the visual verification test have now been provided. In my estimation, there is absolutely no legitimate reason for any such system to completely lock us out of full participation on the Internet. There will probably be challenges to every solution we offer. No solution, even the visual verification tests themselves, will ever be completely unbreakable. Check out The CAPTCHA Project for examples of ways to break several visual verification tests. As always, your comments are highly encouraged.

Categories: Uncategorized

Invitation to New Advocacy Core Group Initiative on Accessibility

February 11, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

It is not only important that we advocate for accessibility, but that we are also able and willing to provide detailed, intelligent solutions that enable accessibility where it doesn’t already exist. It is simply not acceptable for us to ask for and insist upon greater accessibility without being ready with specific solutions. We the blind must devise the reasonable solutions for which we ask, then show our willingness to assist in their implementation.

The blind-access-workers mailing list is intended for discussion of all topics relating to the technical and nontechnical aspects of advocating for better accessibility by the blind. Acceptable topics may include successful advocacy approaches and technical solutions to accessibility challenges. Unacceptable topics include debates on the importance of accessibility or whether or not a particular technology should be made accessible. Anyone who brings up an accessibility issue for discussion on this list will receive appropriate, detailed and intelligent attention to their concern.

Membership in this list is moderated. The intent is to create a core group of accessibility advocates from both the technical and nontechnical sectors of the blind community and from those in the sighted population who have a sincere interest in accessibility. Once you have been accepted as a member of this list, you may post and respond freely without moderation.

Please join the core group today by visiting the Blind-access-workers Info Page and completing the simple subscription process. Thank you for your willingness to join with us in our ongoing effort to secure the future of the blind through accessibility.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Emotional Side of Advocating for Accessibility

February 10, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I am taking some serious flack from some in the blind community, mostly staunch members of the National Federation of the Blind, for my frank, hard-hitting, insistent, passionate approach to advocating for greater accessibility. I am being characterized as an emotional, “loose canon” who goes “over the top” on issues that aren’t as important as some other concerns in the blind community. Not at all surprising, I take great exception to their assessment of my efforts.

Whenever something is inaccessible to us due to our blindness, we are being locked out, excluded from participating in the associated activity or taking advantage of the opportunity that is being made inaccessible. It is just that simple. To the extent that we are willing to accept that loss of opportunity, we allow inaccessibility to go unchallenged. Due to limited energy, finances, time and other resources, we may prioritize, deciding that some issues are more important than others. Inaccessibility results in curtailment of our ability to participate in society. Though it is hard to swallow, this is an indisputable fact. Employment and educational opportunities are lost on a regular basis due to the inaccessibility of one or more pieces of technology. We may even find that, one day in the near future, we are unable to independently perform basic daily living tasks such as cooking dinner or washing clothes due to the inaccessibility of digital home appliances. Our entertainment options are also being more frequently abridged due to inaccessible consumer electronics.

Given the currently declining state of affairs with respect to our ability to gain access to the electronic world around us, why would I not be emotional about the need for accessibility? If I lose my job due to inaccessible computer software, that’s personal! If I am presented with information in print without any accessible alternative, that’s personal! If I can no longer cook my dinner in the evening after a long day at work, that’s personal! If I’m not able to buy a nice stereo system, television or other neat piece of electronic equipment that I can effectively use without need of sight, that’s personal! Finally, if I am unable to sign on to a web site due to one more graphical security verification system (CAPTCHA, Turing test) due to its inherent inaccessibility and lack of an accessible alternative, that’s personal too! Inaccessibility is personal, at least for those of us who feel very strongly about the need for accessibility and reasonable accomodations. When I encounter an unmitigated issue of inaccessibility that is harming me in some way, I feel angry. I am being locked out. If the inaccessible company or organization has been made aware of their inaccessibility but continues to avoid the issue, then I am being blatantly discriminated against in the worst possible manner! My adrenalin starts to pump andI can feel my blood pressure rising! There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am allowed to have these feelings and even to express them to others inside and outside the blind community in a reasonable, even insistent, manner.

I am a “loose canon” going “over the top” when I absolutely refuse to just sit down, politely accept that we don’t live in an ideal world and just “use a reader” to make my own accessibility. I am not at all against making our own independent accessibility. In fact, since we are our own best experts on accessibility, all such efforts should be driven by participation from the blind community. When we’re able to make our own accessibility, that’s wonderful! We should certainly do it, avoiding requests for accomodations we don’t truly need. On the other hand, in most cases, we must insist that the mainstream electronics and technology industry meet us halfway in our efforts to insure our ability to access electronics and information technology products and services. We must all, blind and sighted alike, do our best when it comes to accessibility. The lives of the blind depend on it!

With passion comes motivation. Once motivated, we innovate and drive ourselves forward! That’s how it works for all movements. What would have happened if Rosa Parks simply got up and politely moved to the back of the bus like a good little black woman? Similarly, we must always insure that we are not pushed aside or thrown away when it comes to accessibility! It is just this simple, boys and girls. Anyone have anything to say about it?

Categories: Uncategorized

Accessible Online Tax Preparation Success Story

February 9, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Now that my employer provides W2 documents online, I decided to try preparing my taxes independently this year. Though I managed to cut my teeth a couple of times on some minor accessibility glitches and an unexpected IRS E-Filing issue, I ultimately succeeded. That’s right! My taxes are done and no intervention on the part of a sighted person was required! Keep reading to learn how you may be able to complete your own tax return in the convenience and privacy of your own home.

It is absolutely critical to be prepared before starting the tax preparation process. Specifically, you must have all tax documents (1099, W2, etc.) at your disposal. In order to prepare your tax return completely on your own, all documents must be available in an accessible electronic format. You may scan these documents, but check the numbers very closely to insure they make sense for your financial situation as the scanning and OCR process can sometimes mangle this information. Since most of this material is heavily formatted into rows and columns, it is critical to deactivate your OCR program’s column identification or decolumnization functionality before processing. In my case, it took me an hour just to use my assistive technology to convert my W2 into a usable format. My employer’s HR department provides the tax documents in PDF. I downloaded the PDF file to my computer’s hard drive and loaded it into Adobe Reader 7. The amount of accessibility provided by JAWS in conjunction with Adobe Reader 7 was insufficient. I was unable to confidently associate the line numbers in the W2 with the values they represented. Persisting, I sent the PDF document through K1000’s virtual printer with the software configured not to identify columns. This provided the information in such a way that I was able to successfully identify line numbers and their correct values. I checked the raw numbers against those in the actual PDF. Everything was a match, so I was confident enough to save the W2 in K1000 and proceed.

I’m a big fan of H&R Block. With the exception of one year, I have personally visited their offices once every tax season since filing my 1995 return. My results have been satisfying every time. Contemplating online tax preparation this year, I decided to stick with a winner by visiting their Free Online Tax Program web site, which is provided in partnership with IRS. Federal tax returns are free and state returns may be prepared through this service at a nominal fee. I chose to complete both Federal and state returns online.

After signing up for an account, the tax preparation process is simply a matter of answering questions and providing relevant information from your W2 in an online “interview” format. There were a couple of caveats with respect to web site accessibility that were not insurmountable. First, I had some trouble choosing between “standard”, “signature” and “premium” tax preparation service. I solved this by considering the order in which the services were presented in the text and clicking the first “get started” link for “standard” service. Second, none of the online help information was accessible. I’m not sure what is supposed to happen when you click “more info” or other help related links, but JAWS was completely blind to any information that may have been presented on the screen. Fortunately, since my tax situation was simple, this was not a show stopper.

After successfully completing the interview processes for filing a Federal and a State tax return, it was time to arrange for my Federal tax refund, pay my state taxes and E-File everything. I was able to tell IRS that I want to receive my tax refund via direct deposit, definitely an accessibility improvement over receiving a paper check in the mail. It was also possible for me to supply electronic payment information to take care of my state tax bill. I managed to hit a snag on the E-Filing process. In order to electronically “sign” your tax return, you must be able to provide your adjusted gross income (AGI) from the previous year’s return. I never knew about this requirement. Since H&R Block has been handling my taxes, I never needed this information. In the past, the tax preparer simply pulled up information from the previous year and included this figure automatically. Since I am not able to read my printed 2003 tax return, I contacted my local H&R Block office to see what could be done to resolve my E-Filing signature accessibility challenge. I expected that it would be necessary for me to physically pay a visit to the office in order to obtain the needed information from one of their tax preparers. I would have had no problem doing this for security reasons. Happily, I was wrong. After being connected with the manager of the office, she asked me a number of detailed security questions for purposes of verifying my real identity, then provided me with the needed adjusted gross income from last year’s return. I thanked her profusely for the excellent service and was on my merry way!

You’re probably asking yourself: can I do this too? Can I independently file a tax return solely at my own convenience in the privacy of my own home without need of sighted assistance? Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer is probably still “no”. My tax situation remains quite simple and my employer provides electronic copies of W2 documents which can be made accessible with some effort. Unfortunately, most tax documents still come in print and scanning them is not usually a good idea due to concerns about the accuracy of the numbers. It took significant time and effort diligently configuring and using both the Adobe Reader 7.0 and K1000 version 9.02 to accomplish this task. If you are fortunate enough to have electronic access to all necessary tax documents and you are comfortable and confident with your access technology then, by all means, go for it! Please do let us all know how the accessible tax preparation process worked for you.

Categories: Uncategorized

Java Juggernaut Slams Doors Shut On The Blind

February 7, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The deployment of Sun’s Java technology is becoming more and more widespread, but virtually all Java software developers aren’t taking advantage of Sun’s accessibility tools. At the point accessibility issues are raised with the developer of a particular Java application, the cost in money and time needed to make positive changes can’t be justified. This state of affairs has resulted in the loss of employment opportunities for the blind!

Java is a programming language and development platform that theoretically enables a programmer to write an application able to be run on a wide variety of operating systems. All that is required on the user’s computer is an appropriate Java runtime environment. The ultimate goal is to make the user’s experience with Java applications secure and seemless across all computers and other devices on which they are run. These characteristics make Java appealing to companies that develop customized applications for use with their own products.

On my current job, I have become personally aware of three companies that rely on Java technology. Java applications are used to control and monitor network security hardware. The ability to independently access and use these applications is an absolute requirement in order to be able to provide competent technical support. In all three cases, Java has represented an insurmountable barrier to my participation on the affected projects! Java programs work with assistive technology only when the developer has taken specific steps to make them accessible. Unlike most “standard” Windows programs, Java applications can’t be made accessible through scripts or other screen reader configuration options if the developer hasn’t made specific allowances for accessibility.

The Sun Microsystems Accessibility Program is intended to provide resources to developers and users of Java technology to enable greater accessibility. Sadly, and with no offense intended toward Sun Microsystems, this program has thus far fallen short of providing true accessibility to 99 percent of all Java applications. Programmers remain largely unaware of the need for accessibility or are unwilling to take the specific steps necessary to become accessible. Most assistive technology remains unable to support Sun’s Java Access Bridge while those that do support it require a complex installation procedure that is extremely difficult for nontechnical users to complete successfully.

While the concerns of assistive technology users can be resolved through increased education and support for Sun’s accessibility technology, the need for application developers to become accessible is of paramount importance. In order for this to happen, it is going to take significant effort on the part of both the blind community and Sun Microsystems. Let’s discuss how best to attack this issue in a constructive manner that achieves our goal of greater opportunity through accessibility!

Categories: Uncategorized

Securing Our Future In An Uncertain Brave New World

February 5, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I admit that I am very confused about all the proposals for Social Security reform. I blame this partly on both the conservatives and the liberals, both sides putting the best spin on their proposals. I think choice is always better than lack of choice. I thus think partial private investment of Social Security tax funds is a very good idea. I am concerned about how this might hurt those of us who are blind or otherwise disabled. I just wish I could find some serious, bipartisan facts on the situation that I could trust.

Frankly, the way I see the world moving in recent years, I think Social

Security and most other government programs will ultimately go away. I

don’t think this is avoidable. Globalization is spreading the wealth around the world rather than confining it all inside America and other advanced, highly developed democratic nations. It also feels like the focus is constantly on compression and downsizing, due to a lack of overall resources to support an ever increasing world population. If we’re seen as being unproductive in today’s business and social climate, then I am nervous and worried about our future. Those like Dr. Peter Singer who are self-proclaimed bioethicists and utilitarians are going to enjoy more and more support as these changes continue to affect a large portion of the population that doesn’t want to be burdened with the needs of the so-called unproductive, who drain precious resources while supposedly living lives that are “not worth living”. I think we’re just going to have to find ways to change with the times. That means finding ways to become less dependent on big government programs like Social Security. Right now, we must focus the bulk of our efforts on decreasing our huge unemployment rate. We must do as much as we can now, while we still have the chance, to become entrenched in mainstream society. This means we must continue to advocate for our needs and rights, but do so in ways that conservatives can understand and be persuaded to help. I think that means we must confine ourselves to asking for concessions and reasonable accomodations that will improve our ability to be productive, hoping that, along the way, we will be able to maintain and improve our standard of living. We must think about constructive ways to make this happen.

Improve social attitudes by example, without preaching. Let’s really pick our battles carefully in this area. Obviously, we must continue to fight, in the strongest possible terms and with all means necessary, blatant discrimination such as denial of public access for users of guide dogs and government sponsored abduction of children from blind parents. I do think we must avoid advocacy for political correctness, publicly fighting against every misrepresentation of blindness in the media and elsewhere. I think it is fine to comment on it inside the blind community and to find ways to change these issues by example, but I wouldn’t want to see precious legal resources and political capital wasted in these areas.

Outside the area of social attitudes, I’d like to see us focus on ways to gain more access to the world around us and to secure independent means of transportation. Focusing on these two areas of advocacy represents our only real hope for a bright future.

On accessibility, we must discover and absolutely insist on built in accessibility at the time of the design and development of all new technology products and services. For existing products, we must do our best to get the manufacturers to make changes that improve our overall accessibility. In conjunction with advocating more accessibility by the mainstream technology industry, we must also work to make our own, independent accessibility as much as possible. Projects such as the NFB Kurzweil Reader are intended to help move us in this direction. When it comes to employment of blind people who are ready to work, accessibility is life!

Transportation is another critical area! We must focus, in the short and medium term, on insisting on the availability of meaningful public

transportation and paratransit services in cities. There are literally tens of millions of people, including the increasing elderly population, who are unable to drive automobiles. We must work with these representative groups, forge alliances with individuals and organizations with compatible interests and needs, helping them and us gain better transportation

options. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that there’s no sense spending precious resources doing this in rural areas. Those of us who need independent transportation simply need to live in cities where those resources can be expected to be available. Of course, the long term solution for us and for millions of others will be the development of an automobile like KITT (of Knight Rider fame) that is able to drive itself. This kind of technology is now being covered in The Road To Driving Blind in Voice of the Nation’s Blind, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind.

Once we have significantly improved accessibility and transportation issues, along with living our lives as positive examples to improve attitudes about blindness in the rest of society, we the blind will be pretty much fully accepted in society and thus considered to be productive people worth keeping around. We could educate our children almost completely in the mainstream. Learning the alternative techniques of blindness in addition to our mainstream educations really would be all that is necessary to get along in the world around us. We could and should work toward becoming a powerful, unstoppable minority force in our nation!

Since we currently endure a 75 percent unemployment rate, we must retain and expand our employment opportunities through our proactive advocacy for accessibility and independent transportation options, while making sure our unemployed blind brothers and sisters don’t starve to death in the process. It is important that we understand that it is no longer just a matter of continuous improvement. The perception in the blind community is that our lives can’t get worse, but only better. That is increasingly false. We could be in real danger if we aren’t vigilant! We must thus take steps to retain social aid programs while simultaneously increasing our employment and business ownership rates. This is a dawnting task. We must be up to this challenge. Our very lives depend on getting the job done! It will require brainstorming and serious participation on the part of all sectors of the blind community. As always, comment and discussion are always encouraged and welcome here.

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