Let me just make it crystal clear right now that I fully expect our families and those whom consider themselves our real, true friends to take every possible opportunity to help us advocate for accessibility! This includes taking all actions requested here on the journal as well as others not directly stated as needed to attain positive results. There are absolutely no exceptions; equal participation through accessibility is just too important!
Karen and I have just started a wedding blog where you can see how our plans are coming along and provide some useful input. Since Google now deliberately prevents blind Blogger users from creating new blogs, I have implemented this one using the WordPress blogging application, so you might notice some minor differences. Enjoy and, as always, feel free to participate by posting comments!
I wrote the following letter to OfficeMax customer service conveying my feelings about a positive experience at one of the company’s local retail stores this afternoon and asking that the company make its web site accessible. Please comment about your own experiences with Office Max and send additional e-mail to the company asking for better web site accessibility.
Dear OfficeMax Customer Service,
I am a blind information technology professional, accessibility advocate and publisher of the Blind Access Journal found at http://www.blindaccessjournal.com. Like many other professionals, I must purchase office supplies from time to time, and Office Max is the company I choose to conduct such business.
Since I needed to purchase a new chair and some other supplies for my home office, I decided to visit my local Office Max store in Tempe Arizona at the corner of Broadway and Rural Road. Josh, one of your employees, was extremely helpful in assisting me to select the chair, a paper shredder, a printer cartridge and a cross over ethernet cable for the Accessibility Command Center’s advanced computer networking needs. He also went beyond the call of duty by arranging for assembly and same day delivery of my new office chair! This was extremely helpful for an independent blind person who does not live with sighted people who can easily meet these challenges on a moment’s notice. In many cases, product assembly is almost impossible for a totally blind person who is unable to read printed instructions or intuitively see how various parts go together without such information at hand. Transportation issues are also quite challenging for the blind, and there were serious questions of scheduling your company’s standard delivery processes around the time demands of my regular day job and all my advocacy and volunteer activities in the blind community. Instead of forcing me to deal with these frequent difficulties, Josh assembled the chair and had Brian, another employee, deliver it this afternoon. All of this help was offered; I didn’t even have to ask! It is a great chair and I’m quite happy to own it! This willingness of your employees to go above and beyond the call of duty is a clear indication of your company’s commitment to serve all its customers, including those of us with disabilities! Thanks to Josh and Brian! Please do pass along the positive feedback to their supervisors at the local store.
At the conclusion of this excellent experience with your local store, I decided I wanted to go online to www.OfficeMax.com to complete a positive customer survey. I was dismayed to find that this wasn’t going to be possible due to the current inaccessibility of your web site. After more than half an hour of browsing your company’s web site, I have still been unable to locate the survey. The accessibility problem stems from the fact that there are a large number of graphical links that are missing appropriately descriptive alt text tags. Fixing this accessibility challenge would not be very difficult or expensive, and it would serve to further enhance your company’s goodwill within the community of people with disabilities.
I hope I will receive a personal response from someone on your staff soon. Please provide a direct link to your company’s customer feedback survey so that I may officially express my gratitude for the exceptional ability and willingness of Brian and Josh to go above and beyond the call of duty to assist me in the convenient, hassle-free business with your company. Please also work with your company’s web site developers to correct the accessibility issues caused by the lack of alt tags for graphical links. I thank you for your consideration and look forward to a response in the near future.
We are urging all blind Internet users to write Blogger support requesting the immediate removal of the visual verification requirement for creating new blogs until a reasonably accessible alternative can be implemented that meets the needs of all human beings without excluding those whom happen to be blind. The purpose of visual verification is to test for the presence of a live human being. Lets remind Google of our status as real, living and breathing human beings by insisting on equal access! .
We have recently learned that Google now requires visual verification during the process of creating a new blog on blogger.com. Despite our ongoing attempts to communicate with Google about the need for accessibility, no accessible alternative has been provided for this new instance of visual verification. Whereas a blind user was once able to create new blogs at blogger.com, Google has now locked us out! Google staff continuously tell us that they are working on the problem while simultaneously Google continues to implement more instances of inaccessible visual verification. Sadly, we are only able to derive one conclusion. Google doesn’t care! I think it is now safe for us to conclude that Google is engaging in deliberate, ongoing and unmitigated discrimination against blind Internet users through the use of visual verification tests (also known as captcha) as a means to deny our equal participation.
It has become quite clear that our constant correspondence with Google staff through the company’s customer facing e-mail addresses has been totally ineffective in stopping Google’s discriminatory behavior against the blind. It is time we find a way to take our insistance on equal accessibility to some kind of next level so as to strongly encourage Google to correct its contemptable corporate behavior toward the blind and others with disabilities! I’m open to ideas!
Screen Reading in the Real World: The Importance of Enhancing and Maintaining Support for Critical Computer Software Applications
JAWS 6.1 was just released this afternoon. Sadly, this upgrade has crippled support for MSN Messenger 6.2 and does not work well at all with the newest MSN Messenger 7.0 released just yesterday! There are other examples (ACT, Goldmine, Quicken) of applications for which support was previously created, but allowed to fall by the wayside due to lack of ongoing maintenance. I’m picking on JAWS for the simple reason that this is the screen reader about which I happen to have the greatest level of experience and knowledge. I suspect that the developers of other screen readers also encounter similar challenges from time to time.
We are blind. That means we are physically unable to read the printed text and view the graphics displayed on the screen. We must depend on screen readers to obtain and provide the necessary information in a format we are able to use: Braille and/or speech output. Our computers are completely useless to us when our screen readers aren’t running or are unable to support our use of critical software found in the classroom, the workplace or the home.
I and many other blind computer users have experienced, time and again, the consequences of software that is not supported by our screen reader. Those hardships can range from simple inconvenience to outright loss of employment! Within just the past two years, I have experienced the following significant issues, among many others not listed, with my screen reader, most of which have resulted in the reduction of my ability to perform the duties of my position as a technical support engineer:
- JAWS does not work with Siebel CRM versions 7.0 or 7.5 when they have been implemented in “high interactivity” mode. We have not been able to successfully convince our customers to make a “standard interactivity” Siebel implementation available. Our outsourcing arrangements mean that we are in no position to compel our customers to make these necessary changes. This state of affairs resulted in my reassignment to more accessible, less technical duties. Though I couldn’t ask for better accomodations and understanding of the situation, I feel it has placed a black mark on my ability to advance with my current employer.
- JAWS does not work with a critical security management application based on Sun Java. Again, we are in no position to compel its developer to make the necessary accessibility changes that would enable it to work with JAWS and Sun’s Java Access Bridge.
- There are a couple of Java based web administration interfaces provided by one of our customers to which I have no access. Critical elements are totally invisible to JAWS! It is incredibly fortunate that I rarely need to use these systems, and I am able to obtain sighted assistance on the rare occasion I must perform a task involving them.
- On occasion, I still find a document (PDF, Microsoft E-Book, some other format) that is overly secured or requires use of an inaccessible piece of reading software.
Should mainstream hardware and software manufacturers become more accessible? Absolutely! Yes! Accessibility is always best implemented when there is a spirit of cooperation between the assistive technology industry and the creators of the mainstream technology on which our sighted peers rely. When that cooperation does not exist, our screen reader developers ought to be doing their best to fill that void, enabling us to retain and enhance opportunities for education and employment in the process.
In order for those of us in the blind community to gain and retain employment, we must insist that the developers of our assistive technology do two critical things:
- Innovate by creating support for a large, highly diverse pool of thousands of computer software applications used in the classroom, the workplace and the home.
- Help us continue productively participating in society by feverishly working to maintain accessibility to these applications as they are upgraded and changed by their developers.
Yes. I know. What I am proposing is definitely a “tall order”. It is quite a challenge, indeed, but one we must meet head on! Please feel free to comment not only on the merits of my statements but also on any specific actions we can take as a blind community to increase the accessibility our screen readers are able to provide to all the technology we must use on a daily basis!
This evening, Karen and I are excited to announce that we became engaged after she accepted my live marriage proposal on Jeff Bishop’s The Desert Skies radio show on ACB Radio Interactive. Jeff and I planned this show for almost an entire week while managing to keep Karen completely in the dark regarding the purpose of our activities. Her total surprise turned into a “yes” answer and our excitement at its now being official! We thank everyone who listened live. If you missed the show, a complete archive of the two hour event is available. We invite you to join in our excitement as we became engaged on the flagship Internet radio station of the connected blind community!