I just posted the following note on the blindcasting mailing list, a discussion group for blind podcasters, in response to the ongoing Podsafe for Peace inaccessibility controversy.

Hi all,

I know Jeff asked for the end of this thread a couple of days ago, yet I just can’t allow the ongoing condemnations and misunderstandings of me and all I am trying to accomplish to go on and on unchallenged. Though I am sure most of you have decided you’re not interested, I am nevertheless going to lay out all the facts as I understand them, then explain the rationale behind my making such an issue of the accessibility problems surrounding Podsafe for Peace for what it is or is not worth to most of you whom seem to have already made up your minds.

Podsafe for Peace is a We Are the World type benefit by podcasters featuring a lot of Podsafe musicians getting together to sing and disseminate a song written and composed originally by Jerry Halatyn and another person. The project is endorsed by Adam Curry and Podshow. The song is available on the Podsafe Music Network (which remains inaccessible to the blind) as well as for PayPal purchase on a web site that does happen to be accessible. Blindcasters may send e-mail directly to Slau for a copy of the track to be played on their podcast. Proceeds from the purchase of this song are going to UNICEF, though this project is, in no way shape or form, officially endorsed by the charity.

On the morning of Sunday, December 4, Jeff Bishop created a fair way to make the Podsafe for Peace track directly and immediately available to blindcasters for download from his web site after providing their name and e-mail addresses for reporting purposes. A reasonable effort was made to insure the track could not be downloaded without completing the form, and language was clearly included concerning the need to report all podplay to music@podshow.com. The system was set up to work around the current inaccessibility of the Podsafe Music Network both for registration (due to inaccessible visual verification) and overall use as we are currently not able to add songs to our playlists once we do manage to get manually registered. More than 60 blind people downloaded the song from using this system. Some were podcasters, while others were not.

On Sunday night, Slau was featured on Marlaina’s show on ACB Radio. I called in to thank Jeff Bishop for his efforts to make this project equally accessible to the blind. I was under the mistaken impression that, despite the inaccessibility of PMN, the blind would, in fact, be permitted full and equal participation in this fun, benefitial project. Sadly, I was to learn in a hurry that my optimism would be quite short lived.

Only a few hours after implementation of this accessible work around, pressure was applied by Slau to require PMN registration despite its current inaccessibility. Even after that change was made, additional pressure was applied to make other changes, such as a request to add a prompt for the downloader’s podcast feed. Within only a couple of days, Jeff simply removed the accessibility to the track from his web site altogether. As is usually the case, the needs and wants of all others trumped our need for equal accessibility and full participation.

Slau is a blind musician who relies on assistive technology such as screen reading software in order to do his job and enjoy the technological part of his life. It is quite reasonable to expect that a blind brother would do everything possible to insure a project he leads is made accessible to the blind. Certainly, it is quite disappointing and unexpected for such a person to take steps to thwart a fairly implemented accessibility work around due to one or two potential concerns that did not even actually come to fruition!

On the Blind Access Journal blog and podcast, as well as the blindcasting mailing list, I called Slau out on the carpet for his errors with respect to failing to take care of the accessibility needs of his blind brothers and sisters. A few days of controversy persisted, largely confined to the blind community, before starting to die down.

On the evening of Saturday, December 10, while checking my e-mail after a great day visiting with the Bishop family, I read a private e-mail from Slau telling me how hurt and insulted he was that I displayed my disappointment in him. I sent him a private response. On Sunday morning, December 11, Slau inappropriately decided to make our private correspondence extremely public by sending it not only to the blindcasting list, but also directly to Adam Curry, C.C. Chapman, Marlaina and Jeff! This improper action added fuel to an otherwise dying fire and served to take the controversy far outside our blind community.

This is where we stand now. Podsafe for Peace is accessible to blindcasters either by way of an e-mail to Slau or by purchase from the podsafeforpeace.org web site. In all fairness to Slau, he is reasonably prompt in his response by blindcasters, providing a link to the song within approximately 90 minutes of my request. This remains far from the equal access Jeff provided, or which would be provided had only the developers of PMN appropriately considered the need for accessibility during the design and implementation of that service! A task a sighted person is able to accomplish within five minutes required more than 90 minutes for a blind person to be permitted the same result.

Most of the blind community is squarely opposed to me and all for which I stand. I am apparently “militant” and unwilling to work cooperatively with others to achieve accessibility. The blind community will prop up any blind person who accomplishes something, even if that person failed to appropriately consider the needs of his own blind brothers and sisters! The community will also quickly and easily slam anyone (over a single controversy) who is working very hard to look out for their accessibility needs without doing their research and having all their facts straight!

For the record, some may consider portions of my accessibility evangelism to be “militant”. I prefer to think of it as insistent. Of course, most of my work is actually quite conciliatory and diplomatic, working to raise awareness of assistive technology and accessibility, asking the mainstream technology industry to consider our needs for accessibility and rationally explaining the human rights aspect of insuring that the blind aren’t simply left out in the cold while technology advances without us, thus threatening to destroy our ability to learn, work and enjoy leisure activities. From this controversy, I have learned a couple of critical lessons. First, keep in mind that your private communications can be made public at any time and in the most inopportune manner possible. Second, the blind community is mostly made up of clueless, immature, selfish, sheltered, ungrateful people, living in their own little fantasy worlds, willing to attack, at a moment’s notice, anything they do not immediately understand!

Merry Christmas my blind brothers and sisters. Have a nice life in your shrinking, increasingly inaccessible world!