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Accessibility and Usability Forum

Accessibility Advocates Accuse Engines of Shutting out the Blind

 8:39 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Accessibility advocates have accused Google and Yahoo of shutting out the blind.

The door is still closed.

Now, an Internet petition is asking Google to provide an accessible alternative to the visual verification scheme that currently locks the blind and visually impaired out of participation in all the company's services.




 9:02 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are these same people going after restaurants that don't offer braille menus? Libraries that don't carry braille copies of every book? It is unfortunate that these people can't use these products, but I don't know, maybe I'm jaded with the US justice system. To me this looks like it's leading up to another excuse for lawyers to sue the "deep pockets".


 9:05 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

I agree monda, it is just a petition though and not a lawsuit. But I'm sure once the feds pick up the story one will try and intruduce a new law.. if nothing else just to get a few extra votes this coming November.


 9:47 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

This should be a non-issue.

The web is made of text, (and if the HTML is properly marked up, images have an appropriate alt text value)...

There are third party products, even complete web browsers engineered for low-vision and blind users.

Search for: "web browser" blind "screen reader" voice

... I'd be interested to hear how these solutions work --- especially from any blind person "reading" this thread.


 11:31 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

My initial thought, like mona's, was "here come the lawyers" but after reading the linked reference article,
Is Google Shutting Out The Blind?
[internetnews.com] dated July 8, 2005 the petitioner is holding Google to it's word on a specific issue.

Google is working on it, said Marissa Mayer, director of consumer products. "We are planning on releasing some alternatives in the next one to two months that make our current captchas more compatible with screen readers, and we're looking into audio captchas," Mayer said.


Sight-impaired Google fans can expect that to change within a month, Mayer said.

"I'd anticipate we'd have a release that improves this issue in the next month or so," she said, "and one that really solves the problem, hopefully, in the month after that."

Apparently Ms. Mayer's 'accessible' captcha release date was somewhat optimistic. Now possibly April.

The writer (rather than the petitioner) may have more of an agenda: reads to me like a case of holding Google's feet to the fire, taking a swipe at Yahoo, and patting MSN and MSFT on the back.

No lawyers in sight yet. Maybe I need new glasses.


 12:13 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

That's because microsoft has invested more into usability than both google and yahoo combined. There are R&D efforts over the last 10 years all point to this. Anyone who says otherwise should go check out information readily available on their site.

You see nothing, however, of really worth on Google's site...yahoo has a little but even that is sort of pitiful given their market shares.


 4:10 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

I personally know a blind, avid, Internet user. These are real issues for them. I am willing to work with their group and she has told me that they offer free consultation to web sites willing to work with them. I have taken them up on it and am currently on the waiting list.

This is a local group in my area. If you have a major website, I recommend that you also look for like services in your area. It would be nice if the blind had a world wide organization that offered the same service(helping sites to be compatible for the vision impaired), but, currently, this is not available to my knowledge. Until this happens, many web sites will not be accessible by the blind and vision impaired.


 4:12 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

Excellent suggestion there, spaceylacie!


 8:50 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

Libraries that don't carry braille copies of every book? It is unfortunate that these people can't use these products, but I don't know, maybe I'm jaded with the US justice system

Libraries and books pre-date most nations' laws on accessibily, and therefore have a lot of wriggle room for not being able to comply in all cases.

The web does not predate most nations' acessibility laws.

Any website created that breaks those laws must have been done so deliberately or in ignorance.

If it was deliberate discrimination, then I hope the prison sentences are long.

If out of ignorance, then time to remediate rather than complain about the right to ignorance.


 9:30 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

Also, I don't think libraries and the web is a fair comparison. Once they come out with OCR braille devices I can understand if you get sued for publishing a book which is useless in the device. But you cannot demand (nor would any court uphold such a demand) a library to carry braille versions of all books.

With the web, the story is entirely different, however. Braille converters and screen readers are commonly accessible. There is really no excuse for a website not to function in such a device.

Oliver Henniges

 10:03 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

It would be nice if the blind had a world wide organization that offered the same service(helping sites to be compatible for the vision impaired),

Yes, and what we'd also need is software to support such activities. I was recently thinking of implemeting a cms-database for that, offering people the chance to describe my images in more detail. I did supply alt-tags, but maybe in some cases an additional long desc would be helpful. I think to programm such a tool would not be that difficult, but I wouldn't find the time to describe the images myself. I thought of additionally presenting images with an href-link to an input-form where such descriptions might be written. If the writer is offered the opportunity to set a backlink to his own site, this might be a lot more interesting than blogspamming.

I wonder whether webmasterworld is really the place to dicuss/complain the MORAL aspects of these lawsuits. In the first place I see a MARKET there, a technical challenge. Maybe google will one day implemet a '<doublerel>'-tag for such VI-long-desc-blog-entries, inheriting double pagerank to the site that was so friendly to help the blind.


 1:45 pm on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

(It's nice to see this thread is more civil than the recent "Blind Student Sues" thread...)

FWIW, visually impaired does not mean hearing impaired. I fairly recently found myself at an audio bookstore: Large selection, fairly-wide subject base, current titles, multiple formats... No VI folk when I was there, and the shop was geared more to "people on the move," but audio books have been available for about as long as sound has been recorded.

On libraries having to stock Braille books... No, no library should be expected to stock a complete selection of Braille (or audio) books, just as no one would expect a library to stock a complete selection of "regular" books. Just to start with, there are physical space issues. But through the interconnecting of libraries and the sharing of their combined resources - as exists with my city's library "system;" books can be ordered from any library, and picked up shortly at your local branch - it's nice to think that most all people that wanted to be served could be served.


 4:16 pm on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

I recommend that you also look for like services in your area. It would be nice if the blind had a world wide organization that offered the same service(helping sites to be compatible for the vision impaired)

I have been advised a couple of times to do exactly that. Trying to find a group of visually impaired people to assess how accessible our site was.

I've been told to:

  • ask at the town hall / mayor's office / county's office - as they often have a list of groups / communities meeting in their area
  • go to the libraries as they often know about such groups / communities
  • or simply go down to the university a ask student(s) if they would like to earn a few $$ to test a site using their own computer

    Although I've got to do any of these

  • spaceylacie

     5:07 am on Feb 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Perhaps we should all sign a petition and send it to advocates for the blind asking that they provide a free or reasonably priced world wide web site review service(could be done from any location).

    We've so far found out that, not only do we have to worry about alt tags and proper image descriptions, but also visual site security. What else? Instead of suing, sending petitions, etc. Why not just explain in detail to us[webmasters] what is needed to make a site fully compatible for the blind?

    I'm going to give my friend a call tomorrow to find out what is the hold up on my own site review. If they don't currently have the man power, maybe my friend will remember that I offered to pay for the service... it's not that big of a deal to just hire someone(s) and disperse the costs among webmasters interested in the service.


     6:09 am on Feb 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I'm thinking about suing the lawyers for suing people ...


     6:43 am on Feb 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Actually, DrDoc, that sounds about reasonable in this situation. Another great idea... heard first, here, at WebmasterWorld.


     3:37 am on Feb 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Years ago I received several emails stating that my websites were in violation of the law because the were not accessible to the blind. Is it really worth my while to make my photoshop tutorials in such a way that blind people can read them? Do they really use such things? Where do you draw the line on what needs to be accesible?

    I don't know how it is now, but at the time I know that using tables on a web page messed up the page for the screen readers. Since most people don't have an opportunity to try out screen readers I think it would be better to program the screen readers properly than to ask everyone to change their web pages. Seems like that would be an easy thing to do in this day and age.

    But of course html keeps changing so I guess that means screen readers would need to be changed. Perhaps we can just stop changing the way the web works. Leave html right where it is, then I won't have to keep learning new things. Once a store owner puts in a wheelchair ramp it is pretty much there to stay, it doesn't need to be updated every few years.

    Last time I was in the store I didn't notice any price tags in braille


     3:54 am on Feb 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Some of the callousness in this thread is amazing - and sad. Sorry someone has put you out so much.



     4:08 am on Feb 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    No one has put me out, but to say that every business on the web needs to make their site accesible or be in violation of the law is ridiculous. It would cost business an enormous amount of money and many things would not ever be used by the blind. I am asking where do you draw the line? Does industry have blind people doing their purchasing?

    The suit against target said...
    . The suit also contends that because the Web site requires the use of a mouse to complete a transaction, blind customers are unable to make purchases on their own."


     9:38 am on Feb 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    It would cost business an enormous amount of money

    It'll only cost what it'll cost to remove the barriers business deliberately erected to prevent their sites being accessible.

    The real question is why did business deliberately set out to undermine the basis of the web and to restrict its accessibility when it was actually cheaper and faster to do it right in the first place?

    "The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
    -- Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web


     5:56 pm on Feb 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Several large businesses who are greatly affected by accessibility laws are also fully supporting WAI/WCAG. If they can do it, why can't everyone else?

    Matt Probert

     7:05 pm on Feb 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Just tried Google with the Lynx text browser. What a nightmare!

    It is not rocket science to make a web site usable with a text browser, and with Google's money they can afford to do so.



     12:26 pm on Feb 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Anyone that makes their site accesible will have an advantage over others. The point is it should be their choice. You can be sure it never entered the minds of most people when they spent thousands of dollars and hired someone to build their web site.

    Mail order catalogs were never required to be accessible. The web is not a place of business, it is simply a place where businesses put their catalogs online. The ADA can't come in and suddenly say every site must be accessible. They didn't even do that with buildings.

    Educating people about the problem is a good thing but do you really think suing people is the best way to go about it? Perhaps we should only allow licensed webmasters to build web sites. Not everyone is allowed to just go out and construct a building. We can have inspectors that check the sites to make sure they are up to code. Maybe a web owners association to make sure people don't put too many banners on a page or use ugly colors. This will eliminate all the spam sites and save everyone hours of time. Google can concentrate on being accesible instead of wasting time changing the algo.

    First though I think Netscape should sue everyone whos site doesn't work in their browser. I had to stop using Netscape because I came across so many sites that just wouldn't work in it. No doubt it hurt their business. Yes let the lawsuits roll. It will be great for business, clean up the web and create more jobs!

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