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Giving the Blind Better Web Access 168

Posted by samzenpus
from the web-for-all dept.
crimeandpunishment writes "Decades ago, the breakthrough for the disabled was making buildings wheelchair accessible. Today, it's making their world Web-accessible. Disabled groups are hailing new legislation Congress has sent to the President. Among other things, the measure will give the blind greater Internet access through smart phones, and require devices like iPhones and Blackberrys to be hearing-aid compatible. 'It breaks down barriers for all of us,' says Mark Richert of the American Foundation for the Blind."
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Giving the Blind Better Web Access

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:39PM (#33738858)

    These sorts of well-intentioned pieces of legislation are the kind of thing that ostensibly are for our betterment and they always look great on paper. But when you're actually have to design a website and you start running into the requirements of Section 508 [wikipedia.org] and other such well-meaning laws, the feel-good shine wears off fast. Inevitably they mean considerably more work in the best case scenario, and a "dumbing down" of a website in the worst case scenario (if you follow the "suggested" best-practices). You can look at the "cultural heritage" laws in Quebec as an example of where good intentions can go. It starts off with a noble goal of not excluding French-speakers from public life, and eventually leads to something like Bill 101 [wikipedia.org], which all but outlawed English in the region, complete with a language gestapo.

    I'm all for the blind being able to use the web. But wouldn't it be much better to approach the issue as a technological one on the viewer's end, and not a legislative one on the designer's end? I would much rather be asked to do something that TOLD to do it, under threat of law.

    • by Peach Rings (1782482) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:44PM (#33738964) Homepage

      This used to be a really evil thing, but now it's a blessing in disguise. The right way of making a web page (nice clean <p>s and unordered lists, alts on all the images, styled with CSS) is extremely accessible. The more people do that, the better!

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        > and require devices like iPhones and Blackberrys to be hearing aid compatible.

        Ummm, why not require hearing aids to be Bluetooth compatible?

        • by Coren22 (1625475)

          Many of them are. My grandfather's hearing aid is.

      • I see what you are trying to say, but the phrase "the right way to..." never sits well with me. The "right way" can be interpreted from many perspectives. Unfortunately the "right way" is typically the way your manager or boss thinks is the "right way" which often means the "fastest cheapest way"
      • by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:59PM (#33739226)

        Agreed: Handicapped accessible == machine readable. For too long has the Web been dominated by marketing people who care everything about controlling the "visual experience" and just don't get the concept of separating layout from semantics. If you grok HTML and CSS then I fail to see how an accessible design costs a whole lot more than a non-accessible one. Well, aside from the fact that CMS designers don't seem to give a damn about accessibility or standards compliance either.

        Disclaimer: this comes from a guy who works at a company whose idea of putting information on the Intranet is to post a link to a Word document. *facepalm*

        • by quanticle (843097)

          Disclaimer: this comes from a guy who works at a company whose idea of putting information on the Intranet is to post a link to a Word document. *facepalm*

          You know, that might actually be *more* accessible than trying to have the user code up the information in HTML, since whatever HTML a user like that produces is probably going be unparseable in anything other than IE6.

        • Handicapped accessible == machine readable.

          Machine readability can be a bad thing when human eyeballs are the product and the information on your web site exists solely to entice humans to look at your advertisements. Watch as TV listings sites have introduced CAPTCHAs and distort the listings in ways that only a full CSS layout engine can untangle, specifically to deter machines that screen-scrape instead of paying per month for API access.

          If you grok HTML and CSS then I fail to see how an accessible design costs a whole lot more than a non-accessible one.

          Accessible design costs more if you incur costs per day or per view that advertisers are supposed to pay, but

        • For static content, you're right. But when you're designing dynamic applications in something like GWT, you're way beyond being able to think about the semantic web.

      • by jd (1658)

        I wrote a "generic" metalanguage that could be compiled together with a template into any specific metalanguage with suitable formatting back in 1997. It was a bugger to write, but it was writable. In modern web languages, especially with server scripting languages (eg: PHP) and browser scripting (eg: AJAX), especially with the verifiers present in things like Firefox and the debugging tools like Selenium, it should be a cinch to write clean, elegant web pages that work well on any browser and which can ada

        • by tepples (727027)

          it should be a cinch to write clean, elegant web pages that work well on any browser

          Unless browsers are so far behind that they don't support specifications that have been widely recognized for years. For example, graceful degradation isn't so graceful if it degrades an SVG diagram to a blank box or if it degrades a sample from an instrumental recording (on a page about this piece of music) to its title.

          One should NEVER mix the processing with the presentation.

          How would you recommend not mixing the two in the case of a diagram of how to assemble a product, or in the case of a work of visual art or music?

          • by jd (1658)

            If what is presented to the browser is always pre-processed server-side, then the server can use the browser string (and any other retrievable information) to select what transforms need to be applied. In the case of SVG, you might convert the SVG into a static PNG or a VRML diagram, depending on what capabilities the browser has.

            Let's take the case of a diagram. The data is stored as raw data on the server. Browser A has SVG support and gets an SVG version of the data. Browser B has no real diagramming sup

            • by tepples (727027)

              convert the SVG into a static PNG

              Oh, like Wikipedia does.

              VRML

              Is that [wikipedia.org] still around?

              You can associate pitch and volume with height fields.

              For a recording of polyphonic music, this would require some heavy DSP to discover the multiple pitches and timbres in each time window. The algorithms probably didn't exist 20 years ago and are therefore probably patented to the extent that they do exist. Real-time visualization effects in PC-based media players use shortcuts appropriate for entertainment but not for analysis. Storing the sheet music and synchronizing that to the recording can cost a lot more fo

              • by jd (1658)

                VRML is indeed still around and there are some excellent editors/viewers for Linux and Windows. I suggest you read Freshmeat as well as Slashdot.

                CodeSourcery produces a GPL version of VSIPL, which is a library for software DSP. That gives you the algorithms you need in a non-patented form.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Well said sir ! Just about every site I create is made as accessible as possible - especially those offering services / goods. If you're offering something, especially in a niche market, then if your site is the one that blind / visually impaired users can use then you'll be the one selling your stuff. Obviously some people want flashy (or flash :| ) sites but I try to dissuade them unless there's a good reason for it. Not saying there ain't a place for fanciness but lots of sites seem to be design led r
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by RobotRunAmok (595286)

      D00d, if you have either technical or philosophical difficulties making or re-vamping websites to be standards compliant, please contact me via Cmdr Taco. I've got at least a dozen coders and designers with big hearts, open minds, and insane skills who are currently under-employed and would jump at the opportunity for the work.

      Seriously.

    • by hsmith (818216)
      The biggest pita is that, following 508 to the letter, means you can't create separate views for the blind - your view for data must be the ONLY view.

      good intentions, but as someone that has to work with it i hate it
    • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:49PM (#33739036)

      I'm at a conference about accessibility right now and I was just looking at the giant display of the history of disability, so I'm getting a kick out of your post.

      Seriously, without legislative mandates pushing this kind of thing, the disabled will just continue to be overlooked by the big vendors and ripped off by small vendors. We are doing things with iOS 4 and iPad for $4-600 that a year ago we had to spend $5000-7500 on.

      With a law forcing this, the tech will get cheaper and better.

      • by pherthyl (445706)

        Which conference are you at? I assume you're talking about apps like Proloquo2go?

        We're currently working on allowing the iPad/iPhone be controlled with alternative input devices for people with disabilities. Would be interested to hear about what in that area was discussed at the conference.

      • by iamhigh (1252742)
        I am getting way OT, but I'm looking at the percentage of gays and the percentage of blind people, noticing they are the same and getting a kick out of it.

        I don't have any thing against blind people, but for about 3% of the population, we spend a decent amount to make your life better. There are even special noise making (annoying) cross walks. Conversly, we spend a hell of a lot of money to put down gays. Laws against sodomy and gay marriage. Laws like "don't ask, don't tell" which is a logical ban
    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:52PM (#33739096)

      I'm all for the blind being able to use the web. But wouldn't it be much better to approach the issue as a technological one on the viewer's end, and not a legislative one on the designer's end?

      The technological problem on the viewer's end is largely solved, so long as existing web standards and best practices regarding separation of content and presentation are adhered to.

      Aside from technology that essentially cures blindness, though, your never going to get a technological solution on the viewer's end that deals with the choice to use inaccessible presentation as the only way of getting at the content on the designer's end.

    • If you design websites, then you need to have the following removed:
      * both ears;
      * both eyes;
      * both arms;
      * both legs;
      * your nose;
      * your tongue;

    • by blueZ3 (744446)

      Yes.

      Unfortunately, your average inhabitant of congress doesn't have enough brain power to decipher the words "unintended consequences" (too many syllables, I guess) let alone understand the concept.

      But hey, since they've already solved all of the country's big problems, it's definitely time to move on to micromanaging web development. After all, they've been so successful with most of their technology laws and what could possibly go wrong?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hedwards (940851)
        Designing websites that are accessible to the blind, is not that difficult. Pretty much all of it is already covered in best practices. You know things like always giving your images an informative alt text, not using frames, avoiding flash for navigation, avoiding flash for presenting materials that don't need to be visual etc.

        It's really not that big of a challenge, and really most of that ought to be already happening on the site anyways.
        • avoiding flash for presenting materials that don't need to be animated with a legacy piece of crap

          FTFY.

        • by tepples (727027)

          always giving your images an informative alt text

          "Always" is difficult. Put informative alt text on your visual CAPTCHA, and bots will solve it 100% of the time.

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            No, the alt text would be "this is a captcha". Next to it would be the audio captcha button.

            • Next to it would be the audio captcha button.

              I tried the audio CAPTCHA here [google.com] and could not solve it. It consisted of indistinct voices buried in layers of backwards speech. Do I need to turn in my human card?

    • YES. If even a fraction of the money spent on constructing buildings for ADA compliance were spent on - say - researching mobility platforms that would enable the disabled to utilize buildings designed for able people, I believe that we would be waaaay ahead. As a developer/builder, I would much rather pay a fraction of what we spend on compliance into such a fund. So many of the regulations are completely overwrought and 'solve' problems that never existed to begin with.
    • by Bazouel (105242)

      You have obviously never been in Montreal in your life. You go to a store and people greet you in English first. The 101 bill requires that information be also available in French, it does not exclude English. Your comment was informative up to that point. Please stick to what you actually know from experience, not hearsay.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      I know, let's leave it to the fucking free market, that'll sort everything out, as always.
    • Didn't we already have these discussions a month ago?

      There are four camps here:

      1. Accessibility will totally fuck with my Web x.0 experience
      2. Accessibility will cost me money
      3. Accessibility is easy, why not do it?
      4. Accessibility is a necessity.

      Camps 3 and 4 form an alliance and try to convince camps 1 and 2 that they're bellyaching over nothing. Camps 1 and 2 ally and talk about how small businesses will be sued out of existence.

      And the unspoken camp 5, the people that require the accessibility, sit by a

  • by Anonymous Coward

    .... just stop them from putting their cane through the screen!
  • No, this does not "break down barriers for us all". It breaks down barriers for certain people, while putting up barriers for anyone creating web content.
    • by irving47 (73147)

      I'd love to see the numbers on that. I bet you have a good point, and that it will inconvenience more than it will help.

    • by guruevi (827432) <evi@@@smokingcube...be> on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @04:21PM (#33739510) Homepage

      How would it put up barriers for anyone creating web content? All blind people need is for the webpage to be correctly coded according to the HTML specs and not have the important content in a fancy JavaScript that alters the DOM after the page has loaded (although web readers can usually put up with it). It would break down barriers not only for blind people but also for computers and browser makers as well as the general public, open source operating systems (no more IE-only websites) etc. etc.

      As for devices, Apple's Mac OS X is compatible with most screen readers and braille keyboards, even the iPhone has some fancy accessibility built-in, Apple does a really good job at making it accessible from the get-go. Even Windows and most Linux distro's have accessibility built-in although a lot of applications could use some shining up in that area (hot keys being one of them and again, not putting main content in obscure places).

      • by tomhath (637240)
        ADA is a huge cash cow for lawyers today. They can walk into almost any business with a measuring tape and collect enough evidence for a lawsuit. No need to request voluntary compliance, file the suit and collect the paycheck [disabilityscoop.com]. It's automatic. I suspect the same will be coming soon to a website near you.
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      No, this does not "break down barriers for us all". It breaks down barriers for certain people, while putting up barriers for anyone creating web content.

      That sort of attitude is what encourages legislation. As someone "creating web content" you should WANT to make your stuff accessible to as many people as possible. The only additional "barrier" it puts up for you is that you have to conform to web standards, well boo fucking hoo if that's too much of an effort, you don't deserve to be in business any m

  • by codegen (103601) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:54PM (#33739122) Journal
    It also has provisions for CC or subtitles for the HOH/deaf. This has me hoping. Despite the fact that most of the players support CC, the online video/movies seem to ignore it. It strikes me as odd that every DVD has either CC or Subtitles (they have to by law), but only 18 movies in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy catetory at the itunes store have CC.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Yvan256 (722131)

      And those subtitles are not only useful for the HOH/deaf, they're useful for people trying to watch foreign language movies or just let us understand actors with a thick accent.

      • by tepples (727027)

        And those subtitles are not only useful for the HOH/deaf, they're useful for people trying to watch foreign language movies

        Movie industry's response: Then wait and buy the movie when it comes to your region with an official subtitle track in your region's majority language. That's what I thought region codes were for.

        • by codegen (103601)
          You missed the point. The movies are available on DVD/Blueray in our region with subtitles right now. But most of the online versions from iTunes/Netflix/other do not have the subtitles. Why is that? Is it because they are required to put it on the physical media by law? Hmmm....
    • by NevarMore (248971)

      Is one of them 2001: A Space Odyssey?

      • by codegen (103601)

        s one of them 2001: A Space Odyssey?

        Unfortunately, not. They are: Star Trek II -> V, Total Recall, Cube Zero, Stargate: The Ark of Truth Stardust, Alien, Alien III, (Note no Aliens), The Black Hole, ClockStoppers, The Arrival, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Barbarella, The Philadelphia Experiment 2, Dragonslayer, and the War of the Worlds (1953).

  • Not about the "web". (Score:3, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @03:56PM (#33739154) Homepage

    This has nothing to do with the Web. It's about telephony in its VoIP form, broadcast content redistributed over the Internet, and mobile browsers. It doesn't affect web sites. See S.3304 [loc.gov].

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by quanticle (843097)

      The house counterpart [govtrack.us] is worded a bit more broadly. It would extend the provisions described to cover text based messages as well [govtrack.us].

      • by Animats (122034)

        The house counterpart is worded a bit more broadly. It would extend the provisions described to cover text based messages as well.

        That version was sidelined. Real status is in Thomas [loc.gov], Congress's revision control system. Check the "related bills" link and see which version is furthest along.. S.3304's revision history ("Major Congressional Actions") reads:

        • 5/4/2010 Introduced in Senate
        • 8/3/2010 Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Reported by Senator Rockefeller with an amendment in th
  • Just as an exercise, geeks, try running your computer without a monitor for no less than 4 hours. It is a lesson you won't soon forget.
    • Just as an exercise, geeks, try running your computer without a monitor for no less than 4 hours. It is a lesson you won't soon forget.

      You mean, as a server? ;)

      No seriously, I agree. Most sites/software are inaccessible crap. They really shouldn't let graphic designers/animators build sites.

  • ...by investing in tech and science that can make them see it with their EYES! [sciencenews.org]

    While it is nice to see the gov't pass laws like this, it would be even nicer to see them put up the funding for developing the tech/science further behind studies like the one I linked to. Or lifting the ban on stem cell research so that we can really get on track with giving back the senses that have been robbed from so many people, among other things.

  • by snsh (968808) on Wednesday September 29, 2010 @04:16PM (#33739454)
    Google Analytics tells me that I got 20k visitors yesterday. Four of them used NS4. 1500 of them used IE6. There are few NS4 users that I honestly don't care how my site renders in their browser. There are enough IE6 users that I do have to care how my site renders in their browser.

    How can I get Google Analytics to tell me how many of my visitors are blind and using screen-readers?
    • by narcc (412956)

      How can I get Google Analytics to tell me how many of my visitors are blind and using screen-readers?

      You can't. Screen readers do not work the way you think they do.

  • by loafula (1080631)
    why spend so much time and money making all of these devices hearing-aid compatible? why not just make the hearing-aids device compatible? install bluetooth receiver in hearing aid. problem solved.
    • Because that's how laws like this work: they make everybody but those few who receive any benefit pay for the demands of the few.
      • by idontgno (624372)

        Isn't it terrible, how society coddles the weak, the sick, the old, the feeble, the lame, the blind? The whole-bodied majority are weighed down and forced to drag the defectives with us into the future.

        Perhaps you're recommending a little racial hygiene? [wikipedia.org]

    • Do they make bluetooth receivers small enough to fit on a couple of pin heads? Most hearing aids are extremely small, and I don't think there is a lot of room to go adding things and not have the costs skyrocket.

      I agree, there should be some way to use existing technology.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by compro01 (777531)

      One problem solved, at least two more created.

      1. Size. Modern hearing aids are very small, they fit in your ear canal, rather than behind the ear. There's not much room to add a bluetooth transceiver and antenna.

      2. Battery life. Bluetooth is not free in terms of power and given the above size constraint, you don't have a lot of headroom to put in more battery. You're looking at about 100mAh, 600mAh at the outside, and expected battery life of days to weeks of continuous use. Even with the brand new low

      • by codegen (103601)
        Actually, there are telecoil bluetooth receivers. You wear them around the neck and pair with the phone. They drive the telecoil receiver in the hearing aid. Typically run off of 2 AA.
  • The summary notes (and the article agrees) that:

    Among other things, the measure will give the blind greater Internet access through smart phones

    Laws provide nothing. They are demands a layer of government makes that are backed by a specified threat for not providing what is demanded.

    Developers, researchers, and other technical people will provide this capability

    And if you think this is nitpicking, consider the difference between having an idea and implementing an idea.
    Government is, therefore, the original model for the patent troll. Claim that something should happen, wait until someone accomplish

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