How Accessible is "Accessible"?

A number of weeks back, I wrote an entry called, “Radio Radio,” in which I mentioned that I would start doing broadcast radio reporting for WMNF 88.5 here in the Tampa Bay area.  I attend training classes every Saturday morning and, yesterday, got approval to do my first full fledged piece for actual radio play.

My first real story will discuss the accessibility problems with many important Tampa Bay area informational web sites.  While I have found web accessibility interesting and important for a long time, I had rarely looked at local, Tampa Bay based web pages.  As part of our news training, we must take a local news quiz every week as WMNF is, after all, a community based station and their editorial group feels that their reporters should follow the goings on in the community.  For obvious reasons, I can’t read the local papers in print form so I ventured out to read the “Metro” sections on the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune web sites.

Here, the fun, or lack thereof, begins.  Using JAWS and FBSA as my screen readers, I set out to do my assignment and read about our local city and county governments and happenings in the Tampa Bay area.  What I found when I looked disappointed greatly.  The Tampa Tribune web site is better organized than the St. Pete Times but the first three links at the top of each page have no labels.  The St. Petersburg Times, the local paper of record, has so many accessibility problems that, although it can, with great patience, be read with a screen reader, it is an efficiency nightmare.  I simply do not have the time on my hands to wade through stacks of unlabeled gibberish to find the stories I might be interested in reading.  Unlike sites that don’t change too often, using JAWS’ Virtual Find feature doesn’t help as I don’t know what to search for as, if I did, I’d already have read the story and wouldn’t need to find it anyway.

As a bone tossed to the accessibility cause, the St. Pete Times provides a “text only” alternative to its busy and marginally accessible regular site.  As I’ve written before, text only pages are not an adequate solution to accessibility problems.  I frankly don’t care what Raman says, separate but equal isn’t.  Well crafted web sites can provide 100% compliance with accessibility standards and guidelines without losing an iota of visual appeal.  The people who still use text-only browsers in a text console environment have the source code and can make their little browsers comply with the user agent guidelines if they would simply stop whining that it’s no longer 1985 and that graphical environments are here to stay.  Any blink who pushes for a text-only ghetto solution is doing the entire community a disservice and should shut up and go home.  It’s the 21st century, get over it.

Some of my friends who use Windows based screen readers, however, argue that even marginal accessibility is better than what we had twenty-five years ago so we should not yell too loudly about sites that do not comply fully with the various guidelines and standards for accessibility.  This puts us back at the glass being half full or half empty discussion that I’ve written about in the past.  Twenty-five years ago, I could see very well so I frankly cannot identify with my friends who were blind then and now enjoy access to a lot of things the Internet has to offer that they didn’t have back in 1980.  At the same time, people with no disability didn’t have much of an Internet back in 1982 and, today, have profoundly greater access to the myriad online wonders than we blinks do.  Sure, some web sites read visually are poorly designed and visually cluttered but a sighted reader doesn’t have to hear the noisy crap babbled by a screen reader on an unlabeled link and, in some cases, have to decipher the noise as that link is the only way from one page to another.

So, I ask my readers, how compliant does a web site need to be to be considered accessible?

Does everything need to be labeled or is having an pile of unlabeled links as well as links with worthwhile text accessible in spite all of the noise a screen reader user needs to endure?  Does the text on labeled links need to be useful or is having four or five consecutive “click here” links adequate?  Does the site need to include headings and other tags useful for efficient navigation in order to be called accessible?  What is the threshold of compliance that makes a site “accessible” to a screen reader user?

My personal opinion is that we blinks need to try to force 100% compliance as, with anything less, we’re going to get crap.  If we push for 100% compliance, we’ll be lucky to get 75% so accepting anything less gives a free pass to web developers as regards the discrimination, intentional or otherwise, caused by the lack of compliance.  What do you think?


I need a few audio quotes for my radio piece.  If you are a web accessibility expert, please contact me if you are interested in adding a sound bite.

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Treasonous Bumpersticker and Other tragedies

Yesterday, my wife Susan drove me to a dentist appointment.  On the way, she described a bumper sticker affixed to the car in front of us that read, “Lee Surrendered – I Didn’t,” and displayed a rebel flag.  As an individual who supports the US Constitution and the union of our states, I asked if it would, therefore, be acceptable for me to shoot this person in the name of patriotism.

Much of the United States feels pretty ugly these days.  People who choose to express themselves by wearing t-shirts with Arabic text on them get stopped and prevented from flying on airplanes; Senator and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton introduced legislation banning burning the US flag, – a silly and somewhat tasteless act that is, nonetheless, according to rulings by the Supreme Court, protected speech; Senator and Presidential Candidate Obama has been accused of not being “black” enough making me wonder if some of my friends who support Republicans are not being blind enough; journalists fear being labeled as unpatriotic if they criticize the president or the war in Iraq but, for no reason apparent to me, people can display Confederate flags and rebel slogans – symbols of the single most seditious action in our nation’s history – with impunity and pride.

What does such a bumper sticker say to our African American friends?  Would it be proper to display a swastika and a slogan that reads, “Hitler Was Defeated, Not Me!” if one didn’t expect to find his car vandalized?  At what point is free expression of ideas actually sedition?

Of course, I live in Florida, which, during the bad old days of the KKK actually led the nation in per capita lynchings.  So, I am not surprised to find a nitwit displaying such a treasonous bumper sticker in this state but I ask why this motorist is treated with tolerance while patriotic gay people, patriotic individuals opposed to the war, patriotic Arab Americans, patriotic left-wing Americans and all sorts of other people who actually love this nation get labeled as Un-American.  What’s wrong with these people?

Speaking of Florida

If you hear just three words on the local news, “Astronaut, diapers, murder,” you can feel certain you are in Florida.  If Karl Hiaasen had made this recent scandal up in one of his Florida weird stories, he would be accused of taking his absurdist view of this state too far.  Florida reality makes writing fiction about our state very difficult.

ATIA Report

Ad Lib Technology, my little start-up, held some private meetings at ATIA showing off some of the things we will be releasing in the coming year.  I guess I had forgotten just how important marketing people and slick demonstrations are for a new set of products and, quite frankly, I’m pretty embarrassed at the poor performance we showed at the conference.  Fortunately, most of the people we met with were friends so I doubt we did much damage to ourselves but running a community based, organically grown company is a lot harder than I had thought.

The Ad Lib products continue to move forward but, I assure everyone, next time we ask you for some of your expensive conference time, we won’t be so wasteful.

Otherwise, I found ATIA 2007 pretty boring.  The highlight of the week for me was not any of the fairly dull announcements but, rather, the Friday night party at Mike Calvo’s house which had great people, great food, 40 limes, lots of rum, 4 dogs (3 guide, 1 pet), beautiful women, a hot tub, lots of mint sprigs and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Where Have I Been?

Blind Confidential has been very quiet for a few weeks.  I got sick when I got home from ATIA and then my wife Susan’s father received a very serious head injury in a freak accident and he remains in a coma in U. Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester.  Susan has been very sad and I’ve been doing my best to try to be supportive.  Finally, I’ve been pretty busy with a number of other tasks and, with all of this stuff going on, I’ve felt little motivation to write anything for BC.  I thank our loyal readers for writing to me asking about me and for the support Sue and I have received regarding her dad.

In Memoriam

Last week, I received an email from a friend telling me of the death of Jill Carson.  Blind people may know her husband, John Carson, who works in the escalations end of technical support at Freedom Scientific.  John is a terrific guy who has solved more hard problems for JAWS users than most anyone else over the past decade and the love he and Jill shared was obvious to anyone who saw them together.

When I first came to Florida, my wife Susan had to stay behind in Massachusetts working on a legal case for most of the first year I spent here.  I hadn’t lived alone in many years and the constant hospitality and friendship offered by John and Jill was terrific and I will forever appreciate their kindness.

I don’t know any of the details involving Jill’s death but, if you know John or have received help from him, please keep he and Jill in mind during what is obviously a tough time for him and their family.

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Humanware and harrison Apology

This morning I felt happy to see a note from Earle Harrison saying that he and Humanware have reached an amicable way to permit him to continue selling MSP from Code Factory – my favorite portable solution.

I would like to take this time to apologize to my friends at Humanware for jumping to extreme conclusions about the dust-up with Earle and thank those who sent reminders that there are two sides to each story.  Blind Confidential doesn’t claim to be impartial and has often taken the position of a personal friend over that of a more well researched publication.  As I said in earlier posts, this year, BC is heading in a more creative direction and will be less about the details of the AT industry as impartiality is becoming increasingly difficult for me as I reenter the biz a bit.

I apologize for fanning the flames and hope I didn’t do much long term damage.


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The AT Distribution Juggernaut

What do you get when the “invisible hand” of the free market gets disrupted by monopolistic practices and unfair trade restrictions?  The answer is: the blindness/AT industry today.

Most recently old friend but, more important for this story, the top Mobile Speak Pocket (MSP) dealer in the US, Earle Harrison has had his contract to sell MSP taken from him as a punishment for also selling HandiTech Braille displays.  This happened because Humanware, the company with exclusive master distribution rights to MSP in North America decided they felt unhappy that, although Earle represented MSP very well and had hundreds of happy customers for the innovative software from Code Factory, that his decision to also sell HandiTech displays instead of those from Humanware could not be accepted and they killed his contract.

It seems as though selling AT products these days requires a one way loyalty from the dealer toward the supplier which is not reciprocated at all.  Years ago, Microsoft lost a law suit when they told resellers that to carry popular MS titles like Word; they could not also carry products from WordPerfect.  This system of exclusivity was referred to as a secondary boycott and deemed illegal by the courts and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Humanware, an upstanding company, surely knows that such linkage of products and a secondary boycott is not legal in the US but must have forgotten to include an exclusivity clause in Harrison’s contract so they had to resort to behavior of questionable legality in order to keep one of their top dealers from also selling a product from an organization they perceive as a competitor.  While this doesn’t make much sense, it is what it is.

Who benefits by the weird economic theory that leads a distributor to act this way?  The consumers? Surely not, Earle was one of the most popular MSP dealers among the peeps; the innovators?  This can’t possibly be good for Code Factory; Who then?


I’ve been insanely busy since ATIA so the blog has gone a bit quiet lately.  I’ll be back to “normal” soon and posts will return to their regular rate.

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