[Accessibleweb] Article: Web Sites Improve Service for Blind
People: Google, AOL,
Yahoo Retool Pages, Boosting Compatibility With Screen-Reading Aids (fwd)
sherylb at u.washington.edu
Tue Aug 8 13:38:34 PDT 2006
Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.
Director, DO-IT & UW Accessible Technology Services
Computing & Communications
University of Washington, Box 355670
Seattle, WA 98195
206-543-0622 FAX 206-221-4171
sherylb at u.washington.edu
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2006 11:35:10 -0500
From: Robin Jones <guiness at uic.edu>
Reply-To: Region V ADA Information <GREATLAKES at LISTSERV.UIC.EDU>
To: GREATLAKES at LISTSERV.UIC.EDU
Subject: Article: Web Sites Improve Service for Blind People: Google, AOL,
Yahoo Retool Pages, Boosting Compatibility With Screen-Reading Aids
The following article is forwarded to you by the Great Lakes ADA and
Accessible IT Center (www.adagreatlakes.org) for your information:
Web Sites Improve Service for Blind People
Google, AOL, Yahoo Retool Pages, Boosting Compatibility With
By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO
July 20, 2006
Major Internet companies are moving to better meet the needs of the
hundreds of thousands of blind people who regularly browse the Web.
Blind Internet users generally use software that reads a description of
a site's features aloud, sometimes in conjunction with some hardware
that displays portions of the site in Braille. But navigating
increasingly feature-heavy Web sites, whose messy and complex
programming can be difficult for the software to translate, poses
problems. Aiming to increase use of their popular products even more
widely, Internet companies are now launching new -- and tidying up old
-- services for easier use by the blind.
Google Inc. will today launch Google Accessible Search, a search tool that
ranks results based on the simplicity of the site's page layout. Pages
with a large number of headings and that lack extraneous images and text
-- factors that make the page easier to read with a screen reader --
will rank higher, saving blind Internet users the time of navigating to
results they won't be able to comprehend. The search tool is at
AOL, a unit of Time Warner Inc., will soon update AOL Web mail to make it
more screen-reader friendly. The revisions, which will be under way by the
end of the year, will eliminate the need for users with screen readers to
switch to a separate
While designing its new homepage, Yahoo Inc. considered ways to make it
more accessible to blind users. For example, carving the site into a greater
number of headings like "Entertainment" and "Sports" makes it easier for a
visually impaired browser to navigate the site because the headings serve as
The new products and heightened awareness already appear to be making a
difference. Eric Brinkman, 19 years old, says he used to have to
reformat nearly every page he arrived at so that it could work with his
screen reader. Now, he finds that extra step unnecessary, and has also
uncovered new tricks and shortcut keys for navigating around sites like
Wikipedia.org, Google.com and Amazon.com, where he likes to shop for
CDs. "I have become very dependent on computers," says Mr. Brinkman of
Niantic, Conn., who spends several hours a day online and has been
legally blind since birth.
New tools for developers also are likely to drive further improvements
across a broad range of sites. Microsoft Corp. has recently released UI
Automation, new developer technologies that will make it easier for screen
readers to translate robust Web applications. The technologies will be
officially released with the company's Vista operating system, and will
allow screen readers to convey information to users such as how many new
messages are in their in-boxes without
reading off each message individually and to find all the links on the page
quickly and alert the browser to which ones they have already visited.
There are roughly 10 million blind or visually impaired Americans, according
to the American Foundation for the Blind, a New-York based advocacy group.
The group estimates that roughly 1.5 million people who have difficulty
seeing print even with glasses have access to the Internet but only about
200,000 who cannot see print at all have access. The numbers are expected
to grow as technology improves and Internet companies offer new services.
Those with mild vision impairments can often be helped by simply magnifying
their screen display. Blind Web users have descriptions of what appears on
the screen read back to them aloud and move from heading to heading with
keyboard shortcut keys and arrows. A blind person who visited Yahoo.com, for
example, would hear the different headings like "News" or "Movies" spoken
and could transition to the next heading by hitting the "H" key. Such
assistive technology can be pricey. A popular
variety, Freedom Scientific Inc.'s JAWS for Windows, costs around $1,000.
Another tool, a refreshable Braille display that translates a description of
what is on the screen into Braille on a device that resembles a keyboard,
can run from $1,400 to $7,000.
"The biggest frustrations are these sites with some 500 different links and
lots of graphics," says Dena Shumila, 32 years old, who is blind and runs
her own consulting firm in Minneapolis. She says that when people don't
properly label their links and buttons, she is stuck listening to generic
commands like "nav bar link one" and "nav bar link two." "Then you don't
have a clue what is going on," she says.
Unless accompanied by alternative text, code embedded beneath a graphic,
photos and video are incomprehensible to a screen reader and its user.
Kathy Brack, a 55-year-old blind Internet user, was recently shopping online
at LLBean.com for a bathrobe and slippers but got stuck when she couldn't
get any verbal information on the products. To ensure that she had landed on
the style and color she wanted, Ms. Brack, of Raleigh, N.C., had to ask
someone to describe them. "Online shopping sites are terribly inaccessible,"
she says. "I often have no idea what the product looks like."
The new Web services coincide with a push to revise federal Web
accessibility standards and renewed legal efforts to get accessibility
guidelines more widely adopted.
Currently, no federal law requires all Web sites to be accessible to the
blind or to those with other physical disabilities. The guidelines that
apply to technology procured by a federal agency including Web sites under
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act are about to undergo revision by a
federal advisory committee. The committee is likely to look into issues like
establishing new guidelines for Internet-based phone applications,
multimedia and Webcasts. Many states have also adopted these guidelines.
To date, advocacy groups have hit roadblocks in pressing accessibility
guidelines on the private sector. In 2002, Access Now Inc., a Florida-based
advocacy group for the disabled, sued Southwest Airlines in U.S. District
Court for the Southern District of Florida on the grounds that a blind
person could not purchase a ticket on the site. The
plaintiffs alleged that the airline therefore violated Title III of the
Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that disabled individuals must
enjoy equal access to goods and services in places of public accommodation.
The judge ruled that the case against Southwest be dismissed, deciding that
Southwest.com was not a place of public accommodation because Web sites
aren't covered in the statute's 12 public accommodations categories.
Meanwhile, Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind is suing Target
Corp. over the inaccessibility of its Web site to blind Internet users. The
suit, originally filed in Northern California's Alameda County Superior
Court, argues that Target's Web site is a service of Target's stores, which
are public accommodations and therefore that the Americans with Disabilities
Act, as well as two other California state laws,
apply. The company says the lawsuit is "without merit" and that the
company's Web site complies with all applicable laws.
A hearing on two motions -- the defendant is moving to dismiss the case and
the plaintiffs are moving for a preliminary injunction -- will take place in
the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Source: This includes the new Google tool and more
More information about the Accessibleweb