Blind users stymied by new Internet graphics
For Sue Martin, a rehabilitation teacher in Bangor, Maine, who is blind,
text-based Internet sites opened a world of information that was previously
With the World Wide Web, shes not so lucky.
As companies put applications on graphics-intensive intranets and Web
sites, they may be shutting the door on people employees and customers who
Many blind people use text-to-speech "screen readers" that work only with
the character-based DOS operating system, not with graphical user
interfaces such as Web browsers.
Some access products are coming on the market, but progress is slow. "If
you are working with anything other than a DOS-based platform, it can just
be incredibly difficult to use the Web," Martin said.
According to the American Foundation for the Blind in Chicago, there are
about 900,000 blind or visually impaired people who use computers.
"Things have never been better, and they have never been worse, for blind
users," said Dan Wakefield, who is blind and a computer specialist at the
General Services Administration in Washington."The [Internet] was a
lifesaver for blind users and workers, but the Web is becoming so
graphical. And everything is mouse-driven another problem for blind users
who need keyboards."
Dan Oliver, who is blind and the director of information systems at the
Massachusetts Commission on the Blind, called the GUI nature of the Web and
intranets "one of our major concerns. The concern is that people may start
to lose their jobs over this. Some already have."
The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1991, requires employers to
make "reasonable accommodations" for employees with disabilities so that
theycan perform the "essential functions" of their jobs. But the act
"doesn't have a lot of teeth," Wakefield said.
Still, experts said IS managers could help visually impaired users and
perhaps shield their companies from lawsuits by allowing some employees to
stay on DOS-based systems and selecting software that has built-in access
The real problem, said Larry Scadden, who is blind and aleading authority
on assistant technology at the National Science Foundation in Arlington,
Va., "is that technology is just not yet there in many cases. That's notIS'
Some technology fixes are coming. Microsoft Corp. has released an Active
Accessibility software developer's kit for Windows applications.
And the latest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer has a text-only
option for screen readers.
This week, Netscape Communications Corp. is announcing a version of its
Navigator browser that runs on IBM's OS/2 Warp 4. Warp 4 has
speech-recognition capabilities that will aid visually impaired users,
Another promising technology is PWWebSpeak 1.2 from Productivity Works,
Inc. in Trenton, N.J. It is a speaking Web browser designed to understand
Hypertext Markup Language pages.
And Nynex Information Resources Co. has a text-based version of its Web
directory, called Big Yellow (www.bigyellow.com), that works with screen
Judith Dixon, consumer relations officer at Washington-based National
Libraries Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, is a blind user
"Things are getting better all the time. Computers can do so much for the
handicapped. We just need more help," she said.
Contents | Home | News | Search | Help | TechCity
© Copyright 1996 by Computerworld, Inc. All rights reserved. @Computerworld
is a service mark of International Data Group, Inc.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Dec 02 2012 - 01:30:04 PST