---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1996 18:28:42 EDT
From: Jamal Mazrui <74444.1076@COMPUSERVE.COM>
Reply-To: Access to GUI via Speech <GUISPEAK@LISTSERV.NODAK.EDU>
Subject: Blind/web Post article
Blind Put Faith in the Internet
By Denyse Tannenbaum
Thursday, Oct. 3, 1996
--> If you are using a Macintosh with the Talker plug-in installed,
this article will be read out loud.
It's a Friday afternoon at the U.S. Department of Education,
and Don Barrett is showing Eunice Fiorito how to use the Internet.
She faces the computer, her pink-polished nails tentatively
tapping the arrow keys. He's leaning back in his brown swivel
chair beside her, absently scratching his mustache, barking
instructions, occasionally teasing and patiently guiding his
student from one Web site to another.
It's a scene played out at offices around the globe. One computer-
savvy employee helps another decode the mystery of the World
Wide Web. The only difference in Barrett's informal classroom
is that both teacher and student are totally blind.
All the more reason for them to get online, Barrett said.
"It helps everyone, but it just so happens [the Internet]
is extremely helpful for blind folks," he said. Barrett, 44,
is a technological information specialist in the Department
of Education. "For sighted people, it gives them more choices.
For blind people, sometimes it's the only choice," he adds.
The Internet has opened up doors to information previously
closed to the blind, unless they had sighted readers at their
constant disposal. With access to the Web, blind people can
pick and choose the information they want and need, at any
time of the day or night, on any whim.
This freedom is a luxury that sighted people may find difficult
to appreciate, Fiorito, 60, said. For example, she explained,
she has long wanted to know more about black Labradors and
is devoted to the one she owns. But the resources in Braille
are limited, and she can't do a word search in Braille. Nor
can she find out if information about Labradors ever has been
covered in the daily news she gets through Washington Ear,
a service offered over the telephone. But now, using the search
engines on the Internet, with a few strokes of her fingertips,
she can access libraries in Labrador, Canada--ancestral home
of her beloved dog.
Or, she said, "I can go to www.dogs and look under labs and
black labs," said Fiorito, who is special assistant to the
deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education
and Rehabilitative Services. "And I can do it at two o'clock
in the morning, and I can do it on the weekend. ... All of
a sudden a huge library of information is accessible."
Blind people use the Internet the same way they use other
computer technology --through either an electronic Braille
device or with what's more common these days, speech software.
Barrett uses a speech program by Artic Technologies in Michigan.
The speech card and software cost him $895. The program reads
line after line out loud as Barrett moves his cursor through
the text. He usually doesn't bother to download graphics,
but if he wants to know what art is included, some speech
programs will describe pictures to the user.
Speech software is faster than using Braille, but it has a
long way to go before it sounds human. The synthetic voice
on Barrett's computer sounds more like an Eastern European,
male robot speaking accented English--with a stuffed nose.
But you get used to it after a while. And if you get tired
of one voice, other voices are available: Uppity Ursula, Beautiful
Betty, Rough Rita and Frail Frank are a few currently on the
As Fiorito scrolls through a profile of Michele Cavataio,
chief of staff for Education's deputy secretary. The computer
voice drones on, and Barrett interrupts repeatedly to tell
Fiorito which key will show where she is on the page, or how
to leave that document and go to another.
To e-mail herself the profile, which she found interesting,
Fiorito types in her name. The computer reads back to her
every letter, including the underscore, and she claps like
a gleeful child at getting it right.
Barrett, who has trained about a dozen visually impaired co-
workers in his department, knows exactly how Fiorito feels.
When another blind co-worker was having trouble finding a
grant application in the Federal Register, and his sighted
co-workers couldn't locate it, he sent Barrett an e-mail asking
for help. Barrett found it on the Federal Register site and
e-mailed it to his friend.
"He was really happy," Barrett said.
Web access with speech software is a boon after work too.
At home, Barrett no longer has to listen to the entire TV
schedule to find out what's on. He can look it up on the Web.
"It improves my quality of life," Barrett said. "It's like
the real equalizer."
Nevertheless, many computer-savvy blind people find the Internet
more than a little frustrating. While they seek it out as
a tremendous new ally against isolation and towards independence,
they often find Web sites closed to them because of inscrutable
"The key is accessibility," said Richard Ring, director of
Braille and technology at the National Federation of the Blind,
a consumer organization in Baltimore.
If graphics are unlabelled, or the only way to choose a link
on a Web page is by moving your mouse to a button and clicking
there, blind people either require a sighted person's help
or a lot of time to do mouse navigation.
Web sites that offer an alternative, such as a keyboard stroke
to choose a link, solve that problem. In addition, Web sites
that can be easily converted into an all-text format make
blind navigation much easier, especially for those using Lynx,
a text-oriented Web browser.
Some sites, such as WashingtonPost.com, require all graphics
to have "alt text" built in, which translates the pictures
into words. This makes the sites more easily readable by the
blind. [To see the alt text with a normal browser, go to the
Options menu and turn off "auto load images." To get graphics
again, return to the Options menu and turn "auto load images
Webwatch is an Internet mailing list created by Kelly Ford,
a blind Web aficionado who reports on the accessibility of
sites to the blind and lets Web masters in on their evaluation.
To get information about the list, contact its producer at
"Most, once aware of the problem, are interested in solving
it," said Jamal Mazrui, a program specialist at the National
Council on Disability. Mazrui is on the Webwatch mailing list.
Other efforts, such as attaching a symbol of accessibility
to a site, are underway to encourage Web masters to make their
sites easily convertible to text-only sites. The symbol, an
illustration of a key opening up a world, currently is used
by some sites on a voluntary basis, and an honor system. Others
are lobbying the people who review Web sites and rate them
to include accessibility as one of the rating categories.
In the meantime, of 20,000 to 30,000 blind people in the Washington
metropolitan area, only about 200 are using the Internet,
estimated Lloyd Rasmussen, an electronics engineer at the
National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped, a
division of the Library of Congress.
"For the vast majority of blind people, it looks like audiocassette
is the way to go," said Rasmussen, whose employer serves more
than half a million blind people across the country. He cites
affordability and the inflexibility of many older adults who
have only recently become visually impaired.
Still, Ring, Rasmussen, Masrui and Matt Ater, technology trainer
at the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in Washington, D.C.,
all report getting several inquiries daily from blind people
wanting to learn how to access the Internet. Ater, 25, is
in the midst of both setting up a Web site for the Lighthouse
and launching an Internet training course for the blind. The
course began last month, Ater said.
"Blind people have all the access they need," he says. "They
just need the training."
To learn more about sites on the Internet available to the
blind, 84 sites are listed under www.webable.com. Another
useful site is www.trace.wisc.edu.
Local training on the Internet is hard to find, but the Columbia
Lighthouse for the Blind, which recently brought on board
a new technology instructor, plans to offer it in the near
future. In addition, the Lighthouse will sponsor on Nov.
8 and 9 a two-day Technology Exposition featuring more than
20 exhibitors with equipment and training for visually-impaired
users at its building at 1421 P St. N.W. For more information,
call the Lighthouse at (202) 462-2900.
BLIND WEB SURFING
Just how do blind people use their computers to surf the Net?
Find out with this primer.
Blind people often prefer to use Lynx, a text-oriented browser.
Download Lynx for UNIX, DOS or the Amiga.
Mac Web surfers can use this Netscape plug-in to read Web
The Brailler has a list of speech-friendly Web sites. Take
a look at this tutorial on making your Web page accessible
to the blind.
Blind people with Windows computers need expensive custom
speech synthesizer hardware or software to read Web pages.
The price ranges for hardware speech synthesizers are from
$300-$2000, while speech-reader software costs anywhere from
$150-$500. Readers for DOS and Windows include JAWS, Windows-
Eyes, ASAW and PwWebSpeak.
BLIND LIFE ONLINE
Take a peek into blind culture at the The Outpost.
Cathy's Newstand has an extensive archive of hundreds of blind-
accessible online foreign and domestic newspapers on the Web.
Blind people play video games, too--such as these adventure
games (DOS users only).
The Project Gutenberg electronic text archive offers several
classic and reference books that can be read online.
Learn to read Braille from an online tutorial at the Web site
of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
copy 1996 The Washington Post Co.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Dec 02 2012 - 01:30:04 PST