The discussion that we are having regarding Lotus Notes points out how
difficult it is to really define what is accessible. I would therefore
like to respond to several points, not so much to advocate a particular
point of view as to stimulate discussion. Even though we will never all
agree, we must have a clearer view of what we should seek in terms of
accessibility than we currently do. Using the issues surrounding Lotus
Notes seems like a very good place to start.
We have seen wide ranging opinions expressed regarding the accessibility
of Lotus Notes. Part of the problem seems definitely to be that their
platform is so designed as to preclude the development of Notes
applications by blind people. I have no personal experience upon which to
base this statement, though. However, if true, this is obviously something
that we must bring to Lotus' attention. But, some of the other statements
about Lotus Notes seem to arise from specific applications written using
the development platform. There are certainly things that Lotus can do to
assist developers in making their Notes applications easier for blind
people to use, but we should exercise some restraint in holding them
solely responsible for whatever someone else might do with their software.
Since some Lotus Notes applications are being used with success, and since
there was a post to this list some time ago providing guidelines to making
Notes applications accessible, I tend to believe that some of the
responsibility for making Notes applications accessible lies with those
writing the applications. It would be interesting to know, for example,
who wrote the specific Notes applications for the Department of Education
that are not accessible. If they work for the department, were they aware
of accessibility issues? If these same developers used another
application development platform such as several that exist for the C
programming language, their applications might be just as inaccessible.
Some have raised the point that the problem is with the operating system.
Of course the operating system does play a large role. However, we forget
rather quickly that our access problems with Prodigy occurred under DOS.
We found WordPerfect accessible under DOS only if we didn't use its
graphical display drivers which limited us to 80 characters per line (and
132 characters in some cases). We could not use the page preview feature.
In fact, any software that wanted to control the size and appearance of
the text it generated was generally not accessible to us under DOS. I can
run the Windows version of Parsons Personal Tax Edge with far less
tailoring than I can under DOS. I hasten to add, though, that this
software is not that easy to use under either, even though it is text
based. Is it accessible? Well, sort of.
Don't get me wrong, I am not yet a Windows lover, still preferring the DOS
version of WordPerfect to write a letter. And, I still am more
comfortable with LYNX than with NetScape. But what is not accessible now
may become so as screen readers evolve. It will be necessary, though, to
distribute information to application developers to raise their awareness
of access issues, and it seems reasonable that companies selling
development platforms, such as Lotus, could actively help with that.
However, if we hold out for the perfect operating system, or if we expect
that Lotus, IBM or Microsoft can magically require accessibility, we will
be doing ourselves a great disservice. Yes, we need their help to make
their operating systems and platforms more accessible to us, and to
exercise their influence with other software developers. We also need
some help from those out there who actually use the tools provided by
companies such as Lotus.
Steve Jacobson National Federation of the Blind 3M Company E-mail: SOJACOBSON@MMM.COM
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the 3M Company.
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