The following article appeared in Wired Magazine on Monday, April
The magazine is available online at http://www.wired.com and is
somewhat difficult to access given the large number of images
that are not described.
7:05am 5.Apr.97.PST Curtis Chong knows exactly how sharp the line
between technological haves and have-nots can be. Blind since birth
and a computer operator since he was 18, he's watched the
ups and downs of accessibility since sightless computer geeks attached
garter belt elastic across the fronts of image printers in the first
attempts to make computers print Braille.
That was back in 1971. Now Chong is a systems administrator for
American Express and president of the National Federation for the
Blind in Computer Science. "I used to hire sight-readers so I could do
my work, but then in the mid-'80s text-based programs became the norm
and we had talking terminals. Blind people were at the peak of tech
equity in the late '80s," he says.
But the 1990s' rise of graphical interfaces began eating away at the
ground blind computer-users had gained.
"At least with Windows we had a single monster to battle," Chong
says. "With the Web, though, there's no one in particular to blame.
There's no one we can go to and say, "Look, you're a big, bad company.
You have to fix this now."
With Monday's planned announcement of the Worldwide Access Initiative
at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in Santa Clara, California,
Chong believes there's room for optimism.
Run by the Laboratory for Computer Science at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, the W3C develops common standards for the
Web. WAI, which was spawned during a January White House meeting on
the need to make sure some 49 million disabled Americans aren't
consigned to permanent technological disenfranchisement, has already
received significant government support; on Thursday, the Department
of Education announced that it would join with the National Science
Foundation to pony up a possible US$800,000 for the initiative.
"It's not a solution, but it is a step in the right direction," Chong
says. "At least the people who are setting the standards are thinking
about accessibility relatively early."
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