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The web access software dilemma

There used to be a time not too long ago when it was so difficult to find any company willing to develop web access software that could be used by blind and partially sighted persons to surf the Internet without sighted assistance.  Within the last few years, however, this picture seems to have changed, and, within the last few months alone, I have had both sighted as well as blind and partially sighted persons tell me that more companies seem to be developing software that would make it possible for us to be more independent surfers.

On the surface, this appears to be a huge step forward, but wait!  I believe that this picture is not very accurate and for the following reasons.  However, before I fill in the gaps, allow me to tell you that I am not going to name specific names for fear that someone would not be too happy with me, so indeed, I have to tread very cautiously here.  Yes, it is true that there are more companies venturing into the web access software arena, and they are promoting their software to be the latest and greatest Saviours of independence for accessibility, but alas, most of them continue to fall woefully short of fulfilling the needs and requirements for blind and partially sighted surfers. 

To clarify this picture:  There is one particular software company that emphatically states that their software package is user friendly to blind and partially sighted persons, but sadly enough, this is not the case.  It is a piece of software that only works if the website in question has been exactly coded to work with it.  It does not respect the navigational structure that is vital for blind persons.  In short, it is not suitable for a blind person.  Even after the website has been coded to work with it, many access features still need to be included in the development of a website. 

In the case of another software package, the company in question has developed a product that does cater to the needs of much of the disabled persons community, but it is not accommodating to blind and partially sighted persons.  A step in the right direction, yes!  However, there are concerns with this particular company’s marketing strategies.  They have somehow managed to convince some very high profile North American companies that they are the answer to accessibility development, but, at the same time, they are also aware that their product does not fulfill the needs of blind and partially sighted persons. 

There is a growing concern among accessibility experts that if this trend is allowed to continue, blind and partially sighted persons are going to be shut out. We need to find ways to stop this before it becomes a very bad and unbreakable habit.  It is one thing to develop glitzy software that promises quick and easy solutions for accessibility but quite another when these solutions do not fulfill their promises, or, to put it another way, they are bordering on false advertising and expectations.  I urge any organization and company wishing to become accessible to take the extra time to ensure that they are going to get what they pay for—That is, a software package that is the real thing and not just a quick and dirty solution.

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.

Comments

I have a website that I want to make easy for others to use - including my new born son who is blind. Do I need software for the blind to read my site?

You had mentioned "...It does not respect the navigational structure that is vital for blind persons. In short, it is not suitable for a blind person. Even after the website has been coded to work with it, many access features still need to be included in the development of a website. "

What are you looking for? What really needs to be coded in order for "it" to work properly?

How do I know if a companies software will work correctly for the blind or disabled on my website?

Any suggestions would be great!
Thanks,

A lot depends on what you're using to build the web site and how it is being developed/designed. At the level of the HTML, the document should be logically organized: using "h1" tags for major headings, "h2" for subheadings, etc., using "ul" and "ol" tags for bulletted or numbered lists, using "tables" for information that is actually tabular (and not just because it's a seemingly simple way of putting text into multiple columns or laying out a page), providing useful "alt" text for images (e.g. "Photo: A yellow labrador retriever swims in a lake with a bll in his mouth" is much more useful than: "Image dogpic.jpg"), etc.

http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/glance/ provides an overview that may give you an idea of the types of things that you might consider.

Is this web site already live?

Anthony,
thank you for responding.
My website www.ClassiFun.org is 'live'. Any tips would be so helpful. Thanks

ZZ - Disregard this link; it is used to trick spammers.