Blind Web Surfers Sue for Accessibility

  • From: "Allan Wong" <allanwkf@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <jfw@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2006 15:09:27 +0800

hi, a news for us to read about, relax a minut and read a news is also jaws 

Blind Web Surfers Sue for Accessibility
Tuesday October 24, 1:46 pm ET
By Seth Sutel, AP Business Writer
Advocates for the Blind Sue to Extend Accessibility Rules to Web Sites

NEW YORK (AP) -- "Links list dialogue." "Links list view." "Your Account -- Two 
of 164." This is what the Internet sounds like to 
Chris Danielsen. Danielsen
is blind. He's using a software program called Jaws that converts the text on a 
Web page into a computerized voice that comes out 
through a speaker, allowing
him to surf the Web using keyboard commands instead of a mouse -- the same way 
lots of blind people use the Internet.

In this case, his computer is listing all the Web links on the page he's on and 
telling him that the highlighted link his cursor is 
on now will take him
to the "Your Account" section on Wal-Mart's Web site.

Danielsen, who writes a blog called "The Voice of the Nation's Blind" for the 
National Federation of the Blind, says accessing the 
Internet has been a "huge
boon" for blind people. It's allowed them to accomplish a great number of tasks 
on their own that would otherwise present 
difficulties or require the help
of a sighted person, such as banking, buying plane tickets and shopping for 
things like groceries and music.

But like any evolving technology, accessing the Internet has hardly been a 
smooth ride for the blind. Some sites can be difficult to 
navigate, particularly
if they contain relatively few text links and rely more on graphics and other 
visual elements that screen-reading software such as 
Jaws can't interpret.

That's why the NFB, an organization that represents blind people, is suing 
Target Corp., saying that its Web site is inaccessible to 
blind Internet users.

Last month a federal judge in California allowed the NFB's case to proceed, 
rejecting Target's argument that its Web site wasn't 
subject to the Americans
With Disabilities Act, a 1990 law that requires retailers and other public 
places to make accommodations for people with 
disabilities. Target argued that
the law only covered physical spaces.

The case, which is entering a pretrial phase called discovery in U.S. District 
Court for the Northern District of California, could 
set an important precedent
for applying federal accessibility law to the Internet.

Target said in a statement that its Web site was "committed to providing an 
online experience that is accessible to all of our 
guests. Despite the lawsuit
brought forward by the National Federation of the Blind, we have always and 
will continue to implement new technologies to our Web 

John Pare, a spokesman for the NFB, said most Web sites are far easier to 
navigate than Target's. In a demonstration of 
screen-reading software for The
Associated Press, Danielsen showed that many links on Target's side were 
unintelligible to the Jaws software, and that the final 
purchase required the
use of a mouse, something even the most sophisticated blind Web surfer would 
have trouble with. However, he was able to navigate 
other sites and purchased
a CD from Amazon.

Jaws, made by Freedom Scientific, is a popular kind of screen-reading software, 
but there are others, including Window-Eyes, made by 
GW Micro, and Hal,
made by Dolphin Computer Access.

Many Web sites already have made major progress in becoming accessible to the 
blind, and some, such as those run by the government, 
are required to do so
by law.

Yet surfing the Internet is not always worry-free for the blind. Crista Earl, 
the head of Web operations for the American Foundation 
for the Blind in New
York, said graphics that don't contain textual labels -- which can be read by 
screen-reading software -- are a common obstacle for 
blind Internet users,
as are "forms" that are unlabeled. Forms are the little boxes where you insert 
data, such as a book title you wanted to search for.

The decision to hold Target's Web site to the same standards of accessibility 
as its physical store under the Americans with 
Disabilities Act was considered
a victory by many advocates for the blind, but at the same time others worry 
that the ruling could be read too narrowly.

Not every business or Web site is subject to the Americans with Disabilities 
Act, said John D. Kemp., a lawyer with the Washington 
law firm Powers, Pyles,
Sutter & Verville P.C. The ADA applies mainly to public places such as 
restaurants, retailers, movie theaters and health care 
institutions, explained Kemp,
who has long worked on compliance issues related to disabilities, employment 
and technology.

For an electronic retailer such as, which has no physical store, the 
law is unclear, Kemp said. "There is no well defined 
policy in this area
at all."

However, Kemp noted that many businesses, such as banks, see a strong business 
rationale for making their sites accessible, and have 
moved aggressively
to do so.

Meanwhile, other retailers are also moving to adapt their Web sites to 
screen-reading software. Kelly Groehler, a spokeswoman for 
Best Buy Co., says the
company has made a number of changes to its site since late last year, 
including incorporating "alt tags" -- or text that labels 
items like graphics --
into its site.

Best Buy also moved code for drop-down menus to the bottom of the page, where 
it's less likely to duplicate other elements on the 
page. "We're trying to
be proactive here," Groehler said. spokeswoman Amy Colella says the 
site has made sure it is "reasonably accessible" to 
the blind.

Other retailers are making similar efforts, but it remains a challenge due to 
the continuing evolution in the technologies used by 
blind people to surf
the Internet, says Scott Silverman, executive director of, a division 
of the National Retail Federation for online 

"As the retailers' Web sites continue to evolve to stay competitive in the 
marketplace, sometimes the technologies necessary to do 
that are a little bit
ahead of where the screen-readers are," Silverman said. "It's a very 
fast-moving environment. Retailers want to serve all their 
customers, including blind

Internet search giant Google Inc. is getting into the act as well. In July it 
launched a project to identify and rank Web sites that 
offer significant accessibility
to the blind.

As more information and services migrate online, keeping access open to it is 
of paramount importance to advocates for the blind.

"The blind have more access to information than they ever had in history -- but 
that's only true to the extent that Web 
accessibility is maintained," Danielsen
said. "The technology is out there, and we don't need barriers to be put in our 
way. Give us a way in."

National Federation of the Blind:

Google Accessible Search:

American Foundation for the Blind:

Allan Wong 

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