Monday, January 22, 2007

The Curser of Web 2.0

The Curser of Web 2.0

I naively thought we had more time before the new and improved Internet began to hinder our participation in the web commerce of the third millennium.  I should have known better.  First, I read in Blind Confidential that Apple’s much vaunted I Phone does not meet the accessibility requirements under Section 255 of the Federal Communications Act.  Despite Steve Jobbs boasting that Apple is committed to inclusive technology for the blind, we are totally left out of his latest venture.  I’m still waiting for access to I Tunes and those nifty little I Pods.  During the ice storm last week, I thought there might be a chance this could happen, but hell froze over with no word from Apple!
Below is an article from Blind news that shows how some blind people are already affected by the cool new features for sighted folks in the Web 2.0 environment.  At least we can take some measure of comfort that IBM and Microsoft are attempting to head these problems off at the pass:
    AP Worldstream
Saturday, January 20, 2007

Accessibility and Web 2.0- (The Blind Bookworm Blog)

Kestrell: One of the best introductions to some of the issues facing blind computer users who want to participate in Web 2.0, posted to an educational adaptive
tech mailing list

Programmers try to keep disability access up to date with the Web's dynamic advances
Technology Review:
WESTFORD, Mass. (AP) -- Cynthia Ice is blind and lives in the suburbs, so shopping on the Internet can make her routine easier. But it also leads her into
odd dead ends -- like the time a technical shift in a Web grocery site made its meat department inaccessible to her screen-reading software.  "Everybody
could go on the Atkins diet but me," she joked.

Such troubles are especially common for computer users with disabilities as the Web takes on many features that make sites appear more like dynamic programs
than static documents.  While that design trend gives many people more engaging Web experiences, good old static documents can be much easier for screen-reading
software to decipher and narrate to the blind. Such software has trouble interpreting newer ''Web 2.0'' features, such as text that pops up without a mouse
click, or data that automatically update in real time.

''The new technology being implemented poses even more of a threat to the small accessibility wins we have made,'' Steven Tyler, who heads disability access
services at Britain's Royal National Institute for the Blind, wrote in an e-mail. "Around 80 percent of Web sites we estimate as having accessibility problems,
some considerable."

However, progress is being made on programming hooks that would help screen-reading tools grasp the new Web's advanced layers of content.  Web architects
at IBM Corp. have been laboring on a system called iAccessible2 that addresses some common scenarios bedeviling screen-reading software.

For example, consider software ''trees'' where clicking on little plus or minus signs in boxes expands data or rolls it up. To the ears of someone using
screen-reading software, the setup can present a hard-to-visualize jumble.  To deal with this, iAccessible2 makes it possible for a blind user to be told
where text on the screen lies in the tree. A bit of text might be the second item on a list of five, for example, at a ''depth'' of two -- meaning it required
a click to be revealed.

Aspects of iAccessible2 are being integrated into the open-source Firefox Web browser. The technology also is entering IBM's Lotus and Workplace office-productivity
programs. Ice, 48, who has been blind for 20 years because of diabetes, helps lead the effort in Lotus.

A longer-term goal is to make it easier for blind people to deal with Web pages that offer complicated stews of changing information.  IBM Web architect
Aaron Leventhal pointed to basketball box scores that dynamically update dozens of statistics as a game progresses. A sighted person easily can zero in
on the most vital information -- the game score -- and glance only occasionally at unfolding data of lesser importance, such as free-throw percentages.
But how can a screen-reading program know to utter only certain stats as they are updated and not every single one?

Leventhal and colleagues believe one answer is to encode parts of a Web page -- in this case, certain statistics -- as ''rude,'' ''assertive'' and ''polite.''
Screen-reading software could be programmed to vocalize ''polite'' information anytime and the ''assertive'' data less frequently.  This concept is still
in development, but Leventhal hopes it becomes part of Web production tools so site designers bake it in as they create pages.  "We don't want accessibility
to be the thing that limits what people can do on their Web sites," Leventhal said. "We're not trying to slow down the world. We're trying to say, take
accessibility into account."

For Web designers, more foresight surrounding inclusiveness could become crucial to their business, as the aging baby boomer population requires more assistance.
Already, Target Corp.'s Web site is the subject of a closely watched federal lawsuit testing whether the Internet falls under the Americans With Disabilities
While much of iAccessible2 is geared toward blind people's navigation of the Web, it also is aimed at desktop software -- including open-source programs
that are alternatives to Microsoft Corp.'s dominant Windows and Office products.  Because of Microsoft's enormous market share, makers of assistive add-on
software have devoted most of their resources to ensuring compatibility with Windows and Office. As a result, software outside that fold is often troublesome
for blind people.  Screen-readers' access to Microsoft programs relies on the company's Accessibility Architecture, a programming system invented a decade
ago. IAccessible2 is essentially an update of it. Meanwhile, Microsoft has spent the past few years honing a new approach it believes will be more powerful.

Generally, Web sites have had to inform assistive technologies which specific controls or inputs they were using. That's why advanced Web sites with ''slider
bars'' and other dynamic functions can befuddle screen readers -- essentially, the assistive programs hadn't been told they might encounter those particular
Web environments.  The fix has generally been to constantly update the list of functions that assistive technologies would encounter, and add the necessary
programming links.  But under Microsoft's new system, known as User Interface Automation, Web and application designers don't have to label the names of
each function. Instead they select from a list of 18 criteria to describe what each function does -- it pulls down a menu, for example, or it makes text
expand.  This way, screen readers react to the behavior of a particular function on the Web and not whatever label it happened to get in the programming
code.  ''It lets them deal with controls that have yet to be invented,'' said Rob Sinclair, who heads Microsoft's assistive technologies group. The process
no longer has to be ''a continual maintenance nightmare.''

For now, programmers and assistive technology vendors still have to figure out how to incorporate User Interface Automation with other technologies, including
iAccessible2. However, Doug Geoffray, vice president of development of GW Micro Inc., a maker of software for the blind, said his field always expects
such complexities.  "It's a never-ending battle," he said.


BlindNews mailing list
Stay tuned to the Little Red Book and check out Blind Confidential for future developments.  A petition to force Apple to comply with Section 255 is likely.  Keep warm and beware of all that ice.
Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the peeps!


Blogger Access Curmudgeon said...

I could not find the post, but I recall you writing about needed to spend $800 to upgrade to Jaws 8 and needing the wife's approval for such an expenditure. From this, I infer your computer at home is more for pleasure than work.

I appreciate that Windows and Jaws are a legitimate cost of doing business. I honestly do not understand the appeal for home. Can you explain? Why not spend the money on another whole computer, but one that comes bundled with an OS and screen reader that gets you off this expensive treadmill of forced upgrades? Granted, you don't have to drop $800 for a screen reader every year, but you are locked into an expensive unending upgrade cycle. Between Windows, its requisite spiraling hardware requirements, MS Office compatibility, and Jaws -- How much do you pay on average every year? Why not try Ubuntu, Gnome, and Orca on a brand new box? For the same price as your Jaws upgrade, you can have a second live computer. Keep both running while you transition and learn the new stuff. Breaking free of the trap costs you nothing more, and you start saving money the year after that! What is the appeal -- for a recreational computer user -- of sticking with Windows? Are you rich?
Your effort to remain what you are is what limits you. (Puppet Master from Ghost in the Shell)

2:06 PM  

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