Friday, January 18, 2008

Response to the Recent WSJ Independent Street Blog Article and its Comments

On January 11, 2008, Wall Street Journal blogger Wendy Bounds posted a relatively innocuous article mentioning the accessibility lawsuit against Target Corporation and offering a little information about making a web site accessible. More interesting and alarming were the blog comments that followed. Several responders made comments about how terrible it was that the government would mandate accessibility and that people would sue those companies that are not ADA compliant. Worse were comments from ignorance about blind people not being interested in a lot of stuff on the Web and snide remarks about the writer being in trouble if his blog comment was read by a blind lawyer. It is painful to see that we still face this type of discrimination in the United States and that people still argue in favor of their right to discriminate.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) took effect in 1992, we in the blind community knew that enforcement would be a one lawsuit at a time experience. And that has proven to be the case. What can we say today? Accessibility is certainly improved over the situation in 1992, but blind and low-vision people are still at a considerable disadvantage in accessing many web sites. There is still much work to be done. That’s why Serotek made C-SAW available – so that our community could help each other by improving Web site accessibility. But there is really no excuse for web site owners and designers not to make their sites accessible.

We need to set the record straight concerning what we blind and low-vision people are interested in. The answer is everything and anything. If it is information, someone in our community wants it and is entitled to it – whether for his or her own use or to share with a loved one. That includes descriptions of primarily graphic sites, and it includes play-by-play and other descriptions of sports action. From abstract art to Australian football to Sponge Bob Square Pants to – you name it. There are interested blind and low-vision people. And that’s because we are people – just ordinary people. We have our own eclectic interests, and we have friends and families whose interests we also like to share. (From the comments by some of the WSJ blog readers you would think we were some lower life form, only interested in how many pencils we can put in the tin cup and in finding a dry place on the sidewalk to sit with our pet ACLU lawyer.)

The fact is, when the ADA passed, accessibility was a real technical challenge. Today it is not. Advanced accessibility tools like System Access to Go are readily available. The technology of accessibility in Web design is very robust. Anyone who chooses to make a small effort can deliver a highly accessible Web site. There are no excuses for not being accessible except, perhaps, that our community has still not persuaded the marketplace that even this small effort will be rewarded with increased sales.

All of us in the blind community have fought this battle against discrimination our whole lives. It gets old. It is discouraging to find readers of one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers spouting the same old clich├ęs, steeped in ignorance and proud of their prejudice. But the only effective weapon against ignorance and prejudice is information. And only you and I have the interest and the ability to make the case for accessibility as a fundamental human right. If we want the world to change, we have to change it. The arguments against compliance with the ADA are no longer valid (if they ever were). The technology to be accessible is available to all. The cost of accessibility is negligible. The pay-off from being accessible is potentially large. We need to make that case again and again, as often as we can, wherever and whenever we can. There is no valid excuse for not being accessible, and accessibility is a fundamental human right. More than that, accessibility for everyone is morally right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike and others reading this. I too read that WSJ post and its comments when it was posted to AFB's blog, and I too was very dismayed. I have my own thoughts about what might have been the motivation behind the article, but I suppose I'll keep them to myself. But needless to say I totally disagree. As someone who has been blind since birth and who now knows a great deal about what it means when something is inaccessible, it shocks me that anyone in this day and age would even fathom the idea that things should remain inaccessible. Let alone someone who themselves is blind thinking that! And yet some people still dare to dream that a lot of us don't know what it means to be blind, that we can't think for ourselves and have our own agendas. Come on--get real! People of color have for years had more rights than we do today. That's all I will say.