IBM gained a bit of press with its recently announced Social Accessibility Project which promises to broker a service that makes Web sites accessible to users of Jaws and Internet Explorer. Almost immediately thereafter, WebVisum was touted for its tools that make sites accessible via Firefox. Both of these efforts are stragglers, wandering onto the field some four years after Serotek announced C-Saw, which enlisted the blind and low vision community to help itself by making not-so-accessible sites more accessible with graphics tags, form fields, links, etc. Serotek has a library of over 4,000 heavily trafficked sites that have been made fully accessible via C-Saw.
When we created C-Saw we approached every AT vendor and offered it to them, free of charge with the goal of making the Internet more accessible for everyone. We got no takers. So the work that has been done is the result of volunteers using Serotek’s System Access and/or the System Access Mobile Network. And these volunteers have done very good work indeed.
It is disheartening to introduce a capability that benefits the community, offer it to everyone, and get the cold shoulder only to see a behemoth like IBM waddle in and make a half-hearted gesture along the same lines and get considerable favorable press. All so they can market tools for accessibility to website designers. It’s disheartening, but not unexpected. This sort of thing happens all the time in the technology industry. Everyone pays attention when the eight-hundred pound gorilla scratches.
More disheartening is the fact that the IBM effort is unlikely to make important things happen for the community. It could, like Sprint’s voice dial capability, be discontinued tomorrow and no consideration given to those who have come to depend on it. Those who contribute to the database will be professionals, doing their part, but not invested in the outcome. C-SAW volunteers are from the blind and low-vision community. They represent the blind community doing for itself – an independent attitude we kind of like here at Serotek.
We’d like to suggest that the three efforts be merged and that the AIR Foundation become the repository for the accessibility database. We imagine there are good things to be learned from IBM and Visum and Serotek can offer up its current data base of accessible sites and our cadre of experienced volunteers. By taking the site accessibility database out of the hands of any company, we protect against the corporate retooling that can (as it did with Sprint) wipe out a non-profit service without a thought as to the consequences.
Let’s make Web site accessibility a community right! Please post your comments and try your best not to be anonymous.