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Blind User Sues Southwest Over Web Site, Cites ADA 1205

Posted by timothy
from the welcome-to-quebec dept.
scubacuda writes "According to Law.com, Robert Gumson, a blind man who uses a program that converts website content into speech, is suing Southwest Airlines (with the help of Miami Beach, FL-based Access Now) for its website being incompatible with his screen-reader program. The case has been filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act under the untested legal theory that ADA provisions on the accessibility of public accommodations to the disabled apply to Internet Web sites just as they do to brick-and-mortar facilities like movie theaters and department stores. There have been previous lawsuits alleging that the ADA applies to the Internet, but all have settled without a ruling on the merits: 1999 the National Federation of the Blind sued AOL alleging its service was inaccessible to blind users (AOL agreed to make its sites compatible with screen reader technology); over the past two years, Access Now has sued Barnes & Noble and Claire's Stores for maintaining Web sites that allegedly violated the ADA (both settled)."
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Blind User Sues Southwest Over Web Site, Cites ADA

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  • by acoustix (123925) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:27PM (#4399634) Homepage
    If the company doesn't cater to your needs then they don't need your business.

    Too many people think suing is the answer to everything.

    This would be like me walking into Target (or any other store) and suing them because they don't sell XL-Tall shirts that will fit me.
  • by CTho9305 (264265) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:28PM (#4399643) Homepage
    I think the reason for the ADA is that there are NOT enough disabled Americans to have any measurable effect if they don't support specific companies.

    I do agree with you remark about Target.
  • Human Rights (Score:5, Insightful)

    by duncan bayne (544299) <dhgbayne@gmail.com> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:32PM (#4399663) Homepage

    This strikes me as a matter of simple human rights. Does anyone have the right to force a company to spend money on a minority, or accept customers they wouldn't otherwise accept? I don't believe they do.

    If the minority (in this case, the blind) are sufficiently profitable as customers, it's likely the company will spend the time and money to cater for them. Or, perhaps, the owner(s) of the company feel that their public image would be best served by catering to the minority. Or maybe they respect the effort many blind people make to achieve their goals, and decide to assist them.

    Either way, it's the choice of the company - what right has any individual or group (including the State) to force a company to accept customers they don't want?

  • Re:Interesting (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:33PM (#4399664)
    Quite a few ATM's have speech now.
  • by Bonker (243350) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:34PM (#4399670)
    A lot of people assume that the ADA is a farce designed to quiet the disgruntled whinings of mentally or physically disabled people. It's a bone tossed to them in much the same way that senior citezens get discounts and prefferential treatment in businesses. It's annoying for other customers and frequently inconvenient.

    After all, how many handicapped parking places does the mall need?

    What people who think that this is a joke fail to consider, however, is the fact that without the ADA in place, businesses can and will discriminate against handicapped people.

    Consider for a second your state's major university. We'll use the University of Texas for an example, because I'm familiar with it. Most of the buildings were constructed in the first half of the twentieth century. Most of the multi-story buildings have elevators, but not all of them. During class-time, the elevators are so full that if you want to get to class on time, you have to use the stairs. Remember that Austin is very hilly. There are stairs everywhere, even for one-story buildings.

    Now lets assume that you were in a car wreck with a drunk driver and lost the use of your legs. Despite your new disability you are a smart individual who can get a job that does not require the use of your legs.

    Without all those nice wheelchair ramps and wheelchair accessable elevators at the university, you are shit out of luck for actually getting to class... to say nothing of managing to cross the stage when you actually manage to earn your diploma.

    We look at wheelchair ramps and other disability accomodations as commonplace. The truth is that very few businesses and schools had them before the ADA forced them to. It may be unthinkable now to descriminate against someone because he's deaf, blind, or crippled, but before the ADA went into effect, nobody thought twice about descriminating against people like that.

    The ADA is not a joke.
  • by captainstupid (247628) <[ude.norkau] [ta] [vmd]> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:38PM (#4399690) Journal
    If only it were that simple.

    Just because you're XL-Tall doesn't mean you're disabled. You can still get in the store, find your way around, and purchase things at the cash register. You might not be able to find a shirt that fits you, but at least you can *find* shirts.

    This guy is suing because they won't let him in the store (effectively). It's like he's walking to the front door and somebody says to him, "I'm sorry sir, but you can't come in the store."

    Granted, this guy might be money-hungry. However, previous cases show that the companies that were sued (AOL in particular) settle by making their site accessbile to screen readers. In all likely hood, that is all this guy wants. That's all any blind person wants.

    They just want in the store.

    Who are you to compare their blindness to your big and tallness?
  • Get a grip (Score:1, Insightful)

    by MalleusEBHC (597600) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:39PM (#4399696)
    It is retarded to be suing over this. Not to be insensitive to disabled people, but if you are blind and want to fly with Southwest, pick up a damn phone and call them. You can do everything over the phone that you could online. If you are really this angry about Southwest's site not being compatible with a screen reader, don't give them your business. There are plenty of other airlines out there.
  • Miss the point (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Savatte (111615) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:39PM (#4399698) Homepage Journal
    Not to be flamebait or anything, but I think we just have to accept that someone who is blind can never get the full effect out of the web, because you can't cut out the visuals and achieve the same result. It would be like cutting out the images in a movie but wearing headphones describing what you are supposed to see. Hearing what you are supposed to see and seeing it use vastly different sense.

    Yes, it sucks to be handicapped. I would imagine blindness is one of the least desirable handicaps, but at some point, we just have to accept the fact that blind people can't effectively surf the web.
  • Re:Legal wrangling (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BlueGecko (109058) <benjamin.pollackNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:42PM (#4399712) Homepage
    Q: Ok, tell me this - where do you draw the line between high traffic commercial websites, and (for instance), mine?

    A: Wherever the lawyers with the most money decide the line looks best.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gerry Gleason (609985) <gerry@NoSpam.geraldgleason.com> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:43PM (#4399714)
    You have a point, but not about the ADA, rather about the designer of the ATM.

    There might be a valid reason for it. You don't know that the display doesn't have the capability to adapt, or even output audio based on the person's identity or a special input. Also, with a brail pad, someone could help you read the screen without having to know your password.

    It does seem awfully strange unless there is more to it than meets the eye.

  • by scotch (102596) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:50PM (#4399756) Homepage
    Maybe he did write a letter first. Why do you assume he didn't write first?

  • Re:Legal wrangling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ron Bennett (14590) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:51PM (#4399763) Homepage
    "where do you draw the line between high traffic commercial websites, and (for instance), mine?"

    There basically is no threshold for size if the court simply rules the ADA applies as it does in the physical realm. Virtually all commercial businesses (including non-profits) with a physical presence must follow the ADA.

    If the court says the ADA applies to websites...*unless* the court stipulates traffic parameters, revenues, etc...every commercial website would then have to be ADA accessible, and worse could be just as easily sued for ADA violations as businesses with physical facilities already are now!

    In short if the court rules that ADA applies to websites, unless the court is very specific to how it applies, all commercial websites regardless of size would be subject to the ruling...ouch!!! Talk about a legal nightmare!!

    Ron Bennett
  • by Ghoser777 (113623) <[moc.cam] [ta] [abnerhaf]> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:51PM (#4399769) Homepage
    Well no, it would more like having all the products in the store on a seven foot high shelf, so only seven footers can reach the items.

    But wait, that business would go out of business real quick because a large number of people are under seven feet tall. The difference with the blind is that they make up a smaller segment of the population, and so an inaccessible business won't be effected by a small backlash from a minority group. Majority groups are always insulated from these issues, but minority groups rarely are.

    I agree that suing probably isn't the answer. Instead, whatever documents that enable a business to operate should be temporarially suspended until that business comes into alignment with federal law.

    F-bacher
  • Re:Human Rights (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scotch (102596) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:54PM (#4399787) Homepage
    Yeah!! Any why should companies have to hire blacks and women if they don't want to?

    I don't think there are enough blind people or disabled people to make it profitable for most companies to accomodate them. That's why the law was put in place, as a measure of human decency that allows these people to function normally in society.
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:54PM (#4399788)
    Are these (the ADA) the people that made it so that there is Brail on Drive up ATM machines?

    After having witnessed this in use the other day, I agree with it.

    Two women drive up to the ATM. The passenger gets out, walks around to the machine, starts punching buttons. Gets her money.
    And then I realize she is blind. Walks around the car and gets in. They drive away. No problem.

    Without Braille on the buttons, she would have had to give her card, and PIN, to the driver to do the transaction. It's not just drivers that use those machines.
  • Re:All Sites (Score:2, Insightful)

    by danalien (545655) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:00PM (#4399819) Homepage
    no, not all sites *i want to say*.

    I recon it's like IRL: that every one should have the same opportunities like the other. Meaning that someone (a disabled, blind in this case) shouldn't somehow be discriminated someway (like not beeing able to access a public place, or site in this case).

    From what I know this rule applies here in sweden to all public [access] places...and ends at your home.

    Here are a few examples (where it [should] applies): Schools, Banks, any-sort-of-Stations & transportation, postoffice, restaurants, airlines, airports, airplanes, companies (!$ms too), malls, the beach, ya' you get the idea...

    ..and I recon he sues the airline because he feels (somehow) discriminated that he can't use the same public site as you do... to book his ticket.
    I interpret his claim as "all physical public [access] places with internet sites/service should comply by/with ADA".

    So you can feel safe you won't don't get sued to have to modify your personal-p00rn site, nope : )
    [*hum... wonder how this applies to PlayBoy.com [playboy.com], and the works...*]
  • by KFury (19522) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:05PM (#4399844) Homepage
    I use the web when interacting with Southwest because I can get the data I need faster visually than aurally.

    If someone's blind, it would seem only fair that southwest has the option of providing them with a dedicated, live concierge to help them with all their questions. That's why they can CALL 1-800-IFLYSWA.

    The ADA is intended to make sure that people are not disenfranchised by their disability, and in this case the person is not, since they cn accomplish the same task via a means that SWA has provided for them that is compatable with their abilities. The *only* caveat I would make is that if they show they are blind, they should be able to get the double-points and internet-only fares afforded to those who frequent the site.

    This particular lawsuit is as ridiculous as a person in a wheelchair suing for there not being a stair-climing inclinator when there's an elevator down the hall.

    I'm all for blind readability on sites without an alternative, but if it's a service operation where you can accomplish tasks via phone, then I believe that that is a solution to the mandated requirements.
  • by BoomerSooner (308737) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:05PM (#4399845) Homepage Journal
    Check the "Phone rates" versus the "Web rates". Then you may understand why. Hell I book every hotel online then call 5 minutes later to make sure it's in their system (saves around 50%). If you don't think the web is becoming a necessary part of life just try living without it for 1 month. I for example couldn't for 1 day because I make my living developing online systems.

    Like a previous poster said, I look back on they days of Netscape 2 with envy. One set of html to follow and little fluff. Oh well, now I just sound like my grandfather.
  • Good god -- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nyamada (113690) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:10PM (#4399876)
    I'm amazed at most of the comments.

    Before people flame the ADA and access to the web for the blind, they should remember that they too could become blind someday.

    The web and HTML were created to make information _more_ accessible to people, not less. Good coding for the web is supposed to ensure that people with _any_ type of browser can get your content, not just people with IE+flash. It's not very hard to make your sight accessible for the blind -- just use well-formed HTML or the new flash accessibility extensions.

    The more accessible the web is for all of us, the better we all are.
  • by phorm (591458) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:12PM (#4399892) Journal
    He is being denied access to a store/site because he is blind

    This is fairly stongly worded. You might want to s/denied/not able to attain, because there is no active attempt to disallow entry to the site. The company hasn't made provisions for this special group

    But, you could also spin it off the be the fault of the screen-reader. One could state that the company designing the screen-reader product did not make it work with the increasing graphic standard, perhaps by adding an advanced OCR, etc. Maybe a brail-reader based on color depth.

    It's fine to say that disabled individuals are not able to use this site and are losing out. But this could set a bad precedent making all companies with graphical type sites liable. How many major sites now use flash, can the screen reader translate that? It would also suck if this set a precedent so that even my little site had at to conform to blind-compatible standards (I do, however, try to use text when possible for lynx compatibility etc)

    The major point is, while much information is being presented in a textual format, the internet is moving towards towards a more visually stimulating form of presentation. People with vision impairment are going to lose out a lot from this, but not everybody will think to account for all such special cases, especially when gearing towards a more flashy and potentially better selling presentation.

    Can we really expect that text-based support is going to be around forever? In a decade, will an increasingly visual medium be forced to retain non-visual support?

    A lot of people will probably be tempted to say "I'm sorry, I understand your loss but why should it also be mine." It's in a way a selfish attitude, but it's also somewhat logical in current society.

    Well, time to go back to text-based internet - phorm
  • by Ghoser777 (113623) <[moc.cam] [ta] [abnerhaf]> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:17PM (#4399915) Homepage
    No, it's like a blind person walking into Target and being unable to ask a sales representative for a description of the product. The ADA isn't that stupid. It doesn't force people to do the impossible. It instead tells business to make their products and services reasonably accessible. Making it so a blind person can see is not reasonable. Making it so a blind person can ask a sales representative in the store for the description of a product is. Having websites that actually allows the blind people to read it using a standard reading program is reasonable as well.

    F-bacher
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:18PM (#4399919)
    It is retarded to be protesting over this. Not to ve insensitive to black people, but if you are black and want to get a drink of water, go to the damned coloured fountain and drink there. You can do everything at the coloured fountain that you can at the whites fountain. If you are really this angry about Southwest's white fountain not being usable to blacks, don't give them your business. There are plenty of other airlines with fountains out there.

    But then, nobody on slashdot is old enough to remember those days.
  • by Vinum (603982) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:28PM (#4399972)
    It does not matter, NO ONE READS THESE LETTERS, ESPECIALLY E-MAIL. They use form mail replies to everything.

    As an example... I tried to get my wife at the time on weighwatchers (she had just had a baby), so I went to their web site and I was unable to view it because I was using Konqueror. So I then booted up my win98 box which I did not give internet access but it could access a Junkbuster proxy. I still could not get in even though I was using IE5.0, it was accepting cookies from them, and javascript was ON.

    I sent this very email below:
    TRUST me, my browser is capable of viewing your site.. yet you don't
    let me view it? My privacy proxy blocks out information I don't want
    people tracking. What browser I use is none of your business, and my
    IP address is none of your business.

    You might want to RECOMMEND that people upgrade, but don't force them
    for that is ignorant.

    The WWW is about INFORMATION, not forcing people to look at things a
    certain way. That is why professionals in the web design world build their
    site around this model.

    1) Data
    First do you site in plain HTML with just the data, no formatting.
    2) Appearance
    Go back in and add CSS tags to make the site look appeasing.
    3) Function
    Add javascript that will make your site easier to browse.

    This way, if the person is browsing off... a PDA, cell phone, or even
    a kitchen toaster.. they can grab the data off your web site.

    I wanted to get my wife more information about your service (she just had
    a child) but since I am unable to get it.. I suppose I will have to do
    something else.

    This is the reply I got:

    From: CustomerService@weightwatchers.com
    Date: Tue 05, Mar 2002 17:51:18 -0800

    I'm very sorry to hear about the issues you've been having with our site. Obviously, we'd like everyone to be able to use the site to the fullest--to have as much fun as we do.

    Since we've launched the new site, we've found that some configurations work better than others and that some browsers afford a better user experience.

    Our site works best with a PC and Internet Explorer, version 5.0. If you have a PC and are using an older version of IE or are using Netscape, you might want to try switching to Internet Explorer.

    Macintosh users should use Netscape to browse the Internet. It affords a much better experience than Internet Explorer or AOL.

    Best Wishes,
    Marie

  • by DABANSHEE (154661) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:39PM (#4400049)
    Just have a redirect saying Southwest.com is closed for rebuilding, if you wish, click here to be redirected to our London sales agent, which links the customer to southwest.co.uk which is run by a agent not a subsidary.

    A foreign website has no obligation to comply with US law.

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:48PM (#4400106) Journal
    Web sites are primarily designed for a particular, limited audience, in most cases. If someone *chooses* to make their site easily accessible to everyone who comes across it, that's their option -- but it certainly doesn't need to be legislated as mandatory.

    That's as ludicrous as saying every author writing a book needs to have it translated and published into every foreign language in common use, so those not speaking English are ensured "equal access" to it!

    The fact is, many sites right now are quite browser-dependent, even if they opt not to touch any additional "plug-in" technologies such as Shockwave or RealAudio. If we didn't have Javascript, web sites would be much less useful. (As just one example, I recently found a site that calculated your speedometer error based upon changing your car's tires out with different sizes. If this had to be presented as pure HTML, I suppose we'd be reduced to looking through a huge list or table of every combination, to find relevant data for our particular car and situation. How is that a *better* way to build the site?)

    Sure, some of the ".bomb'ers" are out there drawing up poor quality sites, and don't deserve a job designing web pages. That's not what this discussion is really about, however. This is a question of whether we want to let government dictate requirements for every site we build. If this becomes law, many people will take down sites completely rather than pay to do major revamping to meet ADA requirements, and then *nobody* benefits.
  • by AnotherShep (599837) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:59PM (#4400169)
    Right. I forgot that the airlines don't have representitives who talk on phones. And that the guy couldn't have asked someone else to help him read the website. And that he couldn't have complained to the company first, rather than tried to sue them.

    I didn't see anything in the article saying he was *REFUSED* service, just that the software he bought didn't work on their website. There's a big difference. They didn't deny him service, he just didn't try to get any.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Blkdeath (530393) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:20PM (#4400271) Homepage
    Quite a few ATM's have speech now.
    Can I sue the bank for that, then? Great idea - tell the unscrupulous individual waiting in line who's got the biggest account balance - let him know who took out the most cash. Fantastic. What about just the nosy people who try to look over my shoulder as it is - wouldn't that just make their lives so much easier.

    It's my information, I'm not blind, I don't want the world to hear it. (Even if it's disable-able, I'd still be annoyed if a machine started our session by yapping at me)

  • Now, we add a whole new method of content rendering. We can't even impliment the main standards properly. How do we plan to ensure that an audio interface can successfully read a website, as well? Keep in mind that this is not what the web was originally designed to handle.

    Actually, this IS what the web was developed to handle. Take a look at any HTML/1.0 page and you will notice that it can be read perfectly. Everything became screwed up when the <table> tag was introduced and people started to use HTML as a substitute for PDF, and later Flash. HTML is a markup, not a layout language.

    As far as the internet being "hard to convert": no it isn't. Some businesses just need to get hit with a couple of lawsuits to figure that one out. Yes, websites do need to take that into account, so some webmasters will have to change their ways. But, you can make a perfectly functional audio website by using a content management system that supports it, without too much effort. Audio internet is not a hard problem unless you are an amateur trying to do a professional's job.
  • by gorbachev (512743) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:33PM (#4400344) Homepage
    Ever tried writing any websites owners regarding accessibility concerns?

    You first spend 30 minutes trying to find where to send the email and/or letter. IF you can find it at all. Now, how would a blind person find the contact information on a website that is not usable to him?

    Assuming you can find the contact information you then write the letter/email.

    3 weeks later the response comes and says either:

    "We appreciate your feedback. We have decided, at this point, to limit our website userbase to those that have Flash 8.0, HTML 6.0 and hypersuper Plug-In v2.53 capable browsers. We apologize for the inconvenience. You can still use our 1-800 number to purchase tickets with Southwest Airlines." The PR rep fails to mention that it costs more to purchase tickets using the phone (since all airlines are now moving to add fees to non-Internet orders).

    or

    "We appreciate your feedback. We are committed to making our website ADA compliant. Please be patient while our technical staff makes the necessary changes." Weeks, months and years go by and nothing changes.

    That is 100% the exprience I've had when I've written.

    Proletariat of the world, unite to kill incompetency
  • by ncc74656 (45571) <scott@alfter.us> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:35PM (#4400353) Homepage Journal
    No he's not being denied access. It's more as if you were allowed into Target, but were physically unable to spend money, or something. He can have someone else read him the page too, I'm sure there's someone around him who can see.

    Getting back to the plaintiff described in the article, I'd think an easier solution would be to call 1 800 555-1212, get Southwest's toll-free number from them, and then call that number. I'd think the same information is available that way as is available through their website (probably more info, in fact, such as information on what flights are on time/delayed/etc.). This has to be easier than filing yet another lawsuit. Then again, I suppose the ambulance chasers wouldn't make any money off of such a common-sense solution.

  • by bamurphy (614233) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:43PM (#4400401) Homepage
    Its amazing how vitriolic the responses to this have been. Having seen the devastating effects of chronic disease and disability within my own family, and how important legislation like the ADA was(is). The things people are saying here is the same crap people told my father as they railroaded out of one job and kept him out of others because he couldn't walk, and more and more couldn't write without a computer. The fact of the matter is the web is a lot like brick and morter businesses were BEFORE ADA. Its not accesible, its not standard, and that affects a lot more than just the disabled. ADA hasn't led to rampant litigation within the "real" world. Most companies just did what they had to do, put in a ramp, widened a door, and if they were decently designed buildings in the first place it wasnt that hard. If your whole site is a fucking image map thats too bad but (hopefully) some precedent gets set here and people start cleaning up their act (and code). The fact is, the ADA isn't just about the disabled. Disabled != Defective. Disabled != Valueless. The technology exists to relatively easily update existing sites, and certainly to design new sites to be accessible. We can certainly "version" blind-friendly sites. Hell, theres more commands in my O'Reilly CSS manual for audio style sheets than anything else! So if the web can be made truly accessible (something that certainly would have been an ideal 10 years ago) then why not? Are we so lazy that we can't see the benefit of having more people participate? More people able to contribute their efforts and talents? Just saying "oh well, too bad!" will do more damage, and cost a hell of a lot more in the long run than spending a bit of time and money now and allowing people who are just as intelligent and skilled as the rest of the population to do their jobs, live their lives, and see their porno alt tags.
  • Ooooooooh well. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rice_burners_suck (243660) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:43PM (#4400407)
    This has got to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Yeah, I bet it SUCKS when you can't see jack, and we definitely need laws to help out people with such a horrible condition, just like we need blue curbs and parking spaces for people with broken knees and stuff.

    But at some point or another, I think this has turned a type of blackmail. We're talking about software, folks. Web sites are software. If a web site is incompatible with some user's screen reading program, then what are you supposed to do? According to this guy, the answer is to make it compatible. But then another user will come along and sue because the website is incompatible with HIS screen reader. So what are you supposed to do? Be compatible with EVERY screen reader there is in the world? Or be compatible with one? Which one? Heck, I could sue Southwest because their website is incompatible with Opera. (For some reason, Opera complains that the connection was closed by the remote server.)

    The next thing you know, you'll get sued because the 'ls' replacement you wrote as a programming exercise is incompatible with the crankshaft in your car. Come on, folks, be reasonable. Brick and mortar is VERY different from a website, and it is utterly IMPOSSIBLE to make software that handles EVERY POSSIBLE SITUATION! Next thing you know, Sony will get sued for making radios that deaf people can't listen to. Or Nike will get sued for making shoes that people without feet can't wear. Geez!

    And dude, if some airline is incompatible with your screen reader, call their 800 number and get your tickets that way.

    As for Southwest... You guys need to fix your broken website.

  • Re:Human Rights (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:53PM (#4400475)
    "If more people disagree with you than agree, that's democracy in action..."

    "...There is such a thing as tyranny of the majority."

    Pick one.
  • by mgrochmal (567074) on Monday October 07, 2002 @12:26AM (#4400661)
    Before I get to my reply, it helps to have some background: I earned my diploma in Computer Technology last semester. While there are lots of other people on this site that have accomplished something similar (or even better), I had to deal with degenerative vision and Asperger's Syndrome. During my time in college, I did my internship at the IRIS Network [theiris.org], an educational center for visually impaired people. (I'm not trying to sound politically correct when I say it like that, but there are people that have limited vision that still need adaptations. Me, for one) During my internship, I learned various adaptive software/hardware for computers and did tech support and tutoring for people with various levels of sight. Recently, my vision has degraded to the point of needed a walking stick.

    With that said, there are a few things I've noticed from my internship time:

    1. Many of the people I helped are new to technology. Learning how to use the web is hard enough for a newbie, but it's doubly difficult when many of the more popular online resources are difficult to use when you can't use a mouse. Improper use of Flash, or pretty much any use of Dreamweaver makes the site inaccessible.
    2. I remember getting a call at 11 PM from someone who was aggravated because their printer was beeping at them, but wasn't saying what was wrong. I find out that the printer was out of paper, but the printer was fairly old and couldn't send a message to Windows. All it had was a blinking light.
    3. Some would reply: "Well that'll teach him to use old hardware!". Most of the hardware I dealt with were outdated, because most of them were either donated as tax writeoffs from recently upgraded businesses, or someone who took pity and dropped off an old machine. Many places don't have the budget to get top-of-the-line products. JAWS [freedomscientific.com], a common screen reading program for Windows, costs at least $895, depending on which version. Many people that I taught couldn't afford the software or hardware to get the jobs they want. They ask their manager or IT department about it, or try to get help from their state government. (In my state, it's lumped under the Department of Labor, specifically the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation. The IRIS Network gets many referrals from them.) WIth some of the tech people I've met, they feel it is either too much of a hassle to implement a fully accessible environment, or they simply don't know how.
    It's for those incidents that the ADA was made. It's one thing to whine about some of the seemingly frivolous lawsuits. It's another thing to be flatly denied access to something because people think your disability would burden them. I used to hear people get replies like "I shouldn't have to do something for you. Can't you do it yourself?" or "Why go through the effort when I can get a perfectly capable person for cheaper?". Or once the adaptations are in place, they want to garnish wages until the adaptations are paid off. The ADA was made to prevent discrimination like this. There are many institutions that are willing to teach businesses how to integrate disabled people in the workplace. The cost is often within a few hundred dollars, and from personal experience, the IRIS Network's clients are willing and able to work just as hard as anyone else.

    In any case, previous posters have submitted some very good replies with links to good resources. A lot of headway can be made by keeping to standards and making sure that developers of software and Internet services know about the demand. Yes, this won't be an instant solution to the problem, but it's one of those "The More You Know" things.

  • by Hangtime (19526) on Monday October 07, 2002 @12:40AM (#4400738) Homepage
    The Internet is not a right it is a privilege. You do not come out of the womb with the right to browse the Internet with IE, Opera, Netscape, etc. The point of the ADA is to give disabled individuals "COMPARABLE" access to the goods and services of relatively healthy individuals. The "Target Analogy" is completely bogus. Southwest provides a service to its customers (the ability to fly individuals from point A to point B). Southwest offers a toll-free 800 number in which individuals can call and make reservations. Southwest also offers a website in which you can book your own travel. Southwest is offering "COMPARABLE" access to its product ("flying people all over the country"). If the only way you get get a Southwest flight would be to use the Internet then you might have a case, but there are alternatives. The ADA states as long as you can show that you offer a way for someone to use other means to access your business that does not encumber them too greatly then you are fine.

    I believe the ADA has done a great deal of good in this country. It has allowed individuals with disabilities a degree of freedom to live that has never been enjoyed in the past. However, the ADA was not brought into the world to ensure "EXACT" abilities between healthy and disabled individuals. This lawsuit makes a real mockery of the ADA and should die a quick death.
  • Flash (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday October 07, 2002 @01:07AM (#4400845)
    To quote you out of context:

    How many major sites now use flash, can the screen reader translate that?

    Not only might the screen reader not be able to read this, but chances are my PDA can't either!!

    Sites that use only flash, or make important data require flash to access, are not a good thing. There should always be some way that someone with the most basic browser can get to information they need. Furthermore they lock themselves away from many wireless or small device users.

    Companies, think carefully before thowing away future customers! Text is simply the best way of transmitting most information that humans want to see (even text directions can be better than a map at times!!), and as such plan for a future that integrates text with diagrams, rather than throwing it away.
  • are lawyers. Why does the US have half the worlds lawyers? It really makes no sense.

    Anyways. The clear answers to this blind persons problem is that instead of suing a company for not supporting their method of access, use your power as a member of a capitalistic society, and send a message with your money.

    Find another company that supports you better, and spend your money with them.

    Why does common logic like this escape so many people?
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday October 07, 2002 @01:22AM (#4400910)
    I think the line is very clear. What you described is obviously fine, and blind people would have no problems with something like an art site that used Flash or movies of any sort.

    The line is in my mind lives about where it lives right now in the physical world, and as with so many things needs only slight clarification instead of major overhaul. If your web site is for a commercial entity to be accesses by the public than you need to make any pages external customers might access in the course of doing business with you accessible.

    If you're smart then you'll also make internal pages accessible as well so that when someone who does fall under the ADA guidelines gets hired, you wont have any problems. Even better, how aboput making sure your crucial internal app is not the reason the company has to turn somebody away because they will not be able to run it, who then sues you as a result (only a step away from this story).

    I really can't believe all the people here pushing back on this issue. I like to think that, god forbid, something really bad should happen to me I'd still be able to work AND use the internet for leisure. A lot of people here seem to be fine with the thought that the internet as a body should cast away anyone without two hands, great reflexes, and 20/20 vision.
  • by Dyolf Knip (165446) on Monday October 07, 2002 @01:25AM (#4400927) Homepage
    I'm as annoyed by all-Flash sites as anyone, but the absolute last thing we need is yet another inane law dictating what you can put on your webpage.
  • by cowtamer (311087) on Monday October 07, 2002 @01:47AM (#4401000) Journal
    A better analogy would be you trying to get into Target and finding out that you have to go up a flight of stairs to get into the store.

    If you are in a wheelchair, this is a problem--and this is what the ADA addresses.

    I believe this is one of those few instances where government regulation is a _good thing_.
    (Besides, I'd LOVE to be able to turn off graphics and buy tickets, transfer funds, etc.)
  • by dbrutus (71639) on Monday October 07, 2002 @02:01AM (#4401046) Homepage
    I think that the problem with the SouthWest site is simply that they use graphics links that don't specify their alt tags. At least when I ran it through the w3c's HTML validator that's the main complaint. This isn't rocket science, nor is it very hard to comply with. We're not talking about a lot of money and if their web guys had followed standard industry best practices there wouldn't have been a problem.

    As a bonus, you make your site accessible via Lynx so it wouldn't just be a benefit to the blind.

    I don't know who did the SW airlines site but they weren't served very well.
  • by b17bmbr (608864) on Monday October 07, 2002 @02:11AM (#4401075)
    do you drive a car? should we make the streets blind accessible?

    Rights do not impose burdens upon others. Laws like this, which can be easily be carried to extremes, can be stifling. For example, I am a public school teacher. We are being killed by special ed. There is no limit to what can be asked for, and gotten. Parents get "advocates" and lawsuits kill the schools. Most of these kids are totally fine, just that the parents abuse the laws.

    Remember what Barry Goldwater said, "A government big enough to give you everything, is big enough to take it all away".
  • by tshak (173364) on Monday October 07, 2002 @02:30AM (#4401117) Homepage
    Assuming this person had contacted Southwest's webmasters (which as I said they should have,) what would you do next?

    Use the phone. It's great that you can post to /., and read these long threads! However, consider the fact that the web is a visual medium which is obviously not very condusive to your disability. It would seem logical that, if that medium wasn't suiting you in a particular case, you would then use a medium that better suited your abilities. You can still hear, and the phone is a very easy way to use Southwests services. Not to mention, regardless of disability, it is also the most popular method of using Southwest's services. If I were in charge of Southwest's web site would I make it standards compliant so that accessibility utilities worked properly? Yes I would, but I wouldn't want the government forcing me to do it.
  • by dvdeug (5033) <dvdeug@noSPam.email.ro> on Monday October 07, 2002 @02:32AM (#4401120)
    No, it's like he's blind and he's suing because he's unable to use a visual medium. I feel for blind people, I don't know what I would do if I lost my sight. But you're blind, you're not going to be able to use visual (WWW) media anymore!

    The WWW is a digitial medium. It has large purely visual aspects, as well as auditory (surely you've been to a website and had music start playing.) But the base of the web is human language, and that can be equally communicated through auditory and visual means (in the case of the web, we do have a bias towards visual, as it's encoded as text, but text to speech has largely been solved.) The HTML is not and was not designed to be a visual layout language; it was designed to hold information.
  • by BlueUnderwear (73957) on Monday October 07, 2002 @02:35AM (#4401126)
    As far as making sites inaccessible (that term is incorrect due to the way the WWW works). since the majority of the linked images have alt attributes, it looks more like the case of an accident where a hurried webmaster simply forgot a few of them. if the lawsuit was just over this, then I hope that blind man and access both rot in hell since all they really needed to do was email the webmaster and say "hey you forgot a few alt attributes and I am blind and cannot use the site." I am the webmaster for a very large and very popular real estate sit. While we do not use images for navigation, if we did and a few slipped through the cracks, I would add them as users complained.

    You are assuming here that the webmaster is reasonable, and reacts to user's complaints. However, more often than not, this is unfortunately not the case: For example, this site [cordis.lu] has had a Javascript cover page barring access to anyone who has not a 800*600 screen (or not screen at all, for that matter...). And it has been like this for over a year, and despite repeated complaints. Ironically enough, once you have passed this obnoxious doorman (by going directly to http://www.cordis.lu/en/ [cordis.lu]), you get to a nice site which is quite accessible, and which even has alt tags on their images.

    Unfortunately, such cases are not isolated. Often, polite complaints about such issues are often met with silence, or with ramblings about how 99.99% of the population use Internet Explorer anyways, or with idle promises to do better (but even after a year, no action). In fact, in the vast majority of cases, mailing the webmaster didn't bring any betterment of the site. I know even a case of a non-profit who had contracted out the design of their website to a "professional" web design firm [e-connect.lu]. The site came back full of alt-less images and obnoxious javascript. After the non-profit corrected those issues, the web design firm attempted to pressure them to revert back to the original (i.e. inaccessible) web design.

    Maybe you are a good webmaster who reacts on user feedback, but unfortunately most don't :-(

    For all you now, Robert Gumson probably did try to work this out amicably before going to court, but got the "use Internet Explorer, like everybody else" spiel rather than an improvement of the site.

  • by geekotourist (80163) on Monday October 07, 2002 @03:25AM (#4401221) Journal
    When you write about the web being visual, what do you mean? It's a web composed of mediaglyphics and icons? Which only computers with optical sensors can process? And it only covers topics like card tricks, miming, photography, optical illusions and other topics which *must* be seen to be appreciated? (Or the opposite in the case of mimes?)

    Haven't spent to much time on that web, myself. The web I use tends to be composed of information, usually in the form of little magnetic bits aligned in one direction or another. As I'm unable to access info directly from magnetic media, I prefer to get that info in the form of written words. But this web I use isn't inherently visual- I could get the same information aurally, just not as quickly. A SQL query on a database to retrieve a ticket price-- nothing inherently visual about that, except the purely personal aspect of me reading the results rather than hearing them.

    But then until 1997 or so I did most of my web browsing in Lynx, and I'd be happy enough to be able to do so again. When I want a pure reading experience, all the "inherently visual" aspects of the web get in the way: text is quick to download, unlike all the gifs and flash bouncing advertisements. So I'm not unhappy about people pushing for ADA and accessability standards for web pages: what makes for better access for the blind also makes for an easier, faster, and less stupid-blinking-ads experience for me.

  • by reflector (62643) on Monday October 07, 2002 @03:48AM (#4401274)

    Long ago, a science fiction writer (I don't remember who, unfortunately) wrote a short story about a society which tried to equalize everything for everybody. If you were too fast, you wore weights to slow you down. If you were too smart, you wore a device that randomly made a loud noise and startled you out of your train of thought.


    sounds like "harrison bergeron" by kurt vonnegut. an excellent story, made into a tv-movie in 1995, also very good:
    http://us.imdb.com/Title?0113264

  • by Quila (201335) on Monday October 07, 2002 @04:07AM (#4401326)
    The government's been requiring almost all IT products including web sites be accessible for years. If you do design for anything government-related, you're used to this by now. And you know how government self-regulation has a habit of leaking out to the country at large.

    If you need to make a site accessible quickly, or develop an accessible one from scratch, get InFocus from SSB [ssbtechnologies.com].
  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by autopr0n (534291) on Monday October 07, 2002 @04:15AM (#4401336) Homepage Journal
    To have the govt set up a service with humans that read web sites to any blind web surfer? Could be linked via a collaboration program so both would be seeing the same site. Overall, this seems cheaper to the US economy than forcing every business in the US to redesign their web site.

    Have you ever heard of this thing called "HTML"? If you use this "HTML" stuff to design your website, it will be able to be read by blind people. If on the other hand, you use flash, or put all your textual content in .gif files or something it won't be.

    In other words, you actually have to work to make a website that can't be read by blind people. Since these companies already put so much effort only to exclude people, they might as well put in a little more to fix the problem.
  • by Dredd13 (14750) <dredd@megacity.org> on Monday October 07, 2002 @06:28AM (#4401576) Homepage
    And this isn't flamebait.

    If you have a disability, why is it the world's job to cater to YOU, instead of YOUR job to adapt to the world?

    If someone is blind AND deaf, will they insist that every movie theater provide someone to do that Helen Keller style sign-language-inside-your-hand-so-you-can-feel-it to tell you what's happening on the screen and what's being said?

    I'm all for companies voluntarily making their sites/buildings/whatever more accessible, and I believe that government sites might have a greater reason to be "required" to be accessible, but to make it mandatory is just cost-shifting the expense of "being handicapped" from the person who actually is handicapped to "lots of companies who are rich and can afford it".

  • by pheonix (14223) <slashdot@iblov[ ]e.org ['iat' in gap]> on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:58AM (#4401979) Homepage
    The important thing is that all people are equal before the law. Being rich, or famous, or friends with the Mayor shouldn't give you any special privleges.


    But being blind or deaf should, right? Okay, my sympathies to those with a disability, but the ADA is NOT right, in my opinion, when it comes to web access. The ADA doesn't specify that those with disabilities need 100% complete access to every facet of the business. How do I know this? From resturants that are wheelchair accessible, but have a section that is up a set of stairs. Now, a wheeled person cannot get up there, but they still have access to plenty of seating, so no harm done. If a blind person can't use the web site, then they should call the 800 number, and no harm done. Southwest policy (in addtion to NWA), states that those with disabilities that use the call center do NOT get charged the surcharge that you or I would. So what's the problem?
  • by stinkydog (191778) <sd.strangedog@net> on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:58AM (#4401981) Homepage
    A couple of points:

    But you're blind, you're not going to be able to use visual (WWW) media anymore!

    WWW is not a visual media, it is and information media. All HTML is about is describing how to display information. Content should be able to be seperated from code.

    No, it's like he's blind and he's suing because he's unable to use a visual medium.

    It's like I open a restraunt and build an 8" curb around it with no cuts. I can say it enhances the beauty of my property, but it is an unnatural barrier to some people. If I changed my restraunt to a website and called the curb Flash it is the same thing.

    If he wants information about airline flights he can *pick up a phone and call*.

    Sure he can't eat in my restraunt, but he can use the drive through, it's the same thing right?

    SD

  • by elmegil (12001) on Monday October 07, 2002 @09:01AM (#4401988) Homepage Journal
    Where precisely did you see that ad? Can't say I've seen it myself.

    As far as I can tell you're working on more strawmen. Just like the first poster I responded to, which was the MAIN point I was making--it is a fact that the ADA is about access. It is not anything like a fact that the ADA would force anyone to hire a firefighter without arms. Making up arguments that don't exist is known as building strawmen and that is what's wrong here. You have a beef with a real application of the ADA that you think is wrong? Cite it. That's a real argument against it. Quit making up BS arguments against it.

    As for arguments for...the point is that all people have a right to participate in society. If society is set up so that it inherently excludes some segment of people because of 1) active discrimination or 2) passive exclusion, those people have the right to try and get that exclusion corrected. And that's what the ADA is.

    Is the ADA perfect? No. Does the ADA get abused? Just like any other legislation, of course--in a land of a billion lawyers, every loophole in every place it can get someone some bit of advantage gets used. But I think we're better off with it than without. I have deaf friends who I would never have met if it weren't for the access they recieve at the behest of the ADA.

    Nothing in the ADA mandates the more ridiculous strawman arguments used against it, and the only thing that causes the excessive abuses that really do occur is lawyering, not regular people, and not the legislation itself.

    Feel free to argue that it ought to be corrected to prevent the abuses, or to cite real abuses. But until you do, I'm going to assume you're just against it as a matter of conservative ideology rather than actual investigation (i.e. you buy the strawman arguments yourself).

  • Re:All Sites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Isofarro (193427) on Monday October 07, 2002 @09:25AM (#4402098) Homepage
    as simple as putting a link to a text-only page as the very first link at the top of the homepage. I've seen it in enough places. That's not tough, it's not expensive,


    The idea that making a text-only version of a website is all that's needed to make a website accessible is a myth. Its the same myth that provokes other webdesigners to construct "Netscape" and "IE" duplicates of websites - its ludicrous and involves some serious overheads in keeping multiple versions of a website in synch and up-to-date. You can bet your bottom dollar that the text version of the site is the first to be left behind and overlooked when it comes to updating.

    Creating an accessible website is not difficult. The recommendations and guidelines have been available on the web since 1999 - the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [w3.org] is there for website authors to create accessible content. There's nothing in there that's remotely difficult.

    I'm amazed at the level of complains from so-called "creative artists" about the Web and how they don't want to follow the standards path. Other artists in other media work within the constraints and boundaries of their chosen media and deliver work of high quality. And then they use the media to its full use.

    But when it comes to websites, these so-called artists cannot understand the web beyond what they see in their browsers. They limit their imagination and scope and refuse to make their creations accessible in a public medium.

    They are "so-called artists" since its clear they do not understand the breadth and depth of the World Wide Web. The ability to build accessible websites should be a mandatory skill requirement before embarking on a professional career in web design - its as important as the ability to write legibly.
  • by Isofarro (193427) on Monday October 07, 2002 @09:34AM (#4402157) Homepage
    Overall, this seems cheaper to the US economy than forcing every business in the US to redesign their web site.


    What's remotely difficult and expensive about doing the job of building a website correctly the first time? Accessibility is not difficult - never has been. The guidelines for accessibilty have been around almost from the inception of the World Wide Web, heck even the City of San Jose have their accessibility guidelines on their websites for quite a long stretch of time.

    The whole point of accessibility is that it makes websites more accessible to more people in more locations, more situations and more devices than without accessibility. It allows your company access to a larger audience. Its not expensive or difficult to implement accessibility. Anyone with common sense can do it.

    When a company gets serious and makes its website fully accessible, it benefits not only people with disabilities, but also allows their website to be accessible to mobile computing devices such as the Pocket PC and handheld computer -- this is going to be such a huge market, the pervasive web. If you can't sell accessibility to a company with this advantage, then I guess you have a website that isn't worth anything to anybody.
  • by MORTAR_COMBAT! (589963) on Monday October 07, 2002 @11:01AM (#4402799)
    A book publisher is not forced to publish his work in braille. And internet site is comprised nearly entirely of text and graphics. It is simply one of those things which makes it suck to be blind.

    If a government service was available only on the web, then of course that web site must be accessible. But in general, a web site should only have to provide alternate means of access if they value the market they are locking out by not providing that access.

    Similar to Playboy publishing a braille version (which it has). They don't have to do it, but when they want to sell to blind people, they realise that blind people probably don't get much out of their normal issue.

    Why should Southwest.com be forced to provide an accessible web site? Does Southwest have to send out braille versions of all their newsletters? Sure, apply financial pressure with your business, but what in the world does the government have to do with whether or not Southwest values having blind customers able to visit their web site?
  • by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Monday October 07, 2002 @11:41AM (#4403132) Homepage Journal
    Getting back to the plaintiff described in the article, I'd think an easier solution would be to call 1 800 555-1212, get Southwest's toll-free number from them, and then call that number. I'd think the same information is available that way as is available through their website (probably more info, in fact, such as information on what flights are on time/delayed/etc.).

    I actually tried to make some airline reservations over the phone recently. Pretty universally you'll pay more for your tickets. These days, "internet only specials" really are.

    And really, it's quite easy to make your web site screen reader or braille console friendly. Use ALT="" attributes in your IMG tags. Prefer CSS over HTML formatting. As a bonus, your web site will display better on all sorts of less capable software, including lynx, WebTV, wireless Palm VIIs, and cell phones. The only reason to not do the right thing is if your web designer is clueless or lazy.

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