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Blind User Sues Southwest Over Web Site, Cites ADA 1205

scubacuda writes "According to, 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 inteller ( 599544 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:26PM (#4399629)
    what if I write a website that shows one thing, but spits out text telling the blind person something else. Namely, what if I setup and it have pictures of chicks with dicks? can't wait to see the blind person in the library with this one.
  • Legal wrangling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raul654 ( 453029 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:26PM (#4399630) Homepage
    Ok, tell me this - where do you draw the line between high traffic commercial websites, and (for instance), mine?
    • by procrustes ( 569588 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:28PM (#4399644)
      Presumably, the same way you tell the difference between high traffic commercial buildings and (for instance), my house.
    • Re:Legal wrangling (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BlueGecko ( 109058 )
      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: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
      • Re:Legal wrangling (Score:5, Informative)

        by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:55PM (#4400148)
        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!!!

        That would suit me fine. Those features on a website that are most likely to break screen readers tend to be the exact same features that are the most annoying, unnecessary and browser incompatible.

  • by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:27PM (#4399634)
    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.
    • by captainstupid ( 247628 ) < minus punct> 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?
      • by cheezedawg ( 413482 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:34PM (#4400347) Journal
        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.

        The ADA doesn't allow for any monetary damages. Under the ADA, you can only sue to force compliance.
    • by Ghoser777 ( 113623 ) <[] [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.

    • Just have a redirect saying is closed for rebuilding, if you wish, click here to be redirected to our London sales agent, which links the customer to which is run by a agent not a subsidary.

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

    • 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.)
  • I wouldn't be surprised if he wins. I mean, the ADA is the reason you find braile on ATM machines... when they still can't read the stupid screen!

    He'll win, and before long, every commercial website will have to be made compatable with the ADA.
    • Funnier still, there's braile on the keys at the at the drive-up ATM, too.
    • Banks Sued over ATM Use: Advocates for the Blind Say Mellon and PNC Should Provide Voice-Operated Machines []

      Now talking ATM machines are being devleoped [] and installed [].

      But don't worry, the ATM machine does not read outloud your bank balance (my, wouldn't that produce some awkward situtation), as they are going to use earphones [] or simple headphones to maintain your privacy.

    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gerry Gleason ( 609985 ) <gerry AT geraldgleason DOT 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.

    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by stefanlasiewski ( 63134 ) <slashdot@stefanc[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:08PM (#4399870) Homepage Journal
      Must be different where you live...

      San Francisco and Berkeley, I've seen dozens of ATM machines with audio jacks so that blind people can use them. If you have a cluster of 3 Wells Fargo ATMs for example, one of them will have an audio jack.

      Not sure about San Francisco, but I know that Berkeley has one of the highest percentage of blind people in the US.
  • standards (Score:5, Informative)

    by proj_2501 ( 78149 ) <> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:29PM (#4399648) Journal
    This why html standards exist. XHTML requires all img tags to have alt="" attributes, which several images on the southwest web page do NOT have. These images seem to be the only links to any other functions on the first page.
  • by flogger ( 524072 ) <non@nonegiven> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:31PM (#4399656) Journal
    Does this mean I am going to go out and sue all glove makers because they don't make a right hand glove with no thumb? No. That is plain stupid. The term disability means, acording to []
    2. A disadvantage or deficiency, ...
    3. Something that hinders or incapacitates.

    Why can we not accept that there are things that we cannot do and not sue others while pretending it is someone else's fault that we have a disability.
    Are these (the ADA) the people that made it so that there is Brail on Drive up ATM machines?

    Only in Lake Wobiegon (sp?) is everyone above average...
    • Does this mean I am going to go out and sue all glove makers because they don't make a right hand glove with no thumb?

      No, because the presensce of the thumb does not prevent you from using it. If you had six fingers and could somehow prove it was a "disability", then you'd have a case.
    • 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.
  • by OmenChange ( 183545 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:31PM (#4399657)
    I just have one thing to say to people whose screen reader software can't read this post and are offended enough to sue:


    Oh wait, nevermind.
  • Human Rights (Score:5, Insightful)

    by duncan bayne ( 544299 ) <> 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: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 sellout ( 4894 ) <> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:34PM (#4399668) Homepage

    I think this is something that site designers should be aware of, so here are a few links to pages that discuss Web accessibility.

    I hope that helps those of you who are interested.

  • 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.
    • Sure the ADA has some good effects. But it's also being used as a tool of extortion against small businesses. An attorney will team up with a disabled person (typically someone wheelchair bound) who will go into a business and find something that doesn't accomodate his disability. The attorney then slaps the business with an ADA suit. Under the ADA, the attorney can bill $275 the moment the suit is filed. Most small businesses can't afford to defend themselves and pay up. Offers to remedy the problem are spurned; only cash will do. Clint Eastwood had this happen to him [].

      Things like this are why there's hostility toward the ADA and those pushing it. It's also why there's a move afoot to amend the ADA to allow businesses 90 days to bring themselves into compliance when there's a complaint, before a suit can be filed. Naturally, the plaintiff's bar thinks this is a bad idea.

      • by clifyt ( 11768 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:23PM (#4399944)
        Bullshit. Extortion? Do you really know what it takes to be compliant? Not too much. I asked for and received an ADA manual last time I was renovating my office (gov't sent one without charge) and TOLD my employeer we were going to be ADA compliant even if it bankrupted up (not likely, we are a small department in a much larger organization).

        What did it take? We ordered a few signs that had braile on them, made sure the aisleways were wide enough to accomodate a wheel chair and got a few tables that were articulating to accomidate the wheelchairs to get under them. Computer terminals were made it be sure that they had the standard ADA compliant software on them (Windows and Macs come with most of this and most of these folks know how to activate them if they ask).

        Get the problem fixed before hand and you won't have to worry about someone suing you. All in all, it cost me about a grand for the extra equipment AND a disabilities advocate was able to meet with me to make sure we were in compliance as much as possible for free. Since doing this 3 years ago, I've had to accomodate 2 people. Were they worth the $500 a piece that it cost me? Probably not from a profit centered notion, BUT it was money well spent.

        Get the shit done and don't put it off as something to do later, and you won't get sued. If you do and you are sued later, you've made a good faith effort to try to be accomodating. You can't please everyone and you can't expect every situation to be convered but you can try your best.

      • Sure the ADA has some good effects. But it's also being used as a tool of extortion against small businesses. An attorney will team up with a disabled person (typically someone wheelchair bound) who will go into a business and find something that doesn't accomodate his disability. The attorney then slaps the business with an ADA suit. Under the ADA, the attorney can bill $275 the moment the suit is filed.

        Not true. The ADA specifically excludes damages. The most someone can legally get out of an ADA suit is correction of the barrier. Nowhere in the ADA will you find that an "attorney can bill for $275". If your lawyer told you that, you need to find a new lawyer.

  • Finally I have a good excuse for using good 'ol HTML on sites, especially message boards like Marihemp Network Message Boards [] I run, other than it speeds things up - which in the world of cable and dsl doesn't fly anymore.

    Personally, I think it's high time for companies that have public websites to strive for universal accessibility regardless of browser, etc - I really HATE seeing blurbs such as "MSIE 5+ required", etc on websites - defeats the whole idea of HTML and universal access.

    While it's perhaps unrealistic for sites to work with various ancient browsers, a person with a basic browser that supports tables and other basic HTML (say HTML 3.2) should be able to access any publicly *commercial* website without hassles and plugins like flash and pdf - both of which I personally hate...webmasters who use pdf are too damn lazy to type while those who _require_ flash totally misunderstand the concept of HTML and universal accessibility.

    End of rant :-)

    Ron Bennett
  • 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.
  • Are tickets for Southwest Airlines (at the same price) available via other means? Phone, travel agent, whatever. Yes, they are.

    Does every avenue have to be available to every person, no matter what the disability?

    If you're blind, use the phone. If you're deaf, read (Web).
  • by flogger ( 524072 ) <non@nonegiven> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:41PM (#4399705) Journal
    Try this "Speak IT" site [] and install the readers...
    Then come back to Slashdot, Highlight this whole discussion and listen...
  • I think it's fair to set some reasonable requirements for equal access to information on commercial sites.

    For blind people with PCs, this means "just the facts, hold the Flash". That's what I want too, just like I want that great front row parking spot.

    I wonder which site will be first to require a special permit to visit the streamlined pages.
  • On the one hand, I think it's wrong to require that someone else go to extra work just to satisfy a minority interest when that minority interest could just avoid doing business with them. [1]

    On the other hand, if this is successful, it might make people fix many of those sites that break when javascript is turned off, and I'd personally like that quite a bit.

    [1] Don't get me wrong, I agree with the idea that certain public spaces must be accessable to handicapped people. In particular, I agree that handicapped people must be allowed reasonable access to all government buildings that the general public is allowed access to. What isn't so clear in my mind is that private businesses like restaurants should be required to comply with accessability laws. Personally I think it's certainly in their financial interest to do so, but I disagree with the idea of forcing them to comply by threat of law. In the same way, I don't agree with the idea that a private business like an airline should be forced to change web pages by threat of law. However, they do have what ammounts to a government granted oligopoly, so maybe that would be fair. Of course, that wouldn't be the logic used to justify it, so it would still spill over into places it wouldn't be justified. Sigh.

  • In their terms and conditions [] "Southwest Airlines" also state that they forbid "deep linking", using robots to spider their site, or just using any program to get their pages.

    In fact, their license seems to forbids the use of any HTTP user agent to "acquire" some of their pages. Beware, by browsing their site you are risking to get sued =).

  • About time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eol1 ( 208982 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:49PM (#4399745) Homepage Journal
    About time. I used to be a lead web developer at a US public university and was delegated by my director to provide accessability for all regardless of physically handicaps. After a couple years of doing this, developing in this manner became second nature and even as a nonvisually disabled person, I became more and more annoyed by sites that just didn't care.

    It amazing me at the lack of professionalism in the web developer community for not addressesing this issue w/o legal being required to. It takes all of 15 minutes to run your site through bobby and the learning curve for meeting the W3C WAI guidelines is low. To not take the little time out of your unimpaired life to make life easier for others amazes me. Especially when 70% of it is just following good web coding practices (eg non-visual cues, alt tags, not using/requiring javascript/flash, using aural spreadsheets, etc etc). People seem to think that you can't design a site not using these items or that their site will be ugly / not satisfy the client. Both are wrong. Often you can use nice visual ques AND provide a seperate or alternate site for visually impaired people. Or just layout your site so even without visual ques, it is still usable. They aren't asking for amazing aural sites, they are asking for FUNCTIONAL aural sites. As for extra cost and time you spend designing these feature, bet that time is a hell of a lot cheaper that the multimillion dollar lawsuit you can/might get slapped with.

    Trying surfing the net with lynx for an entire day, see usable it is. After thinking how bad that is, try downloading / buying your favorite aural browser for a real eye opener. Its not pretty. Now try doing that your whole life.
  • I can't see, hear, or feel anything with my fingertips.

    [Ed. I am actually a trained monkey typing this for my master. Man those bathroom monkeys don't know how good they have it. I'd like to see them have to keep up with Slashdot]
  • Why do these people feel the need to reach for their lawyers before even using common sense? What on earth is the point of voice-accessible websites for an airline when virtually ALL airlines provide 24-hour a day toll-free phone numbers where you can talk to a real person and/or use an automated system to do everything you can do on the Web?

    I know that some airlines charge more for reservations not made online, but that could easily be waived for the disabled if they didn't have another option. It just seems nuts to me to try to force a company to spend millions of dollars that will be passed on to all the other customers for something that is a non-problem. The airlines already have voice information - on the original voice communicator - the PHONE! ;)

  • I'd be thinking this is a good time for one of Southwest's competitors (are there any? NB: I'm not a yank) to do a quick hack and start offering a site accessible to the blind... ..nice low cost media campaign for the duration of the lawsuit resulting in good press and potential customers - blind or otherwise.
  • It's not that hard (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rakeswell ( 538134 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:53PM (#4399782) Homepage

    A couple of years ago, when I was in production support, I had to respond to our VP level concerning complaints from our clients who could not use our site with the standard screen readers. This was a novel issue to me at the time and I quickly familiarized myself with screen reader technology and the W3C's accessibility quidelines [].

    I suggested that it would not be a terribly huge undertaking to bring our site into a minimum level of compliance. Nope, this was deemed too costly relative to the small segment of our clientele who were disabled. Failing that, I suggested that we could simply ensure that all new development going forward implemented the accessibiltiy guidelines.

    Well, two years and a new redesign later, and this still hasn't been implemented. I mean, how hard is it to include accessibility in the business requirements for the new development being farmed out?

    Here's a web app [] that validates a URL against the W3C's accessibiltiy guidelines.Most sites will generate a ton of errors, but you'll also notice that this accessibility boils down to simple things like using *correct* html, making sure you supply text in alt and title tags, etc.

    I'm not certain, but I think accessibility concerns was a reason that has caused the W3C to want to deprecate the use of framesets: screenreaders have a hell of a time trying to present essentially two different documents at the same time with any level of coherance.

  • by starseeker ( 141897 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @09:53PM (#4399783) Homepage
    I don't know how the law is written, but the technology problems to handle in such a case are highly nontrivial.

    Consider. We have plenty of trouble now with websites which can only be viewed in one browser. This is visual display, mind you, which the vast majority of browsers are built to do by default. We can't even follow the standards well enough to handle the default access method well.

    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.

    Then there is the problem of economnic considerations - without a simple standard in widespread use, implimenting an audio interface becomes costly. It is desirable for handicapped people to be able to participate, but statistically they represent a fraction of the viewership. There won't be money in it, so companies aren't going to be happy about it. This will inevitably show up in the final result.

    Finally, and this is perhaps the most difficult point - how do we update the truly staggering amount of content already out there, much if unskillfully written and poorly maintained in the first place?

    Total access is a good goal, but the technological tools just aren't robust enough yet to handle it. The law needs to take that into account - this isn't a matter of adding a ramp, lowering telephones, handicapped parking or other straightforward and easily solved problems. Audio internet is a HARD problem, converting content on the internet is even harder, and it's just not going to be happening in the short term.

    In the end I think it is a good one to solve, both for the sake of those who need it and the fact that a more robust audio structure on the internet is likely to have many other benefits, as well. But that kind of work takes years and years. I don't know if the legal system will be able to figure that out.
  • 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 Ron Bennett ( 14590 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:07PM (#4399855) Homepage
    How would porn sites comply with this??

    Porn in there such a thing?

  • 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 One Louder ( 595430 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:12PM (#4399894)
    Those bastards at SouthWest don't hire visually impaired pilots either.
  • by rshugart ( 48491 ) <<moc.xoblaerym> <ta> <traguhsr>> on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:15PM (#4399899)

    OK, let me throw in my two cents both from the perspective of a blind web surfer and a blind website designer. I actually am a user of the technology mentioned in the article, and yes, some web sites can be extreemly difficult to surf. /. itself isn't the easiest in its default state, although it is usable and making some customizations in user preferences does help a lot. From my experience on the whole, if a web site sticks rather strictly to HTML, CSS and the other standards, they're OK. Problem is, very few sites do. An even worse problem is many web designers design their sites using Dreamweaver or some other graphical tool. This seperates them from the HTML itself, and many times they don't know what's going on under the hood. The common mantra among web designers I've noticed is "if it looks right, its right." It is very frustrating running into one of these sites, and the unfortunate thing is, there are many of them.

    Now that I've addressed the technical issues, let's move on to some of the other things that I've been reading about in this thread. I tend to aggree with the common conseption around here that lawsuites are way over used, and many people tend to be way too sue happy, thinking that will solve their problems. But let me ask, in a situation like this, what would you have done? I'm sure this blind person did try to contact the web designer. In fact, as blind people we are instructed to do just that right away when we encounter an inaccessible site. Problem is, very few web designers listen to us. I'm not sure if its intentional, but many of them just do not understand how we surf the web, and are probably under the impression that they have to go way out of their way to modify their pages for a screen reader. Refer to what I said above, that if a page is designed properly, nine times out of ten it will work just fine. OK, so contacting the web designer yeilds no response, so what next? Sometimes there is no other way to get a business to listen other than through its wallet. Very sad, dispicable, but true.

    So, again what is he to do? Assuming this person had contacted Southwest's webmasters (which as I said they should have,) what would you do next? And don't say just not use there services. There aren't enough blind people who have access to the internet in the first place to make it make a difference, and that's just like saying that blacks should just not frequent the businesses that discriminate against them. We all have a right to make use of public services, be them brick and morder or online. And considering how relatively little modification it takes to make a web site accessible (following standards is not hard,) I think that this person may very well have a case against Southwest.

    • 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 NZheretic ( 23872 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @10:29PM (#4399981) Homepage Journal
    It's envitable that the same laws requiring accessibility will eventually be applied to software as well.
    From Bill Haneman: I am delighted to relay the news that the
    "GNOME Accessibility Architecture" [] has been singled out in this year's "Helen Keller Achievement Award in Technology" [], one of the annual "Helen Keller Awards" presented by the American Foundation for the Blind.
    Although the award is officially being awarded to Sun Microsystems [] for its "leadership in universal design", it is the work of GNOME Accessibility [] that is specifically called out by the award presenters."
  • by ink ( 4325 ) on Sunday October 06, 2002 @11:41PM (#4400386) Homepage
    Mozilla's Composer forces some good practices for webpage authors. If you attempt to insert an image into a document, for example, it will inist that you fill in the 'ALT' tag before it allows the image to become part of the page. HTML generators should try to do similar things, it's just laziness that needs to be conquored. I'm not familiar enough with Flash/Shockwave authoring tools, but I do know that quite a few sites simply send out a flash program and provide no other means of entering the website -- which is just wrong.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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 [].
  • by Dredd13 ( 14750 ) <> 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 pease1 ( 134187 ) <bbunge.ladyandtramp@com> on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:07AM (#4401791)
    US Government webmasters are required to meet basic accessibility "standards" through what is called "Section 508".

    Companies that want to make their sites more accessible, but don't want to build their own standards could always adopt the 508 standards and perhaps pick up some legal cover in the process.

    Most of the rules are basic. It does hamstring you out of some of the more sexy things (flash is difficult) but it also keeps you true (you tend not to waste taxpayer's $$$ having to make silly flash intros).

    If you have diehard GUI html designers in your shop, there are several plug-ins for Dreamweaver (and others) that force the code to be 508 compliant. Vi can write 508 code just fine.

    Many COTS vendors now also have 508 compliant versions of their s/w, otherwise they can't sell to government.

    To learn more, good place to start is the Section 508 [] homepage.

  • 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 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?

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain