Page Three

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2000-04-16 Print this article Print

: Web Blind Spots"> The bottom line also contributes to the widespread reluctance to invest in Web access for the disabled. Many enterprises dont view the disabled as a significant market for online services or products, according to Tom Wlodowski, project manager for the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media, in Boston. Thats why even Web designers with experience coding for accessibility say they sometimes have trouble convincing clients to pay for those features, particularly if clients dont view the disabled as their sites target audience, according to Barry Bassin, a managing director at Scient Corp. and the architect of a Johnson & Johnson Co. site targeted at the disabled. That attitude can be a big mistake, however. After all, when a Web site shuts out the disabled, it means that its enterprise is shutting off access to a sizable slice of the consumer pie. According to Judy Brewer, director of the World Wide Web Consortiums Web Access Initiative and a member of the U.S. Access Boards Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee, about 54 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the U.S. population, are disabled. Eight percent of the U.S. population has visual, learning, cognitive, auditory or physical dexterity disabilities severe enough to affect their ability to access the Web.
"You dont want to throw away that market sector in an extremely competitive marketplace," said Brewer, in Cambridge, Mass.
The disabled community, experts say, can represent a loyal and profitable market. For example, organizations such as Bell Atlantic have found that the disabled welcome any and all acceptance into the world of e-commerce. Response from disabled users to the companys accessible Yellow Pages was so great that it is now hosting several online portals for the disabled community. "They say, For once, people are thinking about me as a customer," said Rich Ellis, director of strategic alliances at Bell Atlantic, in Washington. "They [even say], Send us the junk mail in Braille, also." A refreshing mistake Still, even with the best intentions and all the know-how, sites can fall down on accessibility. For example, the team responsible for the Web page for Vice President Al Gores election campaign-at www. gone so far as to refuse to use products and services if they dont pass accessibility guidelines. As a result, the site received an "A" rating-second only to Sen. John McCains site-in a report released in December by research company OrbitAccess, titled "Web Accessibility of Presidential Candidate Sites." Yet even this accessibility-hip page had a frustrating glitch when developers failed to account for a forced refresh option that interrupted speech readers as they attempted to interpret pages. The problem, which wasnt predicted even when the Bobby test was run, has been fixed, according to Ben Green, director of Internet operations at Gore 2000 Inc. election headquarters, in Nashville, Tenn. And while the refresh fix wasnt done to address accessibility per se, other fixes, such as adding LONGDESC tags, were done as direct responses to feedback from online visitors who accepted the vice presidents invitation to comment on the site. Green said the Gore team was able to respond to the criticism because it factored in support of standards and accessibility from the beginning. "[Accessibility is] something youve got to address at the outset of the project," he said. "If you dont, youre going to have problems."

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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