Technology Boosts Web Site for Blind

Approximately 10 million Americans can't send e-mail, browse the Web or shop online because of blindness.

Approximately 10 million Americans cant send e-mail, browse the Web or shop online because of blindness. But an updated federal accessibility law that takes effect this month and an applications services company may soon change all that.

Interliant Inc., of Purchase, N.Y., recently revamped the American Foundation for the Blinds Web site by applying technology in a clever way: enabling it to integrate with forthcoming Braille hardware. The updated site could serve as a model for other sites looking to reach the visually impaired.

According to an August 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which takes effect Feb. 20, the Web sites of federally funded organizations, with selected exceptions, must become accessible to visually impaired and hearing impaired users. Examples of ways to make a site accessible include user-selected color and font schemes, screen magnification tools, sound labels with hyperlinks, and sound files of important site text.

With the help of Interliants professional services team, the AFB site goes a step further by using Extensible Markup Language that can be interpreted by future Braille hardware and non-PC information appliances.

The problem, according to AFB President and CEO Carl Augusto, is that todays Web site features are too complex.

One visually impaired user is Aaron Bradley, a 17-year-old junior at the Overbrook School for the Blind, in Philadelphia. Bradley plans to go to college to study computer science or psychology.

"I use computers practically every day," for writing, research and e-mail, Bradley said. "But everything is visual—a PowerPoint presentation, a spreadsheet. Most of us start out with a Braille note taker, which is basically a laptop, but there are not Windows concepts to learn. We sit down with Windows, and theres a whole new concept. The reality is that todays world doesnt tailor to the way we need it to be."