Monday, July 22, 2013

Web 2.0 and The Visually Impaired

As we have been reading about visual discourse and considering the ways in which images and even text layout impact us, I must admit, I wasn't thinking at all about what the internet might be like for someone who can't see it. Yes, you read that right. Blind people can and do use the internet.

I had no idea that even those who are completely blind are able to use the internet with specialized equipment. However, their usage is not without difficulties. According to the article "Blind Community Fights for More Accessible Web" published recently on Mashable, the ways in which programmers code websites can greatly impact the ways in which visually impaired users can interact with a website. However, because most programmers just don't consider the blind using the internet an option, the article quotes one user as saying that the websites available to him are always "two steps behind."

When the first Bush Administration mandated the Americans with Disabilities Act in the 1990s, the fight focused soley on creating accessibility in the physical world. Federal law requires all "brick and mortar" businesses to be accessible to all forms of disabilities, but now federal courts are ruling that the requirement for accessiblity also applies to digital stores. In fact, the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf has recently won cases against Target and Netflix, requiring them to update their user interfaces to include options for those who do not use their eyes to see a screen.

The author of the article quotes Jonathan Lazar, a computer science professor specializing in web accessibility as saying, "There is this belief out there that blind people aren't online, and it's just not true." Instead of viewing a page in with their eyes, the visually impaired use machines like the one below to help them interpret meaning out of the images and text on a screen. 

The article addresses that internet jobs are highly desirable for the visually impaired as it removes some of the hazards of a traditional workplace those who have difficulty seeing, but the machines needed to access the internet are expensive. In the article a college student was interviewed and explained that his university provided him his equipment, but that others may also struggle in paying for these hardware items as well.

I wonder what coding and even images would "look" like to a blind person. I wouldn't even know where to start in coding my page to allow a visually impaired person to be able to read my blog or even my Facebook page. However, as I read this article I was glad to know that something does exist to allow the visually impaired to participate on the internet, but was also disappointed to learn that because of the way coding is created, they are often excluded from information that the rest of us can access by simply pulling our phones out of our pockets. I wonder, too, how that affects the discourses in which they are able to be literate--my guess is probably fairly significantly because the internet has become a extension of almost all social and professional circles. I found it very interesting to consider, again as we consider visual discourse, that maybe without meaning to be, internet programmers have the ability to be gate keepers without even realizing it.

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