Business Administration Education Guide

Monday, June 25, 2007

How Does The Blind Use The Internet?

I’m absolutely blown away by how advanced technology can be after reading so many irrelevant technology advances such as poppy quarters (that caused the US to put a spy alert on Canada), IT and taxidermy and Radio Toasters because that is what the world needs -- a way to combine breakfast making with "My Hips Don't Lie" in the morning.

So when I come across something truly unique and consumer needed, I feel like I've been cannonball shot to the future.

Every (or practically every) sighted person has a cell phone, a computer, a blog and access to upload and or view YouTube videos. While the sight granted users have a variety of technology gadgets that seem to only bore them after a few months the blind are rarely heard bragging about all the cool gadgets they have. Why?

I'm sighted, so I’m just as guilty not thinking much about how the blind access the internet and the tools that are available. We don't think much about the things we don't need until someone mentions the lack of it and suddenly a light turns on.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau more than 1.5 million blind or visually impaired people have access to the Internet. A blind person who buys a minimal feature included $300 personal computer has to then purchase an additional $1,000 (or more) worth of specialized software to make the computer work for them. They are online and they are professionals and consumers. Yet, the majority of online businesses and even educational institutes do not recognize their need for the ability to shop / or learn at their website. Their missing out on 1.5 million blind or visually impaired consumer dollars.

Accommodating blind people online is equivalent to targeting international users, in that unique issues of usability and technology must be considered. In most cases, a separate version of an online website is the best way to serve blind and visually impaired users. Think that's too much of an expense? Consider if only one percent of 1.5 million blind users visit your ecommerce website and only half of those make a purchase -- if each purchase is a minimum of $5 than 7,500 consumers spent $37,500 at your website.

How Does The Blind Use The Internet?

Using screen access software from vendors like GW Micro users translate text on a computer screen into either synthesized speech or into a braille display unit. To make a website screen reader friendly, sites must be largely or entirely text-based. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) offers invaluable recommendations for creating content accessible to the blind. Advanced technologies like Java, Flash and even web browser frames confuse most screen readers. Web developers should study the WAI recommendations and be open to different web styles that are routine for sight user websites.

Amazon introduced a blind accessible website back in 2001. However, they are not the only web-based company addressing the needs of blind consumers. Job site Monster has held disability awareness virtual career fairs, linking disabled people with potential employers. Conversely, making a website accessible to the blind may not only be a business advantage but may soon be a requirement.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) sued Target, alleging their website violates California disabled-rights law because its website was not operable by blind computer users. In the suit, it stated that the site prevents a blind user’s equipment and software from reading the non-compliant alt-text and the invisible code that is embedded beneath graphics. In addition, the suit stated that because a mouse is needed to complete a transaction, blind customers were unable to make purchases on their own. In September of 2006 a federal district court judge ruled that a retailer can be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind.

Every web company must decide for itself how to approach this sensitive issue. But companies should at least invest the time to understand the unique needs of blind consumers. As our society increasingly depends on digital communication and ecommerce for basic activities and as technology races ahead at an ever-increasing pace the online digital world requires accessible-for-all capability.

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At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Assistive Technology said...

Thank you for your report. It's true that those who are blessed with the gift of sight don't often think about how difficult things like using the internet are for those who can't see. Articles like this help remind us all of what challenges others face.

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Ron Gay said...

I've just been told by my Opthamalogist that I'm going blind. I still have my sight but I'm researching to find out what I have to do to stay connected to the internet. Anyone who can point me in the right direction would be appreciated. My email address is I know I have a challenge in front of me but I am determined not to give up. Thanks for listening and thanks to anyone who will help me.


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