The Unsocial Web

Colleagues at work frequently talk about and StumbleUpon. These are just two web sites and services in the category of social browsing. The theory behind these kinds of web sites is simple. You find web pages that are interesting and mark them in some fashion. Then others who are users of the services can see what you find interesting and correspondingly you find what others with similar interests as you are browsing. It all sounds grand and I suppose anything from marginally interesting to quite handy depending on how much you want to tap the collective experiences of others browsing the web.


Signing up for StumpleUpon and is what’s largely the standard for new accounts with services on the web today. And it is here that we see yet another example of the unsocial web.


StumbleUpon and both use the typical CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) for web sites of requiring entry of the characters from a graphical version of a word to stop hackers, spammers and other ne’er-do-wells from causing problems. Unfortunately these tests have a tendency to lockout honest people too, especially if you are not able to see the characters to enter.


Solutions to the inaccessibility of these tests do exist that can improve the situation to some degree. The most typical is to offer an audio version of the characters. There is a more in depth discussion of the issues around the inaccessibility of CAPTCHA in this paper.


I have no firsthand knowledge as to why StumbleUpon or do not offer audio solutions for this problem. I suspect like most situations, the inaccessibility of these tests was not known to the individuals responsible for implementation at the particular companies.


Like many with disabilities who encounter these challenges, I’ve started the contact process to see if either of the companies in question here offer alternative sign-up solutions or are aware of the issues. We’ll see what kind of results happen.


My own reaction to the general class of problem here runs the gambit of emotions. I fully understand the reasons why these tests are in place and as a general practice will not fault individual web sites for needing them. Nor can I entirely blame the web sites for not knowing about the need to have some solutions to the accessibility challenges in place.


The simple fact is that societal awareness of disability and related issues is still generally low. It requires a relatively high degree of awareness to know that people who are blind can actually access the computer and web sites but also that this access is not magical and does not work perfectly.


All that said, it is annoying, frustrating, and sometimes downright anger-inducing to be on the wrong side of anything that blocks you from trying to do what you want. In this case I’ll give the contact and awareness routines some time to work themselves out with a taciturn acceptance that the social web is sometimes not as social as we think. I’d like to join the party too.

Bookshare to be featured on CBS News

I made previous reference to Bookshare, a service that allows individuals with print disabilities to scan and share printed books under an exception made in the U.S. copyright law. According to the home page for Bookshare, the CBS Evening News will feature the organization on Thursday 2/22.


The CBS Evening News will profile as part of its “American Spirit” series. The segment is part of a collection of stories about effective and scalable solutions to social needs.


My Kingdom for an Accessible Bracket

March isn’t here quite yet, but with the Wisconsin Badgers doing so well in basketball this not so young man’s fancy is already turning to March madness. My annual quest for a quality accessible NCAA bracket experience is already starting.


Each year I hunt around on various web sites trying version after version of the NCAA bracket. Some are complex web forms that get confusing with a screen reader. Others, and what seems to be the majority here, are PDF documents that are basically incomprehensible with a screen reader.


So here’s hoping the Badger hoopsters make it through their bracket unscathed and that I can actually predict their progress with an accessible experience.

Vocabulary School

Every once in a while a phrase I hear in conversation catches my attention. It tends to be something that someone else will use as if it is something everyone is using as a part of regular vocabulary. Over the past two weeks a couple of phrases have captured my imagination because I’d personally not heard them and quite frankly had to seek out their definitions.


One evening Aimee was explaining some frustrations with an event at work and said, “I felt like they were gaslighting me.”


“Gaslighting?” I had to ask for clarification.


It turns out that gaslighting is a term which basically means to mess with someone’s mind by denying reality or twisting facts or the environment slowly over time to confuse someone.


The way the phrase was used it was as if it was something we all should know. I was curious so investigated a bit.


The mystery was solved when Aimee mentioned that Steely Dan, a band that is one of her top favorites, has a tune that uses gaslighting in the title.


The second phrase to catch my curiosity happened while attending some training at work. Someone mentioned that they thought the event had “jumped the shark”. Next I saw the same phrase used in three different e-mails. I figured the meaning of this phrase from context for the most part but it was still interesting to search out the definition and origin. I guess I’m not up on my pop culture.


As for the definition of jump the shark, let’s just say that a blog post on what words I find interesting is likely jumping already.