Accessible Web Browsing Developments of Note

A couple of interesting news items in the accessible web browsing world worth mentioning here.

 

Yahoo Funding NVDA Development

 

I noticed on the NVDA blog that Yahoo is now providing them some funding.  You can read the details at http://www.nvda-project.org/blog/YahooSupportsNVDA.

 

From the blog posting, initial work will be for some further ARIA support and table navigation in HTML documents.

 

Firefox 3.5 Accessibility Improvements

 

A blog post at http://www.marcozehe.de/2009/06/26/new-accessibility-features-in-firefox-3-5/ details many of the accessibility improvements expected in FF 3.5. Give this a read.  Improved access to text attributes when editing, better DHTML support, accessibility to parts of the HTML5 audio and video embedded controls and improved ARIA support are a few of the items mentioned.

Interesting Legal Challenge

Today’s announcement that the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind have joined forces to try and stop Arizona State University from taking part in a pilot program using Amazon’s Kindle to make electronic versions of textbooks makes for an interesting legal challenge. My reading of the situation is that it gets to the basic question that needs to be asked much more often when it comes to accessibility and technology. Namely, if an organization who has an obligation to meet a certain level of accessibility is going to deploy technology from another source, how much responsibility does that organization have to ensure accessibility of the technology being deployed?

 

While accessibility legislation would likely never dictate that Amazon needs to make the Kindle accessible, I say if an organization covered by accessibility legislation is going to use such technology, it has an obligation to ensure accessibility. I’m sure the counter argument here is going to be something around the typical we’ll make the books accessible without making the device accessible and such. That’s typically what happens.

 

Yet at some point it isn’t about just the content but the full experience afforded by the technology. I’m no lawyer but the University seems in the wrong here. To me they should be pressing Amazon for accessibility before using their population as a pilot and really helping Amazon sell more products.

 

There’s no good reason other than lack of commitment why the Kindle isn’t accessible today.

 

BALTIMORE, June 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) filed suit today against Arizona State University (ASU) to prevent the university from deploying Amazon’s Kindle DX electronic reading device as a means of distributing electronic textbooks to its students because the device cannot be used by blind students. Darrell Shandrow, a blind ASU student, is also a named plaintiff in the action. The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud to blind students. The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX. In addition to ASU, five other institutions of higher education are deploying the Kindle DX as part of a pilot project to assess the role of electronic textbooks and reading devices in the classroom. The NFB and ACB have also filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, asking for investigations of these five institutions, which are: Case Western Reserve University, the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, Pace University, Princeton University, and Reed College. The lawsuit and complaints allege violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.s

Disappointing Response from Pandora

A little more than a year ago I wrote about
Pandora’s failure to understand the current state of Flash accessibility. The net impact is that you are unable to sign into the main web site to use your Pandora account. The Flash used on the web site has several other accessibility issues as well. As I wrote back then, Pandora’s main response was that Adobe needed to do more to make Flash accessible.

 

I used a recent announcement about an update to the Pandora service to revisit the state of Pandora accessibility with the folks from Pandora. While the conversation did move beyond a restatement that Adobe needed to do more, the end result seems to be that improving Pandora accessibility isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

 

I will say that if you use Pandora through the alternative of a Squeezebox, things have actually improved. The integration between Pandora and the Squeeze Center software has improved to the point that you can delete stations, add music to them and in general use your full Pandora account. Still it would be nice to see the main web site fix basic accessibility issues.

 

What follows is an exchange of comments from myself and a Pandora representative on the Pandora blog. Note that in the below I did edit to correct two typing errors in my original comments.

 

Any chance of fixing the sign in accessibility issues for people who use screen readers. I’m on my second year of subscribing to Pandora and Adobe has built an infrastructure to make Flash accessible years ago. Yet the last time I talked with your support department about this a year ago, I was told Adobe had to make Flash accessible. They did long before this so I still wonder if you are looking at this or what’s causing the delay. I shouldn’t have to get assistance just to sign in here. Other web sites have resolved this.

Posted by: Kelly Ford at May 26, 2009 04:27 PM

 

@Kelly Ford–Here’s our FAQ entry with the skinny on accessibility for visually-impaired users: http://blog.pandora.com/faq/#530. Please write support@pandora.com if you have any further questions.

-Alee

Posted by: Alee – Listener Advocate at May 28, 2009 11:49 AM

 

@Alee,

You are missing my point. I already know about the support link telling me the hints for people who are blind and have discussed this very issue with support on numerous occasions. And that support link says to sign in I need to get someone who can see to sign me in. My point is that this an endless circle. Pandora tells me Adobe needs to do more to make Flash accessible. And I’m saying Adobe has done the work and did it years ago. For some references please see http://blog.kellyford.org/archives/2008/05/trying_to_conne.html, the Adobe accessibility blog at http://blogs.adobe.com/accessibility/, and the Adobe Best practices at http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/best_practices.html.

The last time I exchanged e-mail with support on this topic I was told to go tell Adobe you needed Flash to support accessibility. And Adobe says they do support it and my use of Flash web sites that comply with Adobe’s accessibility requirements shows that it is possible to make an accessible flash site.

So I’m trying to understand what it will take to get Pandora to move forward on this. Is it a resource issue (you don’t have the funds), a knowledge issue or something missing from Flash’s accessibility support? I’d really like to not have this same discussion in 2010.

Posted by: Kelly Ford at May 28, 2009 04:57 PM

 

@Kelly Ford–Allow me to apologize. It will indeed take more than Adobe’s accessibility for Pandora to create an independently useable sign-in interface for visually impaired users. It is on our to-do list and I am very sorry to say that we have no new developments on when this will be available.

-Alee

Posted by: Alee – Listener Advocate at June 2, 2009 12:12 PM