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Web Guru To the Blind

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the evolving-web-sights dept.

IBM 43

the_newsbeagle writes "Chieko Asakawa went blind at age 14, learned to program mainframe computers by sense of touch, and has spent her 27 years at IBM-Tokyo bringing personal computing and the Internet to the blind. From the article: 'By 1997 she had developed a plug-in that worked with the Netscape browser, mapping Web navigation commands to the computer keyboard's number pad and using text-to-speech technology to read out content. Computer stores around the world sold IBM's Home Page Reader, and Asakawa says its effect on the blind community was immediate, electric, and sometimes touching. ... Other browsers for the blind followed IBM's groundbreaking efforts, and Asakawa moved on to addressing a deeper problem: the fact that designers were unintentionally creating inaccessible websites. She and her team wrote a program called aDesigner ... to allow designers to experience a site as blind users do and to suggest ways to improve navigation for audio browsers.'"

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43 comments

Move along people (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38920907)

...nothing to see here

Re:Move along people (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38920947)

Actually, this story is rather interesting. I'd say the blind have finally discovered their Holy Braille.

Invented (0, Flamebait)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 2 years ago | (#38920933)

"She and her team wrote a program called aDesigner ... to allow designers to experience a site as blind users do"

She invented turning the monitor off?

Pricing of assistive tools (4, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38921057)

Ordinarily it involves turning the monitor off and using screen reader software such as JAWS that's often prohibitively expensive for small web design firms, around $1000 per seat. A lot of assistive tools are priced for health insurers and for companies subject to Rehabilitation Act section 508 or Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, not for individuals.

Re:Pricing of assistive tools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921143)

NVDA is catching up to JAWS as a platform and is FOSS. WindowEyes has a trial version that is sufficient for testing. That said if one is already spending on a test team the extra 1K for JAWS is nominal. Getting a web accessibility professional (MS,IBM,ATIA,et al. just announced this!) would do more to impact outcomes but it's a large cost for small shops.

Re:Pricing of assistive tools (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#38922631)

Getting a web accessibility professional (MS,IBM,ATIA,et al. just announced this!) would do more to impact outcomes but it's a large cost for small shops

There is your problem. Welcome to the real world and the price of Freedom and the Internet.

Since there are no real standards, no required licenses, no certifications (required), etc. the majority of websites are created by consultants or amateur Wordpress (or similar platform) developers. The next step up from that are small design shops. Note I said developers, not programmers. So many of them can't even get the basics of PHP and just put packages together out of modules and scripts. Hence, why Wordpress is popular. You don't need have any programming skills to put together something basic.

Sooo.... if that is the majority of the people out there making websites how does a standard get made and enforced to allow access for the disabled to all the parts of a website that could be accessed in the first place?

Bottom line is that it is going to take skill and extra cost to make a website conform to a standard for visually impaired people to experience which, unfortunately, puts most websites out the picture (no pun intended).

I know it has been argued before that there should be binding legislation that websites have to do this, but I think that is a road we don't want to go down. We want the barrier to entry for creating a web site to be as low as possible, not suitably high so that only shops that can afford huge startup fees can participate.

Personally, I have never tested a website for use by the visually impaired because the services themselves can only be used by somebody that can see in the first place. If the testing software is FOSS, I would not have an issue with trying it out tonight.

Blind and sighted in same household (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923141)

Personally, I have never tested a website for use by the visually impaired because the services themselves can only be used by somebody that can see in the first place.

What kind of "services" are you talking about? Consider the use case of a blind person and a sighted person in the same household, one signing up for the service and the other using it.

Re:Blind and sighted in same household (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923361)

When you work with video and interactive sites, that by their fundamental nature require sight, there is not much point in designing it for a blind person.

Those are the services I am referring too. I also deal quite a bit with VOIP services, so that seems to already be suited to a blind person right?

Re:Blind and sighted in same household (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38927235)

Video can come with an audio description track [wikipedia.org]. I'm not sure what you mean by "interactive sites", and how each control in the site can't be labeled with a textual description that a screen reader can use.

Re:Pricing of assistive tools (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923639)

There is also a demo version of JAWS [freedomscientific.com] that works fine for testing purposes. It is what I used to test my sites. It is limited to working for 40 minutes before you have to reboot, which is a slight pain but is better than paying a lot of money for the product.

Re:Invented (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#38921123)

lets see
1 small chance of causing a power surge turning the monitor BACK ON

2 now try to actually FIX THE CODE with the monitor turned off

3 i would put odds that the bits to check for color blindness are small compared to implementing a screen reader

this may be the only X NOW ON THE INTERNET type patents that should have been granted. (assuming any patents were issued)

vented (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921527)

64-bit PowerPC laptop {ThinkPads} coming soon..... quad-core 64-bit PowerPC all under 10 watts, Yea baby. Finally we'll be free from the Microsoft tax and crappy Intel processors. Yea and i Know that the Architect of WinNT has Moved to the XBox720 division working on the PowerPC builds of NT for Xbox720. But lets hope Microsoft only Releases NT version 7 for the PowerPC based Xbox720.

Re:Invented (1)

frisket (149522) | more than 2 years ago | (#38921787)

No, but it seems to be a Windows-only Eclipse plugin, which is kinda weird when designers all use Macs...

Re:Invented (1)

besalope (1186101) | more than 2 years ago | (#38922413)

No, but it seems to be a Windows-only Eclipse plugin, which is kinda weird when designers all use Macs...

There are plenty of designers that do not use Macs. Just because some places are Mac-shops does not mean the entire industry exclusively uses Macs. Large enterprises tend to use Windows for central management of large infrastructures.

Well that is a nice little story (0)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#38920955)

But where is the news? its just a random story...

Re:Well that is a nice little story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921129)

But where is the news? its just a random story...

Let me guess, someone has to sue or die before it's slashdot worthy right?

i see... (0)

w.hamra1987 (1193987) | more than 2 years ago | (#38920973)

Well, good for her! This isn't your typical job in today's technological world. Though i wonder how much coding she personally did, and not her team of designers.

Not the Only One ... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921013)

See also T V Raman, author of AsTeR and Emacspeak. Has worked at Xerox, Adobe, IBM, currently at Google.

This could be a useful tool (3, Interesting)

jafiwam (310805) | more than 2 years ago | (#38921027)

As a web designer part time, I find it frustrating to try to tell my clients "that's not a good idea" when they think because they stand over the shoulder of their 15 year old and watch him surf the web that they are experts on UI design and web compatibility. NO, really, you are going to piss people off and alienate them with that! I usually have to use the "Google won't see it either" trick to get them to agree to simple stuff like redundant text-based menus.

Looks like it's still in beta, but will see what's up anyway.

Ironically enough, the Eclipse web site that hosts the install files has a menu that won't work in Chrome.

brilliant woman! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921047)

I admire people who don't let their handicaps handicap them. It amazes me how successful Chieko is at programming, despite her blindness. Sometimes it takes a loss of sight or hearing to stop taking our senses for granted. The loss of a sense, when accepted with a good attitude, motivates one to develop the full potential in their remaining senses.

Re:brilliant woman! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921923)

Recall that we live under capitalism, not nazism. What matters is whether what you can do is in demand, not what you can't do. For example, (almost?) none of us have the night vision of the average Felis catus but it doesn't matter because people don't demand it. If you're really intelligent and in reasonable health then it won't matter that you're blind or quadriplegic. But if you're average or below then there's not much demand for you.

To admire someone who can do A even though they can't do B while you can is to miss the point. Perhaps they don't know what it is to miss B as they've never been able to do B - or perhaps they don't need to do B in order to apply their talents.

In short, the world's still unfair and it's not a matter of just "trying hard" regardless of your barriers. When all the simple variations between humans are easily pigeon-holed, you still have that one remaining variation which no-one likes to talk about (because it might imply that the successful didn't just get there through hard work): quality of an individual mind.

Lynx as a review tool ... (5, Informative)

Spectre (1685) | more than 2 years ago | (#38921081)

... works pretty well.

I've found that as long as sites I'm working on are reasonable navigable with Lynx, then they work for most adaptive technology users (of which my son is one).

They're not inaccessible (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921157)

"the fact that designers were unintentionally creating inaccessible websites"

They're NOT inaccessible, stop lying.

The world doesn't revolve around you, despite the fact that you can't see that.

Cue the rabid concern trolls.

The world doesn't revolve around any of us (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38921361)

They're NOT inaccessible, stop lying.

"Accessible" is a term of art meaning available to people with widely recognized disabilities.

The world doesn't revolve around you, despite the fact that you can't see that.

The world doesn't revolve around any of us: not minorities, and not the economically dominant minority (able-bodied neurotypical adult white males). That's why there are laws to help minorities such as people with disabilities. Otherwise you end up with the political equivalent of two wolves and a sheep deciding what to eat for dinner.

Re:The world doesn't revolve around any of us (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#38922223)

"Otherwise you end up with the political equivalent of two wolves and a sheep deciding what to eat for dinner." and justice in this case is a Tibetan Mastiff coming along "asking" the two wolves to find something else to have for dinner (what the TM is having for dinner is an exercise left to the student).

Re:They're not inaccessible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38926207)

The world doesn't revolve around you, despite the fact that you can't see that.

Really bad pun.

I hate to say this (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38921171)

But I wish this didn't have to exist. I wish that we had the same enthusiasm for biotech as we do for space... Seeing blind people touch away at our highest technology while we are still unable to master our own biology seems ... odd.

Re:I hate to say this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38926775)

Can you cite a source that says total funding for space R&D exceeds total funding for medical R&D?

I find it interesting... (1)

OhSoLaMeow (2536022) | more than 2 years ago | (#38921579)

... that this story immediately follows the one about a Seattle library allowing some guy to watch porn (http://idle.slashdot.org/story/12/02/03/1611259/seattle-library-lets-man-watch-porn-on-computers-despite-complaints). Hmm, what's the connection? If you don't stop it, you'll need one of these web readers?

Got IE? (2)

Snowdog (3038) | more than 2 years ago | (#38921823)

The fact that aDesigner requires "Internet Explorer 6.0 or above", thereby making the tool itself inaccessible to a significant portion of the web development community, is almost too much to bear.

Re:Got IE? (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923505)

The fact that aDesigner requires "Internet Explorer 6.0 or above", thereby making the tool itself inaccessible to a significant portion of the web development community, is almost too much to bear.

That would be the significant portion that doesn't bother to test their sites with the very quirky browser used by an even more significant portion of their users. Something tells me that if they can't be bothered testing for a large segment of their market, then they would not bother to test for the much smaller segment of visually impaired users.

Re:Got IE? (1)

pimpsoftcom (877143) | more than 2 years ago | (#38929193)

I have karma to burn and I was going to moderate this thread, but I think its more important that I comment.

I'm legally blind. I use JAWS and other software to hear the internet when the little vision I have in one eye goes south; And let me tell you this; Nobody cares about the blind when it comes to computers.

We are a small market segment because most blind people cant afford technology, and even worse because we are small companies feel like they can get away with screwing us over because they know that not only do we not have the money statistically to buy their products, but we also don't have the money statistically to hire a lawyer and sue. So they do it knowing full well that the ADA applies, they just dont care and know they can get away with it.

I'm lucky. I have worked as a programmer for over 15 years and I have worked in fortune 100 companies on products that most people use daily; I have technical skills and thankfully my income while not as much as somebody who is sighted - my disability is often used as an excuse to not pay me correctly - I still get paid a lot better than most of the blind people I have know. You sighties don't know how good you have it. Worse, most of you sighties (sighted people) don't give a crap about the blind yourselves, despite all the hollabaloo you make publicly.

Your comments like most who are sighted, are non-consecutive and do little to help. Why don't you get off your butt and show how elite and skilled you are by solving the problem and doing some good in the world instead of putting down the best solution found? Or at least help gear up somebody who actually cares about the problem, like I did when I worked with OLPC so many years ago to help them use the correct device for the audio system so flite and other blind access tools actually worked?

Better yet, why don't you start making patches to firefox and all the other browsers that are open source to make them easier to use for the blind, since right now Internet Explorer, for all of its faults, has accessibility hooks built in? Oh I forgot, you are too good to actually write code and solve problems, its much easier for you to act like you care and then go off and not actually help, becouse its easier to waste away teh fact that you can see and so you can do things and help in ways the blind cant to help themselves, no matter how hard we try.. my bad.

"View all"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38922167)

Is it a self-referential joke that the "View all" link in TFA is dead?

Subject: (1)

migla (1099771) | more than 2 years ago | (#38922401)

I could not come up with a line for the subject and I could not RTFS or TFA for some neuropsychriatric reason, but I think that a plug for Accessible Computing Foundation would probably be in order right about just there:

http://accessiblecomputingfoundation.org/ [accessible...dation.org]

I heard about this on the linux outlaws podcast number 246:

http://sixgun.org/linuxoutlaws/246 [sixgun.org]

They interviewed Jonathan Nadeau, who started the project. He's a blind gnu/linux user/peddler. I think I've repeteadly heard him on the Kernel Panic too. I hope I'm not confusing him with any other blind gnu/linux user. They all sound alike.

Anyway. Swell guy with a worthy cause, by the sound of it.

+Like (2)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38922551)

I worked a lot on software for people with disabilities, did a GPS navigation app for Symbian back in the day.

Got commissioned by the U.N. to look into adaptive technologies. Summary follows: Products fall into two broad categories: commercial and altruistic. Altruistic products are usually brilliantly designed for a specific person (This is considered the central issue of adaptive technologies and is the major talking point. specificity) usually a relative or friend. These products are ingenious, well made and available for extremely reasonable prices. You can find them if you search hard online, generall,y someone making a TTS engine for his daughter isn't a web guru with a marketing budget. The second group is the commercial products, almost universally INSANELY overpriced. $50 of hardware sells for $5000. Visual basic level software selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars. This exorbitance is rationalized through: Disability being a "small" market (regardless if a product sells 100,000 a year), quality (you shouldn't force a person to learn a new technology every few years, hardware breakdown is a nightmare if it's non-standard and you NEED it to read,communicate or work) which is bullshit I've seen just as much breakdown and poorly written,documented and supported software from the major players as from the passion projects, and source of funding... taxpayers, bureaucrats and contracts. I'm sure you've seen it before, bleeding hearts SUCK at negotiation. Dignity is a problematic area I've encountered a few times as well, products that work ideally but provoke surprise or distaste from those without special needs are discarded. *(special rant follows useful information).

What I told the U.N.: You have three problems: 1.) This stuff is expensive, and overpriced... getting it to developing countries is going to be extremely difficult and infrastructure for them will also be extremely costly. 2.) Languages most people DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH. Since this stuff is commercial, not open source, there is little opportunity or motivation to create versions for Swahili speakers. It's bad... if you don't speak English, French, German, Italian or Spanish your options are diminished 99.5%.
Then of course I got pissed and determined and decided I would let a blind dude in the Phillipines see. I went through the spending of all long term programs to purchase technologies for people with disabilities and looked at the actual distribution of people's needs (People in Africa have an incredibly high level of amputation for example). It turns out that THE U.S. ALONE is already spending 10x to 20x what it would cost to do the job, we're just putting the money into companies instead of open sourcing it or creating a community lead program for development.
This is obviously speculation and I'd need to provide a lot of evidence to prove how inefficient it is but an example was my call to the Arizona school board. $50,000,000 a year, for approximately 4000 arriving disabled high schoolers.

My recommendation: move funding towards open source software and hardware, nothing else will solve the language and distribution issues... the technologies are just moving too fast and the users are too clueless for any help from market forces in this direction.


Rant time! Ok I'd like to introduce you to a man his name is Ray Kurzweil. From now on I will call him The Jewish Nazi or JN for short.

Mr. Kurzweil was one of the first to market will an OCR device, nothing special a webcam and a flat panel to put the documents on... and only $8000! Because he got in early his company achieved name recognition, which was good because I compiled a LIST OF EVERY ELECTRONIC DEVICE it's about 2100 products or so. Then went to several leading experts to determine which products were excellent and which were popular (huge divergence) JN sells a lot... but his products all suck and are overpriced.
So now our Jewish Nazi has the disabled community by the balls and starts gouging away. $10,000 for screen reading software? Why not! The government will pay! $1000 for a velcro board where you can stick commonly used words? Why not!

Having achieved a company with a tightly controlled market, insane profit margins and negligible R&D or manufacturing costs or difficulties (Remember that $10,000 screen reading software? Blind people buy it every 3 years. Or if a .1 drops. This is policy, improvements and features are not properly considered) what's a Nazi FUCKING ASSHOLE TO DO?!

Well why not spend his millions on trying to keep himself ALIVE! The fucker's 65, has replaced like 6 organs. Eats tiger testicles, and panda ears.
So, he's stealing from the disabled to enjoy a few more years of decrepit miserly useless stupid asshole life. Maybe he'll live long enough to look in a mirror, I hope so.

Anyway if there's any vigilante's reading I'm sure you can find this fucker... though killing him would be a mercy.


Anyway my request to provide this perspective to the U.N. was dismissed, because it might "spook" the adaptive technology industry. My info graphic world map with the problems of language, technological infrastructure, medical infrastructure and GNP/pcapita turned into colors was dismissed because "Africa is BLACK it looks like RACIST" (Black pixel != Melanin), that South America was red (Good language, decent money, no infrastructure) didn't cause a fuss. I can't bear to look at it now, it perfectly illustrates just how bad the situation is outside of a few developed countries. Of course slapping the U.N. in the face with the problem would be "undiplomatic" even though THAT'S WHAT THEY PAID US TO FIND OUT!

The teammate who made these brilliant decisions has probably been promoted (And that children is why you get your Masters NOT a complimentary set of degrees) and continues to play with Wii-Mote software and other "new" technologies in the hopes of finding an application.

Anyway the biggest thing for Adaptive Technologies has been the "death" of AJAX (screen readers no likey) and the introduction of tools which can make your website usable by a more varied audience. But we could fix this problem in 4 years by reallocating some budgets towards X-Prizes or Open Source initiatives... but we won't, because... "fuck disabled people" I guess. Oh... and YAY capitalism!

Does anyone know the best free tools? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923151)

When I look into this I find sites that are not up to date. If anyone knows what the best tools for testing are it would be of extreme interest to me. I have been payed to make existing sites 508 compatible. I hate to think that something slipped through the cracks.

When programming new sites I am not a designer but I would like the websites I program to be as accessible as possible. If I can figure out a way to program something in a more accessible way then I will, time permitting etc.

Wrote about this before (1)

quietwalker (969769) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923409)

Rather than copy everything over, take a look here; http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2040692&cid=35510122 [slashdot.org]

Summary of points:
      - Accessibility is a good theme, but a bad goal - it never pays for itself
      - Retrofitting accessibility on a pre-existing systems is a bad idea
      - Most apps/sites/etc are 'accessible enough'

Some usefulness, but far from ideal (1)

aedil (68993) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924079)

The main problem with the aDesigner approach is that it is based on assumptions about how a blind individual accesses a webpage with a specific screen reader. Reality is that there are multiple screen readers that are commonly used by the blind, and they have differences in how they present a webpage. As such, a simulation of how a webpage is rendered through a screen reader would need to be configurable based on the behaviour of the various screen readers, and often even different versions of a specific screen reader. On top of that, you also have to account for the individual reading behaviour of the user, because not all users utilize the screen reader the same way when reading web pages.

Back in 2005, at the HCI International conference in Las Vegas, Ms. Asakawa confirmed that her team had not tested the accuracy of the aDesigner against input from a sufficient diverse group of blind users. Instead, it was reported to be based on an assumed standard screen reader and reading protocol.

That is not to say that ms. Asakawa has not done very impressive work. It is simply more limited in nature, and by promoting it to e.g. web developers as yet another tool that will tell them how a blind person will see the page, a possible disservice is done, because developers (especially in companies) are very good at deciding that their pages are accessible 'because they look right in aDesigner'.

and also fellas. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38925531)

Tab order is important.

Top-to-bottom and Left-to-right (depending on language setting). No jumping back and forth, left, right, up and down. Oh, and the reverse tab order should be what it says. Don't insert, remove or skip fields when tabbing backwards. If 5 tabs takes me to the next field I need to change, 5 Shift-Tabs should take me back where I was, no mater what you think or want.

She and her team wrote a program called aDesigner (0)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 2 years ago | (#38926001)

"She and her team wrote a program called aDesigner ... to allow designers to experience a site as blind users "

You need a program to close your eyes to experience a site as blind users?

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