Accessibility (was Re: [Gllug] Argos site)

John Southern john at
Wed Jul 31 17:34:49 UTC 2002

Warning - OT Ramble follows.

Okay bit of background. Both my mother and brother are registered blind. This 
means they have very limited vision. Two different sight problems not linked.
To add to this I am also going blind through a third condition so it is 
somewhat a personal crusade for me.

My mother is too old to use the internet, computers, calculators, just about 
anything so thats not a problem. And I will not help her because she nags 
enough at me anyway about anything and everything. Mothers eh!

My brother however uses the internet. This is done via both screen readers 
and screen magnifiers. A little awkward but it does work. Screen readers are 
wonderful if you have a page of text to work through. Browsing and changing 
from page to page is confusing with a screen reader so he uses a screen 
magnifier. Slow but functional.

At the blind class I attend - I teach sign language to the blind, those that 
have some vision tend to favour screen magnifiers and also use magnifying 
glasses or Fresnel sheets as well - It is much easier for them to move a hand 
held magnifier around a screen than the computer controlled magnifiers.
Those that have bought computers normally spend time setting up colour and 
font schemes to override the website defaults. Some of the combinations are 
very strange but it depends on the individual (I like amber writing on black 

There are huge political arguments within these groups. The current 
argument is over braille. UK braille is different form US. We have limited 
punctuation and all one case whereas US has more punctuation and both upper 
and lowercase. Braille council wants us to change to US system. Most users do 
not want to have to relearn. If you cook the chances are you do not use 
braille as you burn away the sensitivity of your fingertip testing the food.
The RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) has some papers about 
computer use. One of which covers Linux and probably quite rightly says 
unless you have a strong interest then this is not the way to go.
Unfortunately it is not always so easy in the UK. Blind accessability is 
taken care of by local authorities. These usually have a blind unit (help the 
blind not blind themselves) and this takes care of simple things such as 
telling you where to get alarm clocks with no glass fronts (you can feel the 
hands to tell the time). They also link in to computer units. These are 
willing to show you how to use computers from basics to database creation. 
They also act as a showcase for new technology. 

This is where I have a problem. I am convinced they gain commission on sales. 
This means they have no incentive to show any free alternative. This is not 
limited to Linux but also in the MS Windows arena. Rather than show you how 
to switch on the screen magnifiers that come with most OSes they almost 
pressurise their clients to buy screen magnifiers such as ZoomText (starts at 
£300 and the only difference in my copy to those that come with the OSes is 
the inverse video mode). There is also a certification program for resellers 
who have to train (pay the fees each year) so they can then say they are 
qualified to sell you their wares come along and setup the equipment, and 
charge everythime you need something changed.

My brother attends more football matches (just about every club in Europe has 
people trained to talk you through a match) that I do. He normally tells me 
the world news. He rarely uses the radio, but I suspect that would be almost 
giving in and he is too stubborn. Do I help him out with Linux? I set him up 
a Red Hat 6.2 machine a while back updated with KMag and now refuse to go 
near it. His machine - his problem. And he gets to drink more beer than me, 
the swine.

The accessability law in the UK is limited to educational services so far 
under "the Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Disability Bill". After that 
it is just a recommendation of what to do.

The easy way is to have a text only page with no default fonts or colours set 
- Forget Flash and Javascript on your opening page. That way it is referenced 
in search engines and also quicker for those of us that just want the info.
Professional web designers should always follow the commonsense guidelines at

Me - I am waiting for Gnome2 and a decent screenreader.

Okay I apologise for the ramble.
Abusive email's please send off list.


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