An Author’s Life Without Accessible Websites and an Easy Fix: Sign This Petition to Wake Up Obama

I just spent two-plus hours composing the following tech-support email to LinkedIn Customer Experience Advocate, Carina. It demonstrates, if you can stand to read it, why blind people need President Obama to release regulations for web accessibility. These regulations are necessary because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law three years too early to fully cover the major accessibility issue facing blind Americans today — digital access. BTW, this is my fourth letter to Linked In since December. As an example, it doesn’t even come close to representing the worst of the problems.

Donna's black Lab guide dog Hunter watches from his bed, as his Mom writes stuff like this instead of paying attention to him: photo by Rich Hill.

Hunter, my black Lab guide dog, spent this time wishing I’d pay attention to him instead of writing this stuff. This photo, by my hubby Rich Hill, shows him looking out from his bed.

The technology to make websites, software and digital interfaces accessible to blind people is here. It’s been here for decades. There are even free resources to help companies provide accessible websites. The problem is that designers use it or fail to do so at their own discretion. This leaves blind people at a significant disadvantage at school, in the job market and in the marketplace. Thus, unemployment, poverty and isolation persist for blind Americans. President Obama promised to release these regs by 2010. Make him keep that promise, even if it’s six years late.

What do you believe? Should people like me have the right to live independently, without having to share our personal financial and medical information with strangers? Should we have the right to pursue our career and personal goals without having to take time out to compose letters like this one? If you believe we should, please sign this petition and get others to do so, ASAP. The deadline is February 11th.

You have to enter your first and last name, email and zip code, and then click on an email verification that they will send you. It, unlike composing this letter, really does just take a minute. https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/direct-us-department-justice-promptly-release-ada-internet-regulations

Background

Goofus, a strawberry blonde tabby gets cozy with a paperback copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill by his Mom, Donna W. Hill. The cover shows a cave scene with a hand holding the blue Heartstone of Arden-Goth: photo by Rich Hill.

Another Rich Hill photo shows our strawberry-blond kitty Goofus with a copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill.

I use LinkedIn to establish contacts with people who might have a special interest in my novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, which I am using to promote diversity, anti-bullying and the full inclusion of people with vision loss and other disabilities. I am blind and live in a rural area and using the computer is the easiest, cheapest and – considering that I can’t drive – most available way to further my goals. Linked In provides me access to professionals in the fields of education, rehabilitation and advocacy that I could spend days and still never find through Google searches. I have close to 2,000 connections, some of which have led to references, reviews, recommendations and even speaking engagements.

Donna W. Hill donates educator-recommended novel The Heart of Applebutter Hill to Wyalusing Library Dir. Cathy Brady: photo by Rich Hill.

This is me donating The Heart of Applebutter Hill to Wyalusing Library Dir. Cathy Brady: photo by Rich Hill.

LinkedIn is an example of one of the many sites that are partially accessible. I can do some things, but not others. It is important for me to try to get the most out of this professional networking site.

It was my need to keep track of all of those connections that started this whole conversation. I like to do that offline in my Outlook email program, organizing the acceptance emails by categories of professions and locations. This was going along great for years, until December, when I started noticing bulk acceptance emails. Sometimes ten people were mentioned in one email. This makes it difficult, to say the least, to continue with my organization of new connections. So, I wrote asking if there was a setting to change this back to individual emails.

Alas, there wasn’t, and it has nothing to do with accessibility, just an unfortunate whim of LinkedIn. However, I had mentioned other issues which are accessibility issues, and those are discussed below.

Letter to Linked In from Blind Writer

Hi Carina,

Thanks for getting back to me and for the explanation about the multiple acceptance emails. It seems like they just started doing it, because with all of the connections I have, I never received one of the bulk acceptance emails until a month or so ago. I hope they will change that sometime and send an individual email for each new connection like they did for years.

Here are the answers to the other issues you addressed. If I am not mistaken, they are all issues for your accessibility team and involve proper coding of LI pages to work accurately with text-to-speech technology (i.e. screen readers). Just because something is clear to the sighted mouse user, doesn’t mean the page will work for blind people and others using adaptive technology.

1.

Donna:

BTW, problems with the People You May Know page, which turns up when you accept an invitation via the notification email, still persist. My screen reader is unable to stop repeating that I am now connected with so & so, and the “Close” button under that message doesn’t work with Jaws 14 through 16. This makes it tedious to use the page, because what I am reading is interrupted so frequently with this announcement.

Carina:

To be sure I understand this issue, when you accept an invitation you’re still seeing a notification when you login in that you have an invite?

Explanation:
No. When I click on the “Accept” link in the email, the acceptance is confirmed online. There is no further “Invite” for that person online from that point. The message says, “You are now connected with so and so.”

The problem is that my screen reader, which speaks the words on the screen, repeats this message every 15 seconds or so, even when I am nowhere near the message on the page. I can be directing the screen reader to read something else entirely, and whatever I’m reading is automatically interrupted by this message, over and over again. I have to stop, refocus the screen reader and try again and again to get it straight. Also, it is very difficult to even find this message on the page, and when I do, I cannot close it. There is a “Close” button, but it does not work, ever. I believe this is an instance of incomplete accessibility coding by whomever sets up your site. Jaws recognizes that there is a button, but can’t interact with it.

2.
Donna:

Many of the suggestions I pass over keep re-appearing. Is there anything being done to correct this?

Carina:

I’m sorry for this issue, the next time you see a suggestion of someone you’ve already ‘x’-ed out please provide their first and last name and a link to their URL link.

Explanation:
This is not quite what’s going on. When I say “passed over,” I mean that literally. As I mentioned in my initial inquiry, I am not able to dismiss most of the suggestions on the “People You May Know” page. Sometimes, there’s a button labeled “dismiss” but usually (at least 90 percent of the time, no such option is available … at least for screen reader users such as myself. If the option to dismiss is there for sighted readers for all suggested connections, you need to alert your webmaster to the fact that the buttons are apparently not properly labeled to work with screen readers such as Jaws.

3.
There is another labeling issue which is confusing with regard to some of the suggestions on the “People You May Know,” page, which you did not address in your reply. My original comments on this, which I think are what prompted you to suggest cancelling my invitations (something I do not want), were:

Donna:

I know I have accidentally invited people. I think whatever you’re doing when you have a secondary contact listed under a name is very confusing. I’m guessing that, in those cases, the invitation goes not to the person you are inviting but to the secondary contact to pass along or something? The button repeats the name you want to connect with, but after you enter on it, you hear the name of the other person listed first.

Explanation:

I want to clarify this point. For screen reader users, we hear the name of the person and whatever they’ve listed as their occupation. Below that (and that’s how it appears to us, even if it’s not lined up that way for sighted users), there are 3 buttons. Usually, the first two are labeled identically, and the third is “Invite.” For instance:

John Jones
Assistive technology specialist
43 connections in common with John Jones button
43 connections in common with John Jones button
Connect with John Jones button

I don’t know what the first two buttons do. Perhaps, they open something giving you the names of the connections. Why there are two identical buttons, I don’t know, and I’ve never had the nerve to “go exploring.”

When I press the Connect with button in this case, I hear a message, “Alert, an invitation has been sent to John Jones.”

This is fine and, despite the unclear nature of the two identical buttons, I get what I want.

Then, there are the other suggestions. These differ from the example above in two ways. First (and with my screen reader constantly repeating the message discussed in #1 it took me a while to notice this), the first two buttons are not the same. What I hear goes like this.

Jane Smith
Teacher of the Visually Impaired
40 connections in common with Albert Brown button
15 connections in common with Jane Smith button
Connect with Jane Smith button

In this case, if I click on Connect with Jane Smith, I receive the message, “Alert, invitation sent to Albert Brown.”

Why is the invitation going to Albert Brown and not Jane Smith? Is Albert supposed to forward it to her? I’m left wondering who has connections in common with whom here? Perhaps I don’t have any connections in common with Jane, but nowhere does it say.

4.
I also asked about your accessibility person Jennison Asuncion, who used to field questions about accessibility for blind people and others using adaptive technology. Webmasters must code their pages properly to make these adaptive technologies work, and it is important for someone who has some understanding of accessibility issues to be interacting with them. Is he still there? Has someone else replaced him?

5.
Also, on the LI Contact us form there is a drop-down to choose the subject of the inquiry. Accessibility is not one of the choices. That’s why I chose “Other.” Kindly request that LI include “Accessibility issues for people with disabilities” as a choice. I think this would make your job easier.
Thanks,
Donna

Thank You

Please, please sign the petition and share this with your friends and connections. Again, it’s https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/direct-us-department-justice-promptly-release-ada-internet-regulations

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About Donna W. Hill

Donna W. Hill is a writer, speaker, animal lover and avid knitter from Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. Her first novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is an adventure-mystery with excursions into fantasy for general audiences. Professionals in the fields of education and the arts have endorsed it as a diversity, inclusion and anti-bullying resource for junior high through college. A songwriter with three albums, Hill provided educational and motivational programs in the Greater Philadelphia area for fifteen years before moving to the mountains. Her essay, "Satori Green" appears in Richard Singer's Now, Embracing the Present Moment (2010, O-Books), and her cancer-survivor story is in Dawn Colclasure’s On the Wings of Pink Angels (2012). From 2009 through 2013, Hill was an online journalist for numerous publications, covering topics ranging from nature, health care and accessibility to music, knitting and chocolate. She is an experienced talk show guest and guest blogger and presents workshops about writing and her novel for school, university, community and business groups. The Heart of Applebutter Hill is available in print and e-versions at Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, Smashwords, Create Space and other outlets. It is also available through Bookshare for readers with print disabilities.
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6 Responses to An Author’s Life Without Accessible Websites and an Easy Fix: Sign This Petition to Wake Up Obama

  1. I tried to sigh the petition, but when I went to press the sign now button, nothing happened. It seams that they would make the petitions more accessible for the blind. If you look back at my blog, you will see that I vented about a website for freelance writers that was inaccessible for the most part. I am willing to write reviews of websites based on accessiblity, but I’ve only done one such review. I don’t know what it will take for companies to understand that blind people are just as important as our sighted pears.

    Liked by 1 person

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