Showing pages 1 to 1 of 3 pages
Often Web sites' designs hinder navigation by the blindBy Abigail TuckerSun StaffMarch 16, 2005Ellen Ringlein of Baltimore clicks efficiently with a cane through strange hallways.She tours alien cities without the help of a seeing-eye dog or anyone else.And, yet, in the comfort of her own office, Amazon.com seems impossible tonavigate. Earlier this month, Ringlein spent a half-hour on the Web site trying tolocate the audio version of the book her church club was reading, but the speech-synthesizing machine she and other blind people use to surf the Net just rattledminutes of gibberish.Imagemaplinkrefequals! it barked.And, blankblankblank!The Web site offered no easy way to avoid this nonsensical spiel, which was mostly anarration of the links at the top of the page, Ringlein said. And even when she finallydiscovered where to type in the title she wanted, the results were hard to decipher."OK, now they're talking about delighting your valentine," she said, as the computerspat out an advertisement. "I just want to know how much the audio book is. I knowit's here, but I can't find it."Actually, the screen wasn't even displaying the correct page.Frustrating experiences like this are why one Towson University professor recentlypartnered with the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind to map thestruggles of the blind online. Jonathan Lazar is studying how the Internet fails blindusers and will share his findings in the summer with Web masters and softwaredesigners who aren't legally compelled to make their products accessible, but couldchange lives by doing so.The study follows 100 or so users in Baltimore and elsewhere as they performeveryday functions online: buying additional cell phone minutes, checking e-mail,browsing CNN.com, downloading music, researching medical problems, looking forDelta Air Lines tickets - basically, stuff that everyone else does on the Net.But navigational problems eat huge chunks of blind people's time, Lazar is finding,and technical nuisances like spam, pop-up advertisements and security checkshinder searches."What is annoying to a visual user becomes impossible for a blind user," said Lazar,who is the head of Towson's Computer Information Systems Undergraduate Program.Faulty designMost of these obstacles can be overcome, he said. "It's not the disability that causesthe hardship. It's the way the technology is designed."His study identifies precisely when Web sites fall apart for blind users and how muchtime and energy they waste figuring out problems.