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Transcript: Locked Out

The following text is a transcript for Dr. Jonathan Laza presentation Locked Out: Investigating Societal Discrimination against People with Disabilities Due to Inaccessible Websites. The presentation occurred on February 13, 2013 at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Dr. Jonathan Laza:


Good afternoon. Thank you to everyone for coming out to this presentation about inaccessible websites. And what inaccessible websites mean. Because people often say, "OK, so websites are inaccessible. What does that mean?" "How does that impact on your life?"And that's what I want to talk about today.

Just starting with an overview of assistive technology

Just by a show of hands, how many people would consider themselves at least somewhat familiar or somewhat comfortable with even the idea of assistive technology, by a show of hands. OK, so about half the audience. So let's talk about that. You could really split it up into three different types of assistive technology.

  • One, assistive technology for transportation - so things like power wheelchairs, things that help you walk, electronic prosthetics.
  • You've got assistive technology for communication - So, if you think about someone who either can't speak or someone who can't sign, or has trouble communicating, and they maybe have technology that helps them communicate. Right? So if you think about, for instance, Stephen Hawking, right, using a computer to communicate.
  • But there's a third area, and that's assistive technology for access to information - and that's what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about people with disabilities, who use different types of computer input or computer out put to access the same information on the web. What is web accessibility? Let's talk about that.

But before we talk about it, I just want to pass out two devices here, so you kind of get an idea of what someone might use if they are not using a traditional keyboard and mouse.

So, first of all, this is orbiTouch. This is a keyboard for someone who does not have use of their fingers, but maybe has use of their hands, kind of like this. So let's say if you have extreme arthritis - don't have use of your fingers, you can move this key bowl eight directions basically on each one of these bowls, so you have a total of 64, you have enough for a keyboard, and in fact, what I'm going to do, here is a little guide to using this, so I'm going to pass this around, start on one side. So this is basically a keyboard for someone who doesn't have use of their fingers. So, here you go, if I can give that to you. And we will wrap up the cord here. This is relatively inexpensive. If you are going to drop something and break something, please break this one.


This is only about, that's only about three hundred, four hundred dollars. Oh I didn't mean you breaking it. I mean, just in general, someone breaking it.


Now, this is the one, please don't drop. This is a refreshable Braille display, and this is on loan from Harvard University. So, what it is, notice there is a little thumb wheel here, and as you move it up, you can feel lines of Braille. So, please be careful. This one's about, what would you say, about five thousand dollars? Around five, somewhere, about five thousand. So please be careful with this.


That's right, I trust you. That's why I gave it to you first. So, people with various types of disabilities often use different input or output devices. So that maybe, for instance, the keyboard there, it may be the refreshable Braille display for output.

It can be, for instance, you see over here on CNN, there's captioning right there, on a video on CNN, right there. So that is, basically, that's captioning - that's output. There's a picture of me using speech recognition to do speech input-you see here the keyball and the refreshable Braille display.

And there are other ways, as well. There are, sometimes, people may use a keyboard but may not be able to use a mouse or a pointing device, sometimes people with motor impairments. Even things like repetitive strain injury, you know, if you've gotten, uh, or repetitive strain, I know I've gotten one or two in my life.

So, you've got screen readers, which are speech output, which blind people can use to listen.

So there's lots of different technologies, lots of different input/output approaches that can be used. And what you want to make sure is that a web page is flexible enough to work with all of these different input and output devices.

OK. So, accessibility doesn't change the look or feel of a webpage. If you don't have a disability, you can't look at a webpage and say, "Aha! That one is accessible, that one is not". It's in the back-end coding. It doesn't change the appearance. It's having the right labels. It's having the right markup.

OK, and accessible does not mean text only. So, the idea is that, it's just following a good coding standard.

So, for websites, right now, there are two sets of standards out there.

  • One is from Section 508 of the Rehab Act from the United States.
  • The other, the web content accessibility guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium and the web accessibility initiative.

And, as an example, of what type of guideline, what would you do to make it accessible. Well, here's an example from the standards. "Provide text alternatives for any non-text content." So if you have a picture, label it. Make sure you can still have as many pictures as you want, just label the picture properly. And so, to give you an example of how people use assistive technology in accessing websites, I'm going to introduce you to three friends of mine, and just tell a short story about each one.

So this is my friend, Rachel Dubin.

Rachel is a researcher at a think tank. Judy, you'll appreciate this. You're always referring to me as the camp counselor of the group. Well, I actually worked with Rachel at summer camp about 20 years ago, 25 years ago.


So Rachel and I were actually camp counselors together.

So, Rachel has had profound hearing loss since she was five years old. She speaks four languages, but ASL is not one of them. She doesn't use sign language. She uses two cochlear implants. And so, when she visits websites, and she actually works in DC doing, we'll say, diplomacy type of work. And so, this is a perfect example of what she needs. Here's a video of Hamid Karzai and President Obama and so she needs the captioning on that video. That's a video from the State Department. So she needs the captioning so she can hear what's going on.

Next we have Mark Riccobono.

Mark is the executive director of the Jernigan Institute for Research and Training at the National Federation of the Blind. So, Mark is blind, and he uses screen reader software, which is speech output. He uses screen reader software to listen to what appears on the screen. He uses it to manage banking and bills, to get information from his son's elementary school. And I'm going to play a short clip. So this is actually a clip of what a portion of the Radcliffe Institute homepage sounds like. Let's see, did it come back up? Yea, OK, good. So this is a short clip. This is not the whole page.

Screen Reader

Page has 14 headings and 157 links.

Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Vertical bar, home page, page link, jump to navigation, visited link Radcliffe home, list of three items, visited link home, link make a gift, link subscribe to news, heading level two, search form search.

Dr. Jonathan Laza:

OK, so that's an example of the speech output he would hear when listening to the Radcliffe Institute homepage. Now let me say, most people who are experienced screen reader users, like Mark - you know, Mark's been using a screen reader also for about 20 years-most people are not going to listen to the entire page. They'll use a series of navigation techniques. So he'll either browse through headings on a page, he'll do a keyword search, you know, he has a lot of sort of quick techniques. He'll listen to only the links. So that's how he'll navigate the page.

And also, by the way, one quick note, Mark, Mark Riccobono is also well-known as the blind driver. If you've heard about the blind driver challenge, where they had a blind person driving a car around Daytona, so Mark is actually that blind driver. This is not the Google car project.


This is, no no, this is not the car-no, but Google's working on cars that drive themselves. Mark actually drove the car using non-visual techniques, using sensors in the seat and on his wrists, and he drove around Daytona. If you haven't - how many people looked at the video of Mark driving the car? Anyone? On YouTube? Michael Stein. OK, we have one. Can I make a suggestion? If you want a fascinating video, search on blind driver challenge. You know, don't do it yet on your phone. I mean, wait until I'm finished presenting.


But afterwards, you can do it. So what they did is like, they threw boxes out and he swerved to miss the boxes. It's really cool.

OK, and the third person here, Barbara Schaffer, who's an artist

And Barbara's actually the mother of one of my summer camp friends, so there you go, there's like, there's the camp theme. And so, Barbara's an artist. She has rheumatoid arthritis, a broken spine, and a stroke which left her with aphasia. And so, she has limited use of her hands, especially her fingers, so she uses speech recognition to do things like dictate documents and email messages. We also tried the. Who has the key bowl now? It's back there? We actually tried the key bowl with her. She didn't like the key bowl. But we did try it.

So, here's three of my friends who use assistive technology. That's how they use it. And you might say, "Why is it so important? - that people with disabilities have access to the same content, the same price, at the same time?"

Well, I'll tell you why. I'll start with a great story. So, I was speaking on a National Public Radio show in DC. And normally, when they do shows on topics like assistive technology, they make sure they do live captioning on the show. Well, the live captioning wasn't working. So they did a whole radio show on assistive technology and essentially cut people who were deaf or hard of hearing out of taking part, out of emailing in, What happened is that they posted a transcript two days later of what happened on the radio show.

Guess what? Two days later, you couldn't send emails in to ask questions. They were cut out of the show.

On average, you see a three-year delay between when a technology is put in place inaccessibly and when it's made accessible. So when a company says, "Well, yup, we know it's not accessible, but we're going to work on it. "On average, that's a three-year delay. That's a three-year advantage that people without disabilities will get. So you want to make sure that when you introduce any type of technology, any type of website, that you make it born accessible.

One of the biggest problems is at universities, in high school, in middle school, when kids with print disabilities don't actually get their textbook in an accessible format until week eight or week nine. Guess what? How would you do without the textbook until week nine? Right? It puts you at a disadvantage.

Think about the value of information. Right? It drops over time. You know, we had this big snowstorm. What happens if you got the weather alert or the "Please evacuate your neighborhood, "but you got it three days later. It doesn't mean anything three days later. You've already missed out.

You saw that a lot with Hurricane Katrina, where people with disabilities did not get the emergency information in a timely manner. So that information isn't worth anything a week later. Hey guess what, we're going to have a snowstorm, it's going to be two feet, and you found out today. I mean, it's ludicrous.

So people with disabilities need access to the same information, the same content, right? Maybe it's in a different format, maybe it's large print, maybe it's Braille, but they need access to the same content, not different content.

And guess what, most digital content starts out accessibly. We add the barriers.

Now, a great example of why we need access to the same content is captioning. People who are deaf or hard of hearing want the same, verbatim, captioning. They don't want summarized captioning. They don't want something different. They want access to the same text. They can judge for themselves whether or not they want to read through all of it. But they don't want a summarized version. They view that very much as someone is taking away their right to get the real information, someone is really summarizing it and taking away that right.

You see when you talk to companies and you say, "Look, the website doesn't work. It's not accessible. "They say, "Oh, but it's okay. Use our mobile version instead. "That's accessible. The full website is not accessible." Well, guess what? The mobile version usually only has about a third of the functionality that the full website version has.

Did anyone hear the big news announcement about Monster. com in the last few weeks and the Massachusetts Attorney General? Anyone hear that? No one? Oh, I was going to say-you sent me an email about it, so I know, I know you've heard it. So, think about this for a minute. Think about this:If you want to go to Monster. com, the big job search website, you want to find out what jobs are available, but when you go, the website's not accessible. You can call Monster on the phone. It's not very likely that they're going to read you the 300 jobs opening, you know, that are open in your, in your area. So there was actually a settlement recently between Monster. com and the Massachusetts Attorney General, where they agreed to make Monster. com accessible. They agreed to make the website accessible because otherwise. I mean, it's ludicrous. You can't get the same content by calling on the phone or using a TTY. They're not going to read you 300 job ads over the phone.

So these are all really important concepts of:

  • same time
  • same content
  • and the same price.

Have you ever called an airline and they say, while you're put on hold, "Lower fares may be available on our website. "Well, guess what? Most people have heard that when you've called them, right? Guess what? If you can't use the website, you can't get the lowest fare.

There's a great example of a settlement with MegaBus. The Justice Department had a settlement with MegaBus. Are you all familiar with MegaBus? You know, they're the buses that go in the northeast. They have the big signs on the back: "Fares low as one dollar! Website only. "So guess what? You can't get the one-dollar fares. And their website wasn't accessible, so, if you couldn't use their website, you couldn't get the one dollar fares. And that was part of the settlement with the Justice Department.

When stores have web-only prices, guess what? If it's a web-only price, and the website doesn't work. You can't get that price. When you have to use a call center and get charged an extra fee, there's all these situations where really, you wind up, if you don't have access to their website, you generally get charged more.

And that's why I say separate access to information is inherently unequal. If you look back at the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, right, and they talk about that separate schools are inherently unequal, well guess what? If you don't have access to the same digital content, it's inherently unequal. Okay? Regardless of where in history you look, if you want to look at Emily Davies and the history of fighting for women's education, if you want to talk about Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, the idea, that disability groups have really pushed for many years, is integration not segregation. So they talk about community-based living, right, not going into institutions. They talk about mainstream education in the classroom. They talk about public transportation, buses in Boston that you can go on in a wheelchair rather than calling para transit, which is a separate service and you are segregated from the mainstream public. Even seating in a movie theater. Under the American with Disabilities Act, they have to spread out wheelchair-accessible seating. They can't just say, "OK, here's the wheelchair section. All the people in wheelchairs sit here." So really, you have a situation where you want to have integration.

Because inaccessible websites reduce the quality of life for people with disabilities. That's the main idea here. Inaccessible websites reduce the quality of life. It's not theory. This is not a hypothetical situation. This is real discrimination occurring every day. Discrimination like pricing discrimination. And employment discrimination. Lack of access to reading materials. You can't take part in social networking. You can't form communities. How much of our life is digital? And if you're excluded from that, how much are you excluded from life? These are real barriers.

They're not always obvious. Before this talk, how many people, by show of hands, were generally familiar with all these problems related to accessibility? How many people were familiar, by show of hands? OK. They're not, and many of you are not, these are not always obvious barriers. But they are real barriers.

So let's talk about some of the laws in the US that relate to technology access for people with disabilities.

  • You've got Section 504, the Rehab Act from 1973, one of the early disability rights laws, which basically says that you may not discriminate against people with disabilities in any program that is federally funded.
  • You've got Section 508 of the Rehab Act from 1998 which says that any technology procured, acquired, developed, built, or anything else, by the federal government, must be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • You've got the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is probably the one most people are familiar with, right? By show of hands, how many people are familiar with ADA? You've at least heard of it. OK, and now while the web was not mentioned originally in the ADA, the Justice Department has said for years that it does apply to public websites, of public accommodations. A number of court rulings, like the Netflix and the Target cases, have said that it does apply.
  • And you've got the newest law, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, and that relates to things like accessibility of smartphones and streaming video, and voiceover IP, and emergency information, so that basically, new communications technologies.
  • You actually have a number of other laws that either are not technology or not disability-focused per se, but they have components, like the Help America Vote Act, which talks about making sure each polling place has at least one accessible voting machine. IDEA, from education, which talks about assistive technology as a part of an individualized education program.
  • You even got regulations, like from the Department of Transportation, the non-discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel.

So you've got all these laws, even ones that don't immediately appear to be related to technology or disability, that impact on technology and disability. Now you might say, "Now Jonathan, this sounds great. Wonderful. I like it. But how do we design for everyone? We can't design for everyone." Well, guess what?

You can design for most people with disabilities. Are there some that we haven't solved as computer scientists yet? Yeah, absolutely. But, I mean, if you look, human-computer interaction research, we have over a 30-year tradition of perceptual and motor impairment research, so research perceptual impairment, people who are either, perceptual, for instance, deaf or hard of hearing, people who are low-vision or blind, people with motor impairments, who have limited use of fingers, hands, arms, or speech. And we've actually been starting as a community to get involved with cognitive impairment as well. So, some people call it cognitive impairment, some call it intellectual disabilities, you have a number of research groups that are working on this.

So my research group is working on people with Down syndrome and web access, there are a number of groups that are working on autism. And the technical guidelines are now starting to address some aspects of cognitive impairment.

Are we there yet, at a 100 percent? No. Does that mean we can help two-thirds of people out there with improved guidelines? Absolutely.

Note, also, that there are a number of disabilities that are covered under the ADA, that have nothing to do with technology. Or at least don't impact what we're talking about here with web access. So, things like diabetes, anxiety, AIDS, gluten-intolerance. These are all things covered as disabilities under the ADA but none of those change the input or output design. So at least from our point of view as researchers, at this point, we don't need to worry about that as computer scientists, although maybe we'll find over time that there are some differences.

But the point is, we can help so many people with improved interface design, And there's so little work that's being done to understand how it impacts on people. Not just the technical side, but how does it impact the quality of life?

So I'm going to talk with you about five projects that I've done with my research team.

Some projects at Towson, some projects here at Harvard. And I'll talk about these five projects that kind of give you a sense of how it impacts on the quality of life and where the problems are. We're going to talk about federal, state, and also emergency alerts at the county level, airline website pricing, and applying for jobs online.

First, let's talk about federal-level web accessibility.

OK, in terms of Section 508 of the Rehab Act, Section 508 says that all technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible. Basically, if federal dollars are purchasing federal technology, it must be accessible. And this is true for not only public-facing systems like websites, but also internal systems for federal employees. We have technical guidelines. Compliance, though, has been beginning since the start. And so, it's been a problem. Federal agencies have not complied with the regulation.

So in 2010, we actually evaluated 100 federal homepages for Section 508 compliance, using a combination of human experts, who would examine each page. And, you know, using assistive technologies and examining the code. And also, we used two different automated software tools.

Now, to give you a sense of the problem, with our human inspections: 96 of the 100 federal homepages had accessibility problems. According to the automated software tools we used: 92 of the 100 pages had problems.

So basically, this was a problem. But the solutions are easy to solve. Really. I mean, look at it. The solutions are very easy to do. I'll give you an example of the type of problem, right here. So, on the White House homepage, in 2010, there was a picture of Michelle Ob ama. Right? So, you should have that markup properly as, you know, or the alternative text should be, "Michelle Obama" or "Picture" or "image of Michelle Obama. Here's what you heard if you were using a screen reader.

Screen Reader

Zero, underline, slash, zero, underline, first one, slash, first one, underline, slash zero four three seven underline one underline zero one two three four.

Dr. Jonathan Laza:

Well, that was clear, right? We often call those junk links where, instead of properly labeling something, what they do is, they kind of just put in some junk that's the name of the file. That's some, some type of random code, which is meaningless. You hear that, and you say, "Well, what does that mean? I don't know what that means. That doesn't actually identify it for you.

Here's another example in 2010, where ready. gov of the FEMA website had this information: prepare, plan, and stay informed about hurricanes. If you were blind, all you heard was, "01, 02, 03." See that little text at the bottom there? The whole thing was Flash-based, and they didn't have any equivalent except "01, 02, 03". That was it.

So it's been a problem. And one of the interesting things that I've gotten to do at the Radcliffe Institute, is that, when I first got here, I got to analyze FOIA requests - Freedom of Information Act requests - that had been sent around to federal agencies. So, here are some of the three choice examples, based on all of the material I was looking through.

From the US Northern Command, in an email on March 8, 2012, the five-way coordinator there said the following: I quote, "The current site was maintained by me but not set up by me. It was never 508 compliant. Again, I quote: "Crap! I wonder why they put the statement on the site that says we're 508 compliant?"


Right? OK, can you see why it was fascinating to do all these, to analyze all these FOIA requests?

So here's another example: The Department of Labor employees had a whole discussion about whether they could qualify for an undue burden, meaning they could avoid the law, because they don't have any employees with disabilities. OK, well, there are a few problems with this. First of all, think about it, if you say we don't have any people with disabilities working for us, and so what we're going to do is buy inaccessible technology, which will mean we've set up barriers to hiring anyone with a disability in the future. You're basically saying, "We want an undue burden" to make sure we don't hire anyone with a disability in the future." And by the way, did I mention this is the Department of Labor? People who are in charge with enforcing laws related to employment and disability? Right?

And then, the VA reported in one compliance study they did, they estimated 97 percent of their web content was not accessible. Remember, VA: veterans, including a lot of veterans with disabilities. So, you might say, "Wow, this is horrible, " right? Why is it no one's talking about this more? Well, I try to talk about it as much as I can. But one of the reasons is that very often, federal agencies won't talk about what they are doing. They won't be public about it. They won't share with others. They try to hide this. And, agencies, every federal agency uses their own software tool to test, they all have, like, 15 to 20 different software tools, right? They don't validate them. They don't determine if they're effective or not. They just say, "Aha, we have a software tool! We use it! We have a software tool."

Each agency creates their own 508 documents, so each agency creates their own documentation. Guess what? They're all using HTML. They're all using Java. They're all using the same technologies. You only need one set of documentation. Based on what I saw, I would suggest taking Department of Homeland Security just giving their documentation on 508 to everyone. They've got good documentation. And a lot of agencies don't have good documentation. There isn't clear guidance on how often or what to test for accessibility. Agencies won't share, they won't be public, even when they're doing a great job. I spent a year bugging this one federal agency who was doing a phenomenal job with 508 compliance to share what they were doing, and they didn't do so.

Here's one of the other big problems. So, the Justice Department, according to the statute, has the requirement, every two years, the Department of Justice has to do a 508 compliance study. Every two years. But after 2003, they said, "We are not doing these studies anymore. We're not going to do them." Well, guess what? If you say there's speeding limit but you say, "Look, I want to be clear. We're no longer ticketing people for speeding on the highway. But we don't want you to speed, but we're not ticketing you, we're not going to enforce." Guess what? No one's going to worry about enforcement.

And so, in 2010, they sent out a memo saying, "Oops, we goofed. We haven't been following the regulation. We're going to do it." They sent out a survey in 2011, and they got the survey back. They put out a report in September. And basically the report showed that a lot of federal agencies were not compliant with Section 508. And the most interesting thing, was when they asked, a number of federal agencies said, "And we have no plans. We're not going to be compliant in the future either. "And remember, they told that to the Justice Department, and it was a survey. OK? And they were just outwardly saying, "Yeah." I mean, they could've said, "Oh, it's the Justice Department. Well, we're not doing so currently, but we're going to start thinking about it." No, the agencies, many of the agencies just said, "No. "It's fascinating. So that's the problem at the federal level.

Just some quick data from the state level

We examined web accessibility in the state of Maryland. Why? It's Maryland, that's where I'm from, and that's where I have the ability to influence policy makers the most. We had done an evaluation study in 2009 to examine website accessibility. We looked at the data again, we looked at the sites again in 2012. Why? Between 2009 and 2012, they added a webpage template, which was supposed to be accessible. Look, this is a blank document, you see it's a blank document. If you think of a style sheet, for those of you who are designers, right? It's got formatting. It's got color. It's got branding. It's got layout. It's got all those things. So, they instituted this website templating. Encouraged agencies to use it. We thought, hm, let's see what happened. Does it make any difference? So, for the 15 homepages we examined in both years, there was a little bit of improvement between 2009 and 2012. But we also broke it down, we looked at many more homepages in 2012 and compared the ones using the template to the ones not using it. The ones using the template had an average of 2. 1 violations of paragraphs of the law per homepage. The ones not using the template had 3. 1 violations. But that's a little bit misleading. Why? Because there were two websites that were the only two that were fully accessible but did not use the template, and that was the Library for the Blind and Maryland Division of Rehab Services. They weren't using the template, but they were the only two websites that were fully accessible. Take them out of the analysis and those not using the template had almost double the rate of violations as those using the template. So clearly the website template has helped.

On to emergency alerts.

So we're going to do five studies here. A brief tour of five different studies. This is a study actually I was doing this fall with Michael Stein and the Harvard Law School project on disability. Most counties have emergency alerts where you can sign up to receive a text alert on your phone, or an email when there's a weather problem, when there's a traffic backup, something like this. To sign up, you generally go to a webpage. You go to one like this for Arundel County or this for Boston, you type in some information. One of the problems, though, is that many of these emergency alert signups are inaccessible.

Guess what? They're web-based forms. Web-based forms are easy to make accessible. They're not hard. It's one of the easiest things, from a technical point of view, to do.

There are maybe ten major providers or so, of these services, like Cassidian, Cooper Notifications, Everbridge. So we examined all of the emergency alert signups at the county level in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. Why? Again, those are states where I live, have lived, or have connections and can influence policy makers. You always want to use this data somehow to influence policy makers. So we examined them. Now we didn't actually submit to sign up. We went through every stage, up until the "Click here to sign up" because from what we understand, to submit false data to an emergency, to a county emergency, system is maybe a little bit problematic. So we basically examined all of the steps but we did not actually submit and say, "Sign me up." We had a number of people, a number of evaluators who looked through each one. Guess what? Twenty-one out of the twenty-six we looked at had accessibility violations. And guess what? They're really easy. So if you look at this example right here, this is from Arundel County, Maryland, and all of the ones that had CodeRED, that used the CodeRED service, all had some of the same violations. For instance, right here, where you have 1, provide, 2, verify, 3, submit. Well, guess what? It was highlighted as being a darker shade. That's the only way you knew that that's the stage you were on. So, that's the only way you knew that. It wouldn't be very hard. Here's the code. I decided to throw some code into the presentation. Here's the code. The alt tags were 1, 2, 3. It wouldn't be very hard to change the alt tag for the first one to, "You're currently at step one to provide your information." This wouldn't be hard. This would be easy.

As another example, this is from Howard County, Maryland. And note, that if you were filling out the form visually - if you look up there, it says, the forms says to write in your home address, required. Home address, parentheses, required. OK? So if you can visually see, that's what you're told to do. If you're using a screen reader, here's what it says. Remember, home address, and in parentheses: required.

Screen Reader

Tab, supplementary text field, edit, type of text.

Dr. Jonathan Laza:

"Supplementary text field, edit." So it doesn't tell you that it's looking for the home address, and it also doesn't tell you the home address is required. Guess what? If you're blind, you're probably never going to be able to figure out how to get through that. Because it keeps telling you it's a supplementary text field, OK, it's not required. These are easy things to fix. Right? They're very easy. But, they're not fixed.

Let's talk next about pricing discrimination in airlines.

So, there's been a Department of Transportation ruling in effect since 2009, saying airlines don't have to make a website accessible, but if a website is not accessible, then what they need to do is make it so you can call or use a TTY and say, "Hi, I have a disability, your website doesn't work, and I want to book a flight." So, you're not supposed to be charged a call center fee, you're supposed to get the lowest fare available on the website at that time. So, of course, I hear that I think, "Ooo, we need to test this." So, we examine the ten largest airline websites, we found that four of them had major accessibility problems. Right?

And to give you an example of the type of problem, when we did the first evaluation, and we did a follow-up recently, the type of problem that occurred is on the JetBlue website here. Where JetBlue, when you're going to type in the city that you want to fly to, you actually can't type it in. You have to use a mouse pointer, or other pointing device, to choose the city. You could not type it in text. You had to use a pointing device. And guess what? Some people, not only people who are blind, but some people with motor impairment, some people with repetitive strain can't use a pointing device. So you just need to make it more flexible. Right? So they've since fixed this.

But what we did, we created 15 travel itineraries per airline when where you called, right. And you said, I want to go at a certain, you know, day. I want to fly from Baltimore to San Francisco, there's only one flight a day. Um, you know, here's around when I want to fly. There was only one real answer they could give you.

And so what I did is I teamed the students, one student would call up and say, "Hi, I'm blind, and I want to get some flight information. Your website doesn't work for me because I'm blind."

And another student would be sitting there...


What? You're laughing but this is classic from, I mean, this is classic from civil rights law. Right?

So the other student would be sitting there and continuously checking the price. Right? To make sure because, you know, airlines change their prices every few minutes. So, basically, we had one student checking the price, the other calling and saying, "Hey, I'm blind, your website is inaccessible ".

So we use the same methodology in fall, 2009 as 2011. Let's start first, with the 2009 results.

United Airways, right, price discriminated a third of the time.

US Airways price discriminated 40 percent of the time, and higher in some cases. So, generally, they didn't charge you a higher fare for the flight. What they did, is they said, "OK, here's the flight price, and there's going to be a $25 call center fee." And our student said, "Oh, well, no, no, no. According to the regulation, according to the law, you can't charge me that." Generally, what happened is the person at the call center said, "Wait, hold on. Let me check with my manager." You're put on hold, you know, you get the little Muzak, then they come back, "Yes, sorry, sir, we don't follow that law." Seriously. The type of things that happened, included things like, the person said, "Oh, you're blind. I feel bad for you. I'm sorry." Or, in one case, what actually happened, is the person-believe it or not-at the call center, started speaking loudly and slowly.


And you're like, that's just insulting. That's just insulting. So, we did a follow up study on the fall of 2011. Again, picked the airlines - same method. Picked the airlines that had inaccessible websites, Alaska Airlines and American actually still price discriminated 30 percent of the time. But United Airlines, this time, had no price discrimination at all. Can someone tell me why United didn't have any price discrimination? How about Michael Stein?

Michael Stein:

They got sued.

Dr. Jonathan Laza:

They got sued by blindness advocates. Yes. In between 2009--2011, United had trained their call center folks. They said, "Oh, sir, or ma'am, we know you have rights. Right. We will make sure that you get what you're entitled to." They were actually, they had been trained. So advocacy, advocacy cases do work. Now, on to the fifth one.

On to inaccessible online applications.

Now, most jobs, most employers, now require, if you want to apply for a job, you have to do it online. They'll say, "Go to our website. All of the jobs that are open are on our website. Our application process is on our website."

Well, guess what? If the website is inaccessible and you can't apply for a job, and you can't even find out what jobs are open, that cuts you out of the process before you even can apply.

We know the unemployment rate has historically been high, 70-80 percent for people with disabilities. Typically adults with disabilities are unemployed, right? And so, what we decided to do, and we were lucky enough to receive funding for this from the Burton Blatt Institute and the Southeast ADA Technical Assistance Center, is that we actually had 16 blind users attempting to apply for jobs on 16 employer websites, right? And so they submitted fake applications - apparently for employers as long as we marked it, "for training purposes only," that is legal to do, just as long as we're not applying to the federal government.

So, what happened, is that we had our blind users attempt to apply for jobs online. Right? We actually had to do a number of interventions because when we did our pilot studies, we found that there were so many barriers, if we didn't jump in and move them pass a barrier, most of our blind users would never even get past searching for jobs. They never would even get to apply. And we wanted to learn about the whole process. So what we did, we had a very well-documented way of how we were actually going to measure this, how we were going to mark down that they asked for help, that they reached a barrier that they couldn't overcome.

So, out of the 32 attempts, again, two applications per blind users, 32 attempts for applying for jobs, only nine could be completed without assistance. Only nine. So that's about a 28 percent task success rate.

And think about this, the way the Americans with Disabilities Act works is that when you're applying for a job, you don't have to call up and say, "Hey, I have a disability. "You don't have to identify your disability, they can't ask you about the disability. But, if you suddenly have to call up the company and say, "Hey, I tried to apply for a job and, guess what, your website's not accessible, and I have a disability, "you then almost had to identify your disability, right? So that could be problematic. And if you immediately have to call before you even apply and say, "I can't do this, "that makes it sound like you're not capable of doing the job when in reality, they've put that barrier in place. So this is really problematic.

And you see, again, some of these are very easy to solve. PNC Bank, right? You couldn't even search for a job. Before you even applied at PNC Bank, you couldn't even search for a job to find out what's available. The whole set-up was Flash-based. If you could not use a pointing device, you could not click on these things. They had no equivalence. Keep in mind, you can still use Flash, you can still use graphics, you have to put equivalents in place. You have to make your page flexible, and they didn't do that.

Here's another example. Smithfield Foods. You had to click on a map, either that you wanted to apply for a job in the US, Europe, or Mexico, and then once you got to the US, you had to click on a state. How easily could that be done with a drop down menu. Or, you could leave the graphics up there and also do a drop-down menu. These are not technically hard things to do. Right? So, you couldn't even search for jobs, again, to find out what was available. Progress bars were very problematic. OK? So the progress bars to let you know what steps, very similar to in the emergency alerts, right? What steps do you need to take in the application process? They're done totally visually, they don't have text in any way, shape, or form that let's you know what step you're at. You don't know what step you're at. You don't know how much more you need to do, right? You need to provide this in a flexible manner. And that's what we're talking about here, we're talking about flexibility. We're talking about making sure - a lot of these things, by the way, that will make it accessible - will also make your website work better on a smartphone. So we're talking about flexibility.

So what are my suggestions for improving web accessibility?

What are my suggestions for how we're going to improve this? I split these suggestions into educators, government and policy-makers, developers, designers and researchers.

Let's first talk about educators

Now, out of curiosity, how many of you who are at universities, have heard about IT accessibility concepts being taught in any of your technology curriculum? CS, IS, IT, show of hands, anyone heard of that? How many of you. OK, very few. And actually, it's the people who study accessibility who are raising their hand, right? So, it's close by. But, so, you really need to teach this more and what else?

How many people who are faculty at universities have actually been approached about making sure that what you post for your classes is accessible? How many people have had that happen? Have been approached about that? OK, three or four. So, really, what we need to do is find a way to talk more about accessibility in the university curriculum models, in computer science, IS, IT.

In many of these curriculum models, it's not even included. Even human-computer interaction isn't included in some of them at a general level.

But we want to focus on improving accessibility. We want to focus on improving accessibility by teaching it. By making sure it's part of our curriculum. By training the newest generation of technology folks. And not only that, not only do we have to make sure we're training the future, we have to make sure that the technology infrastructure on our campuses are accessible now for students with disabilities who come to campus. And this is a problem that a lot of campuses are really struggling with, right?

Everything from online applications to apply, to registration systems to register for classes, social networking, your course management systems, you know, like Moodle, Sakai, Blackboard. Not only do you have to make sure that the shell system is accessible, the software. But you have to make sure your content is accessible.

How many people take documents, scan them into a PDF, and just post them without doing anything else? How many people do that? OK, please stop doing that. Right? Think about other ways of making it accessible. Find out if maybe there's already a copy somewhere in a digital library that's marked up. Find out if there's a Word version available. Find out if you can go through OCR, optical character recognition. Try to make your documents more accessible. Your course materials, more accessible. Because universities are struggling with this. And they're now, many of them are at the point where they say, "Ooo, accessibility. We haven't thought about this. The justice department has said they're going to start enforcement. Ooo, we need to start putting together a plan." Right? So really, that's where a lot of universities are at. They're just starting to think about this. And faculty can help push this along. So you can make a difference here.

For government and policy makers

We need to make sure that we push government, we push policy makers to make sure that enforcement activities and compliance studies are done on a regular basis: at the federal level, state level, and local level. OK? The Justice Department needs to do their studies, federal agencies need to do studies. We need to make sure not only that studies are done because a lot of agencies, a lot of government, they just have no idea if they're accessible or not. You ask them, they say, "Well, we don't know. I don't know." You know, if when disability advocacy groups call up and say, "You know, the website is not accessible. You know, you're violating the law." You know what most agencies say? "Can you tell us how? We don't know." That's really what happens. They say, "Well, tell us how, we'll fix it, we don't know what we're doing." Well, if they don't know, they're probably going to make mistakes again. So we also have to make sure that we publicly post the results so we're discussing this openly.

A few weeks ago, the White House came out with a Section 508 comprehensive improvement plan, where they say, we're going to improve Section 508, we're actually going to require that agencies do yearly compliance studies, but they don't have to share that with other agencies, or share it with the public, or report it to anyone. They can keep it secret. So much for transparency. So much for open government.

I've been pushing for a long time. The open government initiative needs to include open access for people with disabilities. Transparent, open government means open government for all.

So, we need to make sure also that government agencies use procurement processes wisely. When I talk about procurement, you know what I'm talking about, right, the processes you go through when you need to spend government dollars. Even universities that are private, right? Guess what, if you're a private university, you're covered, you receive federal funds so you're covered in at least one of these laws and in many cases, you're covered under both Section 504 and the ADA. So private universities are covered as well. We need to make sure that the procurement processes include aspects related to accessibility. So make sure that the contracts specify the technology must be accessible.

Guess what? The Cal State University system did this for a number of years, where they had it in all their procurement where they did demos, they tried it out, they evaluated it. So we need to make sure that money being spent is a lever to improve IT accessibility. And the way to do that is through procurement processes. And, of course, openness.

For developers and designers

We want to make sure, first of all, developers need better tools. Software engineers, web developers, programmers, designers, they need better software tools. The ones that are out there right now to check for accessibility and help developers, they're not that good. They give misleading results. So, we want to make sure that we have better tools. That's why, I'll sometimes use an automated tool, but every one of my studies always has human inspections. We have to have human inspections. Either people with disabilities or experts reading through the code. So we need better tools, but we also need a better understanding of supporting designers and developers.

We need a better understanding of how they do their work. We need to study how system engineers, how software developers, how web programmers, we need a better understanding of how they work. We need to study that.

So, we really need a lot

We need for research, we need a lot more research done on IT accessibility. We need to have, we still need some research on perceptual and motor impairment but we need a lot more on cognitive impairment. We need a lot more work done on all these different populations that are considered to either have a cognitive impairment or intellectual disability, the label changes, depending on what community you're working in. So we need to have much more research done. We need people to go out and do studies involving people with disabilities. We need government agencies to fund more of these studies. We need a lot more information.

This is something that is technically solvable

It's doable. We can make it happen. We have the knowledge to make it happen. And so what we need to do is improve web accessibility because it's technically possible and the best part is it's not hard. But we have to put better policies and better practices and better processes into place to make sure that this happens. OK, we need to improve this situation. This impacts on the quality of life for people with disabilities. Thank you.