A Geek With Guns

Views from a geek gun nut

More Stupid Laws

Representative Edward J. Markey has brought forth the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. It was just passed by the House and is on its way to the Senate.

The bill, apparently, is an attempt to force technology companies to make web sites and devices accessible to the blind. Of course it’s a rather long bill to simply accomplish that so I’m guessing there are some other hidden surprises are buried in that bill.

I have a problem with this type of legislation (if that surprises you I’m guessing this is your first time visiting my site, welcome). Back in college I had a professor who was Hell bent of forcing all her students to create accessible web sites (she was the instructor for a couple web development classes). Sure that’s fine and all until you realize one major problem, you handicap your capabilities by doing this.

This site you’re reading right now is mostly text. I post very few images or other media here. Even with something as simple as text this site probably isn’t accessible to any screen reader on the planet. Why is that? Because I use WordPress. WordPress, like almost every other content management system on the planet, throws a lot of extra junk into a website. Need proof? Look at the source code of the page you’re viewing right now.

Screen readers also can’t interface with well when a page uses scripting, which almost all pages do (as I know because I use NoScript to block most of it). Scripting is needed for a lot of things including active content (think Google Maps). You just can’t get around it when you’re making dynamic web pages (OK you can but it’s a development nightmare and requires all active work be done server side thus requires far more hardware to run the same site). And that’s just web pages.

Devices are a whole different world. I’ve mentioned the whining over Amazon’s Kindle not being accessible (which they fixed when it was brought to their attention I might add). In the case of the Kindle that is a device that can be made accessible pretty easily because it only works with text. Tell me how can you make a touch-screen based phone such as the Evo 4G, iPhone, or Palm Pre accessible to a blind person? There isn’t technology available at an affordable price that can create a braille touch screen. Combine that with the fact that since there are no physical controls on many new phones there is no way to “feel” your way around the interface even if it reads everything to you. Amazon did prove if it’s practical to make a device accessible to disabled individuals it will be done. Otherwise it can’t be done because our world is regulated by reality which most politicians don’t understand.

The bottom line is people with disabilities have special needs. I’m sorry to say but these people need devices that are specially made for them. It’s a fact of life that when a minority of people exist that have needs different than the large majority not every device can be crafted around that minority. Doing so would slow our technological progress to a crawl or make everything so bloody expensive nobody could afford them. Just imagine how expensive automobiles would be today if they had to be accessible to the blind. Yes it would have to drive itself which would require a ton of on board sensors, computers, and other pricey equipment. Needless to say it’s not practical by any means so the blind simply aren’t allowed to drive.

You can call me an insensitive asshole for stating this but that doesn’t make it any less true. I simply am a big enough asshole that I don’t care what people think of me and thus am willing to state the blatantly obvious.

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Written by Christopher Burg

August 17, 2010 at 10:30 am

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