Op Ed with Bob Branco – The Battle Between the Blind and Website Designers

One of the most frustrating problems that we face as blind computer users is how to navigate through a graphic website. Many people who design their own websites do so for visual benefit. Perhaps the visual attractiveness of the website would draw more customers, and that’s why the designer puts pictures on it. Though these website designers have the best of intentions when they sprinkle cute photos throughout the site, the site cannot be read in its entirety by speech software without the software coming in contact with the graphics. In most cases, the software will stop reading the site, or it will let a blind person know that there is a picture, but won’t know where to proceed from there.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received recommendations to go on a website for information and encountered some issue. If the site was accessible for a blind person to read with speech software, I would have no problem navigating, but I hesitate to use the World Wide Web for fear that I will encounter graphics.

I wonder if the government has tried to adopt legislation in order to stop website designers from including graphics. I also wonder if the blind consumer groups have gotten involved. There is no point in us researching material on websites if the graphics prevent us from doing it.

Therein lies the battle between blind consumers and website designers. The designer, to his credit, wants to make his website look better than that of his competitor, so he has the right to do what he can in order to achieve his goal, even if it means adding attractive photos. However, we, as blind people, though we care about competitive marketing, depend exclusively on the written text. Currently, I have a website which promotes a softball league and a magazine. I may have one photo on it, but that’s it. I made sure that the text explained to everyone’s satisfaction why people should use my website in order to think about joining my softball league or to consider a subscription to my magazine. Words are still very important in advertising. When we listen to a radio commercial, we don’t care about photos, and neither do the people who make the radio commercial. The producers of these commercials know it’s radio, so they think accordingly. The same should be suggested for website designers, even though the blind represent a small population in relation to everyone else who has internet.

Perhaps our readers have suggestions on what would be a fair solution or compromise. I’d be interested to hear about it in the Reader’s Forum.

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