The disability divide

Good morning and a very happy July 04 to our fellow Americans!
We the team at Sterling Creations are pleased to bring you an editorial by our president Donna J. Jodhan and we hope you find it interesting reading.
We wish you a great weekend and a very happy July 04 birthday.
Your Sterling Creations team
The disability divide

A topic that is very near and dear to my heart and as I along with others wait and watch, we are left to wonder what if anything can we do about it.  The disability divide continues to widen and will continue to do so unless all stakeholders can come together to address it. 
What is the disability divide?  This is the term that many in the accessibility arena use to describe what the mainstream person can access in comparison to what a special needs person is able to access.  At the present time, this gap is as wide as you can imagine and if the appropriate action is not taken now to address it, then I am afraid that pretty soon we may as well forget about it.  There are three very blatant dimensions affecting the disability divide at the present time and these are:  Inaccessible handheld devices, the CAPTCHA problem, and the general attitude towards understanding and realizing that special needs persons must be given equal access to information on the Internet.
As more and more handheld devices come onto the market, special needs persons have to deal with most of them not being accessible.  For blind and visually impaired persons, it means that these gadgets are not being outfitted with text to speech equivalents; menus and options.  So, they are being left behind.  For those who have problems seeing smaller screens or interacting with tiny keys, the problems are endless.  So whereas we have a picture of the mainstream person having access to a wider variety of handheld gadgets, for a special needs person, it is becoming more and more of not just an access barrier, but also a frustration barrier.
With regard to the CAPTCHA problem:  As more and more website developers move to use the CAPTCHA technology to protect their websites from hackers and cyber pirates, they are in affect shutting out special needs persons in particular blind and visually impaired persons from being able to access their websites.  The problem is this:  Most CAPTCHA technology dictates that the person using it needs to be able to use the displayed image to verify themselves and it is impossible for blind and visually impaired persons to use an image to verify themselves.  Their screen readers are unable to decipher the image and so?  We are affectively being shut out.
The third dimension related to the disability divide is attitude!  Yes, and still for what it is worth, the majority of web developers still don’t get it when it comes to understanding that we as a community do indeed need to use the Internet in the same way as the mainstream person. 
So, what is the solution here?  Dialogue and action now!  A combined effort among designers, developers, marketers, and yes!  Special needs users.  Special needs users need to be given an opportunity to voice their concerns.  What most companies still do not understand is this:  The bread and butter consumers of tomorrow are going to be those aging baby boomers who will more than likely be persons with special needs including having to deal with loss of vision, dexterity problems, etc. 
I’d like to close by providing you with some additional info that was passed on to me by sambhavi Chandrashekar of the University of Toronto:
CAPTCHA is an abbreviation for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”. A Turing test, named after a famous computer scientist, Alan Turing, is any series of system tests that is designed to differentiate a human from a computer.
The term CAPTCHA was coined by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. It is a test that tries to determine whether or not a request for a resource such as a new email account was initiated by a malicious computer program or a human being. It is difficult for a computer program to decipher the contents of an image but it is easy for a human being to do so. A CAPTCHA is made up of a set of squiggled alphabets and/or numbers. Sighted human beings will be able to recognize the characters and type them into the given box, but at the present time computer programs are unable to do so.
The W3C WAI standards for web content accessibility have stipulated WCAG 2.0 guideline 1.1.1 regarding use of CAPTCHA as follows: If the purpose of non-text content is to confirm that content is being accessed by a person rather than a computer, then text alternatives that identify and describe the purpose of the non-text content are provided and alternative forms in different modalities are provided to accommodate different disabilities. Audio CAPTCHAs are used by some websites, but mostly CAPTCHAs remain a visual barrier for blind and vision impaired persons.
More and more website developers and webmasters are using CAPTCHA technology to ensure that hackers and cyber pirates do not break into their websites but in doing so they have unwittingly erected a serious accessibility barrier against blind and visually impaired persons because the CAPTCHA  process dictates that the person logging in has to use the proffered image to verify themselves and screen readers are unable to decipher the proffered image.  This effectively leaves the blind and visually impaired person with the inability to verify themselves and consequently unable to access websites using CAPTCHA technology.
I’m Donna J. Jodhan wishing you a terrific day and weekend.
To reach me, please send an email to and I would be delighted to send you an electronic copy of our latest newsletter.
Here is a complete list of where you can view Donna’s blogs and editorials.
Donna Jodhan!  Advocating accessibility for all 
a weekly feature on important answers to consumers concerns
Weekly blogs for language professionals and accessibility consultants
a monthly editorial on business issues and concerns 
weekly editorials on accessibility issues in Canada
Editorials:  An International perspective on issues of accessibility and disability (under the editorials section, an international perspective)
A general perspective on issues of access and accessibility 

About Donna Jodhan

Donna Jodhan is an award winning blind author, advocate, sight loss coach, blogger, podcast commentator, and accessibility specialist.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.