Internet users see them everyday, jumbled, complicated websites that are hard to figure out and even harder to navigate. Now, imagine how much trouble blind or visually impaired users have with those sights. A local non-profit wants to change the way businesses and organizations design their websites.
Bob Bartlett is blind and uses a screen reading computer program called “Jaws” to get him around the internet. As he sits in front of a computer at his home near Hobby Airport he listens as the program reads advertisements and other information he’d prefer to skip by. “I like to go to sports websites, I’m sports fan from day one. All I want is a score,” he says as he scrolls down an internet page. “Here is where they would really benefit if they had a skip to content type of thing that would allow you go past all of that muckity-muck stuff that they’ve got on the front of that website.”
Bartlett, who’s the president of Taping for the Blind here in Houston, is also part of an effort to teach website builders how to include accessibility code in their content, called Accessibility Internet Rally-Houston. He estimates only about 10-percent of websites are readily accessible to disabled users. “There is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-54 million people with disabilities in the United States of America. Now if that’s not a significant number when you consider that your total population is about 300 million, it’s almost one in six. So if you’re ignoring this part of the market you’re really ignoring a substancial possible customer base,” he says.
Converting websites to be accessible to disabled users doesn’t change the look of the sites for sighted users, but does allow those who are blind or visually impaired to go directly to content areas of the sites.
Bartlett says many businesses and organizations simply don’t think about the problem. “I think that mostly they don’t realize that there is a problem. If you don’t realize there’s a problem, why would you go and fix it? They don’t necessarily know that it’s broken to some people,” he says.