Apple has patented a technique to hide sensors beneath the skin of a product. They will be completely invisible and undiscernible any other way as well (in direct contravention of 1194.23(k)(1) of Section 508, which is now under review). But embedded LEDs may announce their presence via patterns of micro-holes drilled by frickin’ lasers.
We love seamless input devices, we really do. We’re sleek as seals ourselves. But unless there is some redundant alternative or accessibility technique, blind and low vision users are going to be excluded.
Not content to ban suggestive iPhone apps from their store, Apple has decided they can also ban apps based on “minimal user functionality.” So the quirky utility that might just solve an access problem–like the air blower–won’t be available? Not good.
The HP MediaSmart computer comes with a face-tracking capability based on “standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose.” Apparently “standard” = “Caucasian,” since it refused to work for an African-American fellow per a YouTube video currently making the rounds. We’re inferring that they also don’t apply to people with facial disfigurements such as burns, for whom changing the ambient lighting may not provide a solution. And that, folks, is why you want to put some thought into keeping your testing pool as diverse as possible.
Here’s the dark side of accessibility features in mainstream products: Insurance companies may refuse to pay for, say, a communication aid if it’s implemented as part of a standard computer or cell phone, or may insist that all features unrelated to the communication function be deactivated. Unfortunately, this isn’t news to anyone who’s ever provided direct service to clients, but this is the first time we’ve seen the issues laid out this clearly in the mainstream press.
There’s a scene in Airplane! where a scoop of reporters heads simultaneously into a row of phone booths, and the booths fall straight over. Google found itself facing a sort of electronic equivalent yesterday when the volume of Michael Jackson searches started to look like a malware attack, so their response was to put up a “We’re sorry…” page that required filling out a CAPTCHA to continue. Now, Google does know something about semi-accessible CAPTCHAs–the login page for a Google account includes an audio CAPTCHA, which is usable by blind but not learning disabled individuals (the audio and visual do not match, so people who benefit from multi-sensory input will be even more confused). However, as far as we can tell, yesterday’s CAPTCHA didn’t even have the audio. Not a good precedent for situations where people will be turning to the Web in ever increasing numbers for information on natural disasters or other emergencies. It’s serious…and don’t call us Shirley.
Google is working on a new CAPTCHA strategy that requires the user to click on a flipped image and return it to its proper spatial orientation. So now you have to be able to see, click, and judge spatial orientation to get past it, thereby destroying the ability of many folks with disabilities to ever accurately submit an “I’m First!” post. Fuhgeddabouit. For a thorough and useful discussion on CAPTCHA-free strategies for thwarting spambots but not accessibility, see WebAIM’s 2007 article and responses.
The CDC is now estimating that there are more than 5 million kids with noise-related hearing damage. This is blamed to a large extent on a fully preventable cause: Loud and protracted use of MP3 players that can be set to exceed safe limits of 85 dB. Some of which are marketed for three-year-olds. Three. Well before many speech and language milestones are reached. We can’t even wisecrack; we’re just appalled.