The Web is (Still) Almost Entirely Inaccessible to People with Disabilities

People with disabilities face limitations and obstacles online that mirror those in the “real” world prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Since 1990 the ADA has guaranteed – among many things – that people with disabilities have access to public buildings, facilities and transit vehicles, reasonable workplace accommodations, and access to sign language interpreters and “other auxiliary aids” in hospitals and clinical settings. 

Today, online experiences for users with certain visual or physical impairments range from infuriating and disorganized to entirely off limits and exclusionary. Most websites, for example, aren’t built or organized to interface well with screen readers, magnification devices, and other tools that assist readers with visual impairments.

In a step forward, more than 170 disability organizations called for the Department of Justice to finalize rules for online accessibility, a process that started in 2012 before being withdrawn in 2012: 

In today’s letter, addressed to assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke, the signees urged “the Department of Justice to maintain this rulemaking process as a priority and finalize a rule by the end of the current administration.” It states that while the DoJ has held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes websites and other technologies critical to accessing a business’ services, it has “failed to define when and how they should be accessible.”

Efforts to come up with these rules have ebbed and flowed. The letter noted that “In 2018, the Department reconfirmed its position that the ADA applies to the internet but never completed rulemakings that were begun in 2010 under Titles II and III of the ADA and withdrawn in 2017.”

The result is an online world where people with disabilities struggle to get their needs met. According to WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind)about 97 percent of the 1 million pages evaluated had WCAG 2 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) failures. These issues ranged from using low contrast text and missing form input labels to empty buttons and missing alt text for images.

Compliance with Section 508 is already a very, very big deal to developers and content strategists in the public sector. I’d like to see the same rules apply much, much more widely.

5G Rollout is a Disaster for Airlines in the U.S. But Why Not in Europe?

CNN:

Why is there a potential problem in the United States, but not Europe? It comes down to technical details. 

Mobile phone companies in the United States are rolling out 5G service in a spectrum of radio waves with frequencies between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz. The companies paid the US government $81 billion in 2021 for the right to use those frequencies, known as the C-Band. But in Europe, 5G services use the slower 3.4 to 3.8 GHz range of spectrum. The aviation industry is worried that US 5G service is too close to the spectrum used by radar altimeters, which is between 4.2 and 4.4 GHz. Europe does not face the same risk, according to the industry, because there is a much larger buffer between the spectrum used by radar altimeters and 5G. 

There are other differences in how 5G is being rolled out, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Other countries are using lower power levels, restricting the placement of 5G antennas near airfields and requiring them to be tilted downward to limit potential interference with aircraft. In France — cited by telecom carriers such as AT&T and Verizon as an example of 5G and aviation working seamlessly together — the height of a 5G antenna and the power of its signal determine how close it is allowed to a runway and the flight path of an aircraft, according to a technical note from France’s National Frequency Agency (ANFR). Antennas around 17 major French airports are also required to be tilted away from flight paths to minimize the risk of interference, the agency’s director of spectrum planning and international affairs, Eric Fournier, told CNN. 

The Secret History of the First Real Smartphone 

via The Verge:

In 1998, Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins quit Palm, a company they’d founded, to begin a new one: Handspring. They had a simple goal in mind: to eventually create the smartphone. Years before any of the technology was actually ready, their tiny startup began laying the necessary groundwork for what would become the Treo.

In Springboard: the secret history of the first real smartphone, we document the history of Handspring, from its dramatic beginnings to its tragic end. Along the way, we hear from five of the key players who tried to invent the modern smartphone years before the technology world was ready for it. It’s a story that interweaves the dotcom crash, technological innovations, wireless carrier resistance, and much more.

Too Many People Still Use Windows XP

Windows XP, which turned 21 last month and has been unsupported since 2014, still runs on an alarmingly high number of PCs worldwide, including many in government.

via BleepingComputer:

So, why are some systems still using the outdated XP version?

The first category of systems that are still using Windows XP is those belonging to public sectors, known for their crawling upgrade speeds and hesitancy to use new technologies.

For many public entities, the bureaucracy of approving new system license purchases, upgrading hardware, and training the entire public sector is too complicated and costly.

The compatibility of custom-made 32-bit software tools is another crucial reason for still seeing XP in many places like industrial environments, hospitals, etc.

In many cases, there are no newer versions of these critical tools, or companies need to pay a lot of money to have them ported to new systems.

Then there’s the category of people who are using hardware that is too old and weak to run a newer Windows version properly, and they see no good reason to replace something that is still (technically) working.

Many users, including some in government, value ease and tradition over security … often to the detriment of public stakeholders.

Portland, Maine

Portland was rainy and cool when we arrived this afternoon. It seemed appropriate to walk around downtown and take in this great port city under a gray, wet sky. After two hours of window shopping we had dinner at Central Provisions, which is housed in a building that once served the West Indies Trading Company. We had reservations for many weeks and I’m glad that we did. Wet, hungry diners were turned away one after another almost all evening. Dinner was small plates — sturgeon caviar, tinned sardines served with sourdough, toasted pork served over apple brown butter and a small selection of cheese and honey. It was all very impressive. A young couple seated next to us was excited to learn we were from Austin and we had a great time comparing travel notes and recommendations.

After dinner we set off in the rain to the LL Bean flagship store in Freeport (open 24 hours) and then continued on to our hotel in Boothbay Harbor. I visited here many times as a child, and not much has changed. The drive was dark and wet, and I look forward to walking through town tomorrow morning. Even though we were here just last year, I can never spend enough time here.