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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Quiet Week

The ATIA conference starts this week in Orlando, Florida. New product announcements, some very good presentations and enough marketing propaganda to choke a blind elephant will abound. Bright lights, annoying music, the sound of Eloquence speaking from booths all around while booth babes lure their prey to listen to a demo they could care less about. Yes, the assistive technology trade show season has begun and Blind Confidential will attend.

Until I get to Orlando, though, the deafening silence around the industry grows daily. Every company wants to make their big announcement at the conference so remain tight lipped until the PR machine kicks into gear. Never fear, BC will don his Gonzo disguise and travel with his attorney at his side to witness the fear and loathing at ATIA 2006.

More on Turing Tests

After posting my article yesterday, I received a number of comments from sighted people who asked the question, “if a screen reader can break its way through a Turing test, what can stop the spammers from employing the same techniques?”

My first reaction reminded them that we celebrated Martin Luther King yesterday and that a Turing test is the 21st century version of a “Whites Only” sign on a door. Barriers to accessibility discriminate against a specific class of people, just like the old Jim Crow laws did. If we view a web site as a “virtual place of public accommodation,” it follows that its owners should make reasonable accommodations.

The response I got to this argument came in the form of, “Why should everyone suffer the annoyance of spammers just to protect the rights of a fairly small minority?”

I went back to MLK but they continued to rebuke my arguments. The truth is that, by act of congress, people with disabilities comprise the only class of US citizens who do not necessarily receive equal protection under the law (a topic for further exploration in a future posting).

So, I started noodling with ways that blinks could gain access to these sites without opening the door to spammers. While I do not accept that people with vision impairments should be required to do anything special to access these web features, the pragmatist within feels that we will probably lose this battle.

Freedom Scientific, GW Micro and probably other AT companies worked closely with Adobe (one of the most cooperative of the mainstream companies) to find a solution to the problem of digital rights management (DRM) and the screen reader. Publishing companies who wanted to use the Adobe format for their e-book releases noticed the obvious fact that if a screen reader could access the information, a less honorable sort could use the same technique to pull the text out of the reader and publish it for free. The solution the screen reader companies and Adobe developed gave each AT product that needed to access this protected information a kind of digital signature that told the Adobe reader that it can trust this program because it contains the magic words that inform the reader of its purpose.

I propose that the screen reader developers get together with the W3C/WAI and start working on a digital signature scheme that will give screen reader users the same trusted status as they now enjoy in some digitally protected documents. Highly encrypted digital signatures appear all over the Internet. Paypal, MoneyBookers and other payment systems all use digital signatures. This, therefore, shouldn’t be too hard for the smart folks in the AT business, the W3C and the web site hosting community to put together.

Until these “trusted user” signatures can reach the market and web sites changed to accept them, a moratorium on this type of Turing test should start immediately. So, please sign the petition in yesterday’s post and write to web masters who discriminate against we blinks with the 21st century moral equivalent of segregated busses.

A Couple of Odds and Ends

A reader sent an email informing Blind Confidential that Apple Computer has an opening for an intern to work on its Voiceover screen reader. For the sake of promoting competition, I think that if Apple had a credible screen reader, the Macintosh might make some inroads into the population of blind users. Some people, including the person who sent me this job notice, really enjoy Voiceover . Others, however, argue that it lacks even the most basic features available in the popular Windows screen readers. In AccessWorld, Jay Leventhal really blasted the product in an article titled “Not What the Doctor Ordered” which you can read at:

http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw060505)

I don’t have a link to the job posting and hope that our friend can post it as a comment and, perhaps, describe why she prefers Voiceover to JAWS or Window-Eyes.

Other Upcoming Events

BC will present a position paper on how interface concepts found in audio games might form the next major step forward in screen reading and other technologies for people with vision impairments. The conference takes place in April up in Montreal and you can learn more about it at http://www.chi2006.org.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Will Pearson said...

Hi,

I think the comments about the spammers misusing a system to render turing tests accessible, whilst well intentioned, are misinformed. Software can be designed to guard the decoded code string until it's presented to the user in the form of speech. It's just a matter of doing some good threat modelling and thinking like a hacker.

Having said that, I wouldn't be happy to see it implemented directly in screen readers, as security in screen readers is something of a joke. There's various threat models around the web that show how a screen reader implementing a scripting language can be comprimised for misuse, and most of the threat models can be applied to the scripting language in JAWS, and as for Window Eyes, rumour has it that they are injecting code into another process...

So, techniques to render turing tests can be implemented in a safe manner, it's just a question of carefully considering the implementation options, and not letting the AT vendors get their hands on it, as I'm sure some of them would see a nice new market opening up for their products in Nigeria!

5:52 PM  

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