The web, an obstacle course for blind Internet users

In France, 70,000 blind people suffer online, sometimes taking hours to check the authenticity of a shopping cart or book a train ticket. The associations are calling for more penalties to enforce the accessibility commitment to the site.

Written by Catherine Faye de Listrac

Three hours to buy a train ticket for a two-hour and 17-hour journey, risky online food shopping… The vast majority of websites in France are not suitable for people with disabilities, creating an obstacle course for the blind and visually impaired.

Insufficient penalties?

The indispensable everyday tools and digital services of public and those of major private companies must be equally accessible to all citizens, including those with visual, hearing and motor impairments or those with impairments… with few penalties. Blind people – 70,000 in France, 1.5 million visually impaired – listen to an audio synthesis that reads the text displayed on the screen, describes useful images, and reports which boxes to fill. Unable to see where the mouse is pointing, they use keyboard shortcuts. “I don’t have a panoramic view of the page, I’m decoding it bit by bit”, Explanation forFrance Press agency Manuel Pereira, responsible for digital access at the Valentin Haüy Association, which recently brought together the visually impaired and digital professionals at a conference in Paris. At any time, this tedious course can be interrupted if the chest is not properly coded. After submitting a complete application online, we sometimes find ourselves with an unencrypted box. A blind person hears the ‘box to be filled in’ without knowing if it is their name or address or confirming that they have ‘agree to the terms’, Explains Manuel Pereira. The only point that is obscured and the site is unusable for us.”

Only 11 of 221 major approaches can be accessed

Each site must post an accessibility statement at the bottom of its page, indicating its level of compliance with the RGAA (General Reference for Improving Accessibility). judge him “compatible” with 100% compliance level, incompatible less than 50%, “Partially compatible” between these two levels. Elysee website 74%, Amelie, Health Insurance website 72%, SNCF-Connect 54%. Only 11 of the 221 main state actions that can be performed online included in the Observatory for the Quality of Online Actions are “fully accessible”, Marin Bodeau, head of the digital services design department at the Interministerial Digital Directorate (Denom), told AFP.

captcha, a “End” for the blind

the worst? This is “Captcha”, a photo mosaic that requires you to select, for example, traffic lights. Passage is mandatory to go further, but a dead end for a blind person. On May 19, 2022, on the occasion of World Accessibility Awareness Day, the Valentin Haüy Association published a sports video with stinging humor to alert the public to the difficulties faced by visually impaired users. ‘Blocked in their online actions’ (Full article in the link below). We see a blind customer, dressed in medieval clothes, who, to pay for his cart, must solve a puzzle, a kind of “captchaLife-size. The grocer shows him a window, divided into nine panels showing a cow grazing.To set, you will have to select all tiles with cows‘ he explains to the feisty client. “Not making your site accessible is like sending the blind back to the Middle Ages”, Claims link at the end of the video.

Digital professionals with a little handicap training

“Purchasing TER tickets for Burgundy is a headache. The website was not available and I was told we didn’t sell them over the phone because there are ticket offices at the station”, Explains Celine Buff, Blindness. Blind people can ask for help or purchase a replacement over the phone, but these are less common. Only one race site, Hoora, is accessible to people with disabilities. Manuel Pereira says: To be accessible, the site must have been coded from the start. However, digital specialists are rarely trained in this topic, as they pointed out during the meeting this week. “You have to test the site without the images, without the mouse, without the graphic style (colours, font size, etc.). Ask yourself how it works when I’m browsing it with my ear and not with my eyes”, Romy Duhem Verdier, of high-tech consultancy Octo Technology, explains.

“Make a bad noise!”

Zoom in to enlarge the page, magnifying glass for details… “All technical solutions are there. But since there are no severe penalties, it is not a priority,” She explained. “Unlike the blind, this pertains to the blind, the disabled, the quadriplegic and, more broadly, those who are getting older and seeing their eyesight deteriorate. A large segment of the population,” Ms. Duhem Verdier adds. Complaint! Make a ‘bad noise’ on the internet!, Digital professionals for the blind and visually impaired say. It helps us face our tendencies. No matter how much we talk to them about users with disabilities, they’ve never seen one before, it’s kind of a “dah” to them.”

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