Plan to help disabled Web users overdue

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 17, 2001

The Internet is difficult to define sometimes, even for so-called experts. And for some people it is even more difficult to use&160;- but hopefully not for long.

In the most the simple terms, the Internet is an international network of connected computers.

In the broadest of terms it is a revolutionary creature that has changed the world.

Email newsletter signup

As is usually the case, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

But one thing is for sure, the Internet is different than any other source of information. If you have Internet access, for the first time ever, the world is truly within your reach.

The telegraph – and later the telephone – may have connected the world, but the Internet is forcing us to deal with one another in a very direct manner.

Once upon a time, distance kept most conversations and transactions fairly local.

However, with the Internet, one never knows who the person on the receiving end is.

On one hand this is incredibly refreshing, because Internet transactions occur often without either side knowing if the other is black or white, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual. This visual anonymity makes discrimination rather difficult.

In that respect the Internet is really good.

However, it seems as the world becomes more intertwined with the Internet, we’ve apparently made the route to the Internet more than a bit rocky for many people.

Apparently the same anonymity that make the Internet easy to hide differences, and sometimes it is necessary to see those differences&160;- or at least know they exist.

For example, it’s difficult to see if a person possesses a physical handicap or some other difference that affects their ability to function on the Internet. Consequently, that out of sight problem often leads to it being out of mind as well – and that’s a shame.

Imagine how difficult it must be for someone who is blind to attempt to gain information from a Web site that contains only graphics which that person cannot see.

Just as the Americans with Disabilities Act has radically helped make the physical world more accommodating by changing building requirements to allow better handicapped access, we now need a similar move for the Internet.

The federal government is working on doing just that.

The government is beginning to help ease that struggle for thousands and thousands of Americans and others by revamping all of the government Web sites.

The Federal Information Technology Accessibility Initiative is the government’s internal attempt to accomplish this goal.

It’s by no means a global fix, and even the initiative itself isn’t going to solve all of the problems facing handicapped Web surfers on the government’s own sites, but it does make an important step – publicizing the issue.

Perhaps through more publicity, the effort will take hold and might eventually become more widely accepted around the world.

For more information about the government’s initiative visit its Web site at:

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at