The web, an obstacle course for blind internet users

In France, 70,000 blind people struggle on the internet, sometimes for hours to validate a shopping cart or book a train ticket. The associations argue for more sanctions to enforce the accessibility obligation.

By Catherine Fay-de-Lestrac

Three hours to buy a train ticket for a 2h17 journey, online shopping full of pitfalls… The vast majority of websites in France are not suitable for people with disabilities, creating an obstacle course for the blind and partially sighted.

Insufficient punishments?

Indispensable everyday tools, public digital services and those of large private companies have an obligation to be accessible on an equal basis to all citizens, including people with disabilities, visual, auditory, motor or with dys… .. But at lack of sanctions, those are few. The blind – 70,000 in France and 1.5 million visually impaired – listen to a speech synthesis that reads the text on the screen, describes the informative images and provides information about the boxes to be filled in. They can’t see where a mouse is pointing, they use keyboard shortcuts. “I don’t have a global vision of the page, I decipher it bit by bit”, explain toAFP Manuel Pereira, responsible for digital accessibility at the Valentin Haüy association, which recently brought together the visually impaired and digital professionals for a conference in Paris. This arduous course can be interrupted at any time if a box is not coded correctly. “After we place an entire order on the Internet, sometimes we are left with a box that is not coded. The blind person hears ‘box to fill’ without knowing whether it is his name, his address or the confirmation that he ‘agreed to the terms’, explains Manuel Pereira. A single point that blocks and the site is unusable for us.”

Only 11 of 221 key approaches accessible

Each site must publish an accessibility statement at the bottom of the page, indicating its compliance with the RGAA (General Reference for Improving Accessibility). He is judged “cooperative” with a compliance level of 100%, non-compliant below 50%, “partially compliant” between these two levels. The Elysée site is at 74%, Ameli, the health insurance site, at 72% and SNCF-Connect at 54%. Only 11 of the 221 state flagship procedures that can be performed on the Internet and that are listed on the Observatory for the Quality of Online Procedures are “fully accessible”, told AFP Marine Boudeau, head of the digital services design department of the Interministerial Digital Directorate (Dinum).

The Captcha, a “dead end” for the blind

The worst? This is the ‘Captcha’, this mosaic of images where you have to select traffic lights, for example. Mandatory passage to continue, but 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 scathing humor to alert the public to the problems faced by visually impaired users. “blocked in their online procedures” (full article in link below). We see a blind customer, dressed in medieval clothes, who, in order to pay for his shopping basket, has to solve a riddle, a kind of “captcha‘Life-size. The grocer shows him a window, divided into nine panes, where two grazing cows are visible.’To set you need to select all tiles with cows‘ he explains to the incredulous customer. “Making your site inaccessible is like sending the blind back to the Middle Ages”, claims the association at the end of the video.

Digital professionals with little disability training

“Buying TER tickets for Burgundy is a headache. The site was inaccessible and I was told they didn’t sell them over the phone because there are counters at the station,” explains Céline Boeuf, blindly. Blind people can request help or an alternative purchase over the phone, but these are becoming less and less available. “Only one race track, Hoora, is accessible to people with disabilities”, says Manuel Pereira. To be accessible, a site must be encrypted from scratch. However, digital professionals are rarely trained on this subject, they noted during the meeting this week. “You have to test the site without the images, without the mouse, without the graphic style (colors, font size, etc.). Curious how it works if I browse it with my ears and not with my eyes”, explains Romy Duhem-Verdière of the high-tech consultancy Octo Technology.

“Make a bad buzz!”

A zoom to enlarge the page, a magnifying glass for a detail… “All technical solutions exist. But since there are no heavy penalties, it is not a priority,” she explains. “Beyond the blind, these include color blind people, dyslexics, quadriplegia and, more broadly, people who are aging and seeing their vision decline. A significant portion of the population,” adds Mrs. Duhem-Verdiere. Complain! Create ‘Bad Buzz’ on the Internet!, say digital professionals to the blind and partially sighted. It helps us to face our directions. No matter how much we talk to them about disabled users, they’ve never seen one, it’s a bit of a ‘dahu’ for them.”

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