No one can doubt the central place of the Internet in our lives. The barrage of "dotcom" advertising has put the Web address on a par with the street address. With that realization comes the inevitable question: "What about those who do not have access to the Internet—the digital 'have-nots?'"
Corporate, political, and civic leaders are now expressing ardent concern about the access dilemma facing many minorities, low-income persons, children of single-parent households, and rural residents in obtaining access to the Internet. But, what about the access challenges facing people with disabilities, especially those of us who are visually impaired? The barriers we face in using the Internet are generally ignored or minimized by the media, politicians, or corporations.
As a result of a suit by the National Federation of the Blind against America Online, access to the Internet for people who are visually impaired is, at least temporarily, making national news. This issue of AccessWorld reports on the developments in that suit, puts the suit in context, and evaluates how AOL's accessibility efforts measure up.
Another recent development in the news is the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's consideration of whether telecommunications access requirements should be applied to telephone calls and other communications made over the Internet. At the same time, a Congressional subcommittee is expressing concern about the harm that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could cause to the Internet.
The World Wide Web Consortium is to be applauded for its continued work on guidelines to improve access to the Web for people with disabilities. But we cannot depend on such voluntary efforts alone to ensure access to the Internet. Public policy must make clear that information technology is a public good that all Americans deserve an equal opportunity to access.
This issue's AccessWorld News reports on developments at the FCC and the World Wide Web Consortium. It also features Product Evaluations of newly released hardware and software that bring visually impaired people closer to being digital "haves" rather than "have nots."
In closing, I would like to invite all readers to join us at the CSUN (California State University, North ridge) "Technology for People with Disabilities" Conference, where AccessWorld editors will be presenting and exhibiting. Harry Murphy, who brought March madness to the assistive technology industry through his founding and leadership of the CSUN conference, is retiring, making this conference one of special historical importance. CSUN regulars will probably find it hard to imagine future conferences without Harry. We wish him well in his retirement and thank him for his many contributions to the assistive technology field.
Editor in Chief
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