Monday 14 October 2002

IBM socks it to blind Australians. Again.

Since most sighted people—Web developers and users alike—find it difficult to imagine how blind people or those with impaired vision actually “use the Web,” in my presentations on accessibility I’ve found it valuable to demonstrate a screen reader, namely IBM’s Home Page Reader. When a general audience can hear a Web page being read and see me use the various keyboard commands to navigate a site, it has a profound effect on those who have never considered Web accessibility or who have dismissed it as either trivial or a nuisance.

From the moment the screen reader’s mechanical voice fills the room, I feel the atmosphere begin to shift. Consequently, in the second part of my presentation—when I explain Mark Pilgrim’s techniques for creating an accessible site—I am speaking to people who are truly engaged. I can almost hear the developers thinking: this is not so hard, it’s not going to cost an arm and a leg, we can do this stuff…

Until now I’ve used the trial version of Home Page Reader. But the trial period has expired and I’m presenting again tomorrow. So this morning I logged on to the IBM site to purchase a real copy. The downloadable version is available from this page on IBM’s US site:

00P7833 Home Page Reader V3.0 English Program Package Digital Delivery

US$117.00 equals AU$214.40 at today’s exchange rate.

I couldn’t proceed with the purchase because the order form insisted that I enter a five-digit US Zip code instead of my four-digit Australian postal code. Instead, I found the same downloadable version on this page on IBM’s Australian site:

00P7833 Home Page Reader V3.0 English Program Package (Digital Delivery)

Same product code, same product, and there’s every chance that the download is on the same server… but Australians have to pay a 59% surcharge. The cost of goods is identical, as is the delivery cost, and the credit card transaction fee must be similar, if not identical. A 10% premium might be justifiable, but almost 60% is unpardonable.

Yet why should we be surprised? IBM gained notoriety during the Sydney Olympics for creating an inaccessible Web site for SOCOG, the Australian organization responsible for staging the games. Joe Clark, author of Building Accessible Websites, describes IBM’s contradictory attitude towards Web accessiblity in his excellent summary of the Macguire vs. SOCOG case:

To reiterate, in the case of Maguire vs. SOCOG, the little person won. While the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games acted in an arguably unprofessional and certainly a dismissive manner, the allegedly substantive reasons it advanced for denying accessibility were conclusively repudiated by Australian authorities and expert witnesses.

Curiously, IBM, SOCOG’s Web contractor, maintains an accessibility Web site and a full-time staff who do nothing but work on software, hardware, and Web accessibility. IBM has a reasonably salutary record in accessibility products, having developed IBM Home Page Reader, a screen-reader analogue specialized for surfing the Web. Yet its partnership with SOCOG gave the appearance of a corrupting influence, making IBM complicit in SOCOG’s actions in denying accessibility to blind users of its site.

No doubt IBM Australia’s spin merchants will be able to justify why it costs so much more to deliver exactly the same electrons to an Australian IP address.

Update. This story has a happy ending.



Anything we can do for you, Jonathon?

Posted by: AKMA on 14 October 2002 at 10:55 PM

Some of us have non-Australian IP addresses.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo on 14 October 2002 at 11:08 PM

Did you also notice what they did to blind Australians who use Macs?

Do you think schoolchildren, who use Macs heavily, might like to have internet access?

Posted by: Loren on 15 October 2002 at 12:59 AM

holy cow bitman!

Posted by: the head lemur on 16 October 2002 at 01:11 PM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour