Big Advance For The Blind

In this Jan 15 2005 photo made available Wednesday April 7 2010, Trondheim Bishop Georg Muller addresses a congregation in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. AP Photo/Gorm Kallestad

In one of the first enforcement actions of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the Internet, two major travel services have agreed to make sites more accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

Priceline.com and Ramada.com have agreed to changes that will allow users with "screen reader software" and other technology to navigate and listen to the text throughout their Web sites, according to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Although the software and other devices, including a vibrating mouse that lets the blind "feel" boxes and images on the computer screen, have been available for years, Web sites must have specific coding that allows the equipment to operate, Spitzer said.

"This is a precedent-setting decision," said Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. "We hope it's going to be influencing other companies throughout the United States so that the 10 million blind and visually impaired people can fully participate in our society at all levels."

"It's the right thing to do, and it's good business," said Augusto, who is visually impaired.

Spitzer's settlement follows investigations over the last two years to determine if Web sites conform to the federal act and state law that require all "places of public accommodation" and all "goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations" to be accessible to the disabled.

Priceline.com has already made the Web site accessible for the visually disabled to get airline tickets, said the firm's spokesman, Brian Ek. By the end of the year, the entire travel site will be accessible, he said.

Ek said the firm encourages other firms to do the same. He said the firm isn't releasing the cost of making the entire site accessible for the visually disabled, but said it won't be enough to reduce earnings.

Rich Roberts, a spokesman for Cendant Corp., the parent company of the Ramada hotel franchise, said he welcomes the chance to work with Spitzer's office to provide better online experiences for consumers with visual impairments.

"Accessible Web sites are the wave of the future and the right thing to do." Spitzer said. "We applaud these companies for taking responsible and proper steps to make their Web sites accessible to the blind and visually impaired. We urge all companies who have not done so to follow their lead."

Ramada.com and Priceline.com, which face no charges and make no admissions of guilt, will pay the state $40,000 and $37,500 to cover the investigation's cost. Spitzer said both firms were cooperative.


By Michael Gormley
  • Francie Grace

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