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How Internet blocks visually impaired

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Picture: Amelie-Benoist / Getty Images

A pervasive “digital divide” inhibits blind people from accessing the Internet, according to a study conducted by Nucleus Research for Deque Systems, an accessibility software company specialising in digital equality. This results in visits to websites being abandoned, further resulting in a missed market opportunity for the websites in question.

The study, which conducted in-depth interviews with 73 U.S. adults who are blind or have severe visual impairments, revealed that two-thirds of the Internet transactions initiated by people with vision impairments end in abandonment because the websites they visit aren’t accessible enough. Ninety percent of those surveyed said they regularly call a site’s customer service to report inaccessibility and have no choice but to visit another, more accessible site to make the transaction.

The Nucleus study also scanned hundreds of websites in the e-commerce, news and information and government categories and found that 70 percent had certain “critical blockers” that rendered them inaccessible to visually impaired users.

“Besides the moral dilemma and legal risk, businesses with inaccessible websites are missing a huge revenue opportunity by ignoring an untapped market,” says Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque Systems. “Among internet retailers specifically, two-thirds of the top ten online retailers had serious accessibility issues, meaning they are leaving $6.9 billion in potential North American e-commerce revenues on the table.”

Web accessibility refers to the ability of people with disabilities to independently gather information, complete transactions, or communicate on the Internet. Most visually impaired Internet users rely on assistive technologies like screen readers or screen magnifiers to render sites perceivable and operable. However, these assistive technologies require that websites be built with accessibility in mind and optimized to interface with assistive technology, in order to convey information in an accurate and understandable manner.

Critical accessibility blockers can vary across industries. In e-commerce, problems include issues like missing form and button labels (thereby making forms or the “checkout” button invisible without context). Amazon, Best Buy and Target were found to be accessibility leaders in this space. Additionally, the study found:

  • Eight out of ten news sites had significant accessibility issues.
  • Seven out of ten blind persons reported being unable to access information and services through government websites, including Medicare’s site.
  • Fewer than one in three websites have clear contact information or instructions for blind persons to seek help if they encounter accessibility issues, meaning many have low levels of success in reporting and solving these problems.

“A focus on accessibility needs to be a core part of the website design and development process,” continues Kumar. “Considering accessibility as early as the conception phase, and proactively building and testing sites for accessibility as they move towards production, is significantly more effective than remediating it later, helping organizations save significant time and resources while avoiding unnecessary customer grievances.”

To download the report, visit: https://accessibility.deque.com/nucleus-accessibility-research-2019

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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