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Australia Orders Olympic Web Site Accessible to Blind 152

Julian Assange writes "An article in The Age reports that the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission has ordered the Sydney 2000 Olympics organisers (SOCOG) to use ALT tags on all images and image map links on its web site. IBM who was contracted to develop the site, claims it needs a cool $2 million and a year to retrofit ALT tags to the entire site, including real-time score pages. But Simon Moran of the Public Access Internet Advocacy Centre says the modifications would cost only between $30,000 and $40,000 to implement. It goes without saying that changes would have cost $0 if IBM had correctly used ALT tags the first time around."
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Australia Orders Olympic Website Accessible to Blind

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  • Every website like this is first brainstormed upon and worked on before hand. You can't just jump into a website like this and hope that in a year it will be completed. It was not the website designers responsibility to put the content in if it wasn't first noted. Once the project is underway, there is no turning back, without a heavy cost. Setting up a site for blind access is as easy as following a set list of criteria, and if requested it would have been implemented.

    As a side note, there are ALT tags, but not very desciptive ones. They did put them in, just not as descriptive as needed for blind access.

    Even the samurai
    have teddy bears,
    and even the teddy bears

  • Why do you use "Australia" like all of us down under are responsible for IBMs bad?

    We aren't **that** much of a back water, some us did listen to users who surfed without images back in the mid 90's...

  • Although most people will be bashing IBM for asking for such a wad of cash, you must take into account that something as little as ALT tags come with a big price this late in developement.

    AFAIK, the ALT tags were not a part of there initial contract. This gives them the right to demand money for their extra services. Secondly, you must take into account of all the QA work involved in having usable ALT tags. This alone would cost MUCH more than the $30,000 to $40,000 that 'Simon Moran of the Public Access Internet Advocacy Centre' says it should. Think of ALT tags like browsing a completely multimedia site using lynx. Now take away the capability to easily skim over the links that don't interest you. Creating an entire site with useable ALT tags is a PITA. IBMs demands aren't that ludicrous when you take into account the reality behide it.

  • First and foremost IBM built the site for FREE!

    Second, everyone thinks it is easy to change the tags, but a company like IBM is going to actually put the site through a dev life cycle wich involves extensive testing.

    At this stage in the game, it is not unreasonable of them to ask for financial incentives.
  • It takes, say, 20 seconds to right-click an image in your favorite editor and give it a description.

    it really depends on how detailed a description you want to give of each picture. do you say "this is a picture of [person's name] skiing" or "(picture of [person's name] skiing. she's at blah blah blah altitude, going at blah blah blah mph, blah blah blah"?

    do you try to make it so that someone using lynx wouldn't be able to tell there was a picture there, or do you try hard not to hide the fact that there was an image there? how do you make sure that your goal was accomplished using each of the html-to-speech programs available?


  • ALT tags are needed to make the document HTML 4 "compliant".

    Let's just add alt="" to each image! That will make it standards compliant!


  • I believe they employ T.V. Raman author of Emacsspeak.

    This isn't a problem with IBM, but rather the "webdesigners" they employ or hired to do this for them. Can't expect pissants like that to do anything right.

  • You know, IBM wouldn't be having this problem now if they had checked all the code with CSE HTML Validator [] first... It bitches every time I forget to put alt=" " on my spacer .gifs (hey, it works and it gets the point across...) Not to mention the large number of HTML parsers on the web that will check your site for you... I can't believe IBM doesn't have an HTML parser that would complain about the pages not being HTML 4.01 compliant... were they designing for version 3.0 of the spec like I used to or what? I mean, come on... SOMEONE should have known better. I'm gussing IBM was given the responsibility of handling the tech stuff, and the Olympic Committee was inclined to trust them... they're only one of the largest computer companies in the entire world with tons of experience...
  • Just don't ask me to code a complex table by hand and expect it to be done within thirty minutes.

    Who said anything about "by hand." I use Perl and to output pages all the time, whether they be dynamically generated or just run from a job to create a "static" page. :)

    It also forces you to structure the table correctly so you don't miss any end tags or nest them wrong.


    print table(TR(td("1"),td("2")));

    btw, you *are* using tables to display tabular data and not for element positioning, right?! ;-)

  • Where is the sense of responsibility gone these days? No more "Oh, I messed up. Let me fix that for you". Hell, even HTML for Dummies advocates the use of ALT tags (No, I do not use them, shame on Joe). IBM is certainly, totally, unquestionably responsible. They expect a bunch of buerocrats to know what the hell and ALT tag is? What it is to be used for?

    IBM, you messed up. Time to take responsibility for your own actions

  • Yes, Millward Brown are a company in Creamorne, Sydney (for you locals). They do a whole lot of information based stuff, such as surveys and analytical data.
  • This seems to be standard practice with contractors. Mention a reasonable small sounding amount of time to do something, but make sure it is sufficiently too long to be useful. It doesn't work very well that often, unless its something really trivial, and frequently results in the organisation responsible losing the contract.
  • by simpleguy ( 5686 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @02:39AM (#823452) Homepage

    For those who care, has a neat tool called Bobby which can analyse web pages and report their 'readability' for the visually impared.

    Please head on to []

    type in and send the request for processing.

    Interesting to note that, at this stage, Bobby does not report any automatically detected Priority-1 errors. But thats just for this specific page.

  • CSS2 "implements" many things for disabled people. Mozilla just need to implements them.
  • Maestro, play that stupid guitar piece used to peddle the StinkPad.

    As we all know, this is not the first big mistake made by IBM. Their retraction from retail didn't just hurt them in sales, it made them seem xenophobic. By the looks of this tactic, Big Blue is a little paranoid of the general populace.

    Another big folly is their Java-powered Point of Service (to which the acronym is, hilariously, POS). I have firsthand knowledge, since CompUSA contracted IBM to replace the AIX terminals with something glitzy that would have flashing ads on the screen for the customers to see. The registers lag often, and on credit cards used often, these terminals outright refuse to let the cashier manually authorize the transaction.

    Once again, Big Blue bites the Big one.

  • Total guesses at answers (but serious ones)

    a) The site isn't a simple hierarchy of pages which can just be done one at a time, but is database driven, and there's no provision for the design of the database to be augmented with this new feature.

    b) They only deal in years and millions, they are unable to charge less or make it quicker.

    Either way makes IBM look bad in my eyes.
    However, if the original requirements document did _not_ include the need for or capability to support ALT tags, then IBM are the teflon men. Otherwise, they should be standing in the dock, and doing the whole thing _tomorrow_ for _free_.

  • It does depend on what you are trying to do.

    If you are making a site with just absic info, then yes, you are stupid if you cant make it cross browser.

    However, working for an iteractive media development company, we get requests to do things such as ridiculous DHTML events, which i do admit are cool and all but, do not work for all browsers. Especially when you have such diverse implementations of DHTML as Ntscape and IE do.

    We are no longer in the age of the internet being a text based doo-dah. The internet is now also a form of entertainment (still a carrier of information too as such is the TV).

  • Yes, and saying something like "Title Image" or
    "title.gif 500x50 23kilobytes" in an ALT tag doesn't cut it.

    Y'hear that, IBM!? :)
  • Shit, I'd do it for $10,000 and an O of some fine green. ;)

    Perl solves EVERYTHING!!!
  • I find it utterly disgusting that IBM would ask for more money to fix something that is their fault. I mean, IBM should know better than to leave ALT fields out of IMG tags, shouldn't they?

    What if Firestone's "fix" for their tire recall was for owners of the defective tires to buy new ones?

  • The question here touches something a little deeper than whether or not blind individuals can use a website. The fact of the matter is that blind individuals typify problems faced by a whole group of people. That is to say if we, as the progenitors of websites, fail to design with the widest possible audience in mind, we are inherently firming up the line between the information haves-and-have nots. (Sorry about that phrase, I hate it to but it seems to be apropos.) By way of example what happens when you are driving along in your car and can't (shoudln't ?) take your eyes of the road but want to use your own personal Yahoo to find out the score on the 49ers game, in that instant you are effectively blind to the standard Netscape 6 / Ie 5.5 experience; your usage case mirrors that of a blind individual. You can't see the images on the webpage, the only way for you to understand what the page renders visually is to listen for the reading of the textual equivalents, the alt tags. So the point here is that the issues that you would address to help allow equal access to information have implications that stem beyond the specific usage case of a certain audience. In other words the argument for universally accessible web page design has implications far beyond the disabled community. As such the focus should not be "What do I have to do to my page to get the blind users off my back?" The question should be how can I make my content accessible to the widest possible audience.
  • it's just not that easy. the alt tags, and all accessibility stuff need to be in multiple languages. it is not as easy as going through and adding *an* alt tag to each image. nor would it have been as easy as adding *an* alt tag to each image as the site was constructed.
  • ..and that might just cost the $2 million they quoted!

    How can they possibly justify the $2 million figure? What do they pay their web developers, and where do I sign up? ;)
  • Should have run it through lynx as it was being built to see if they were missing anything fundamental...
  • But blind people really can't use your website.
  • by tolldog ( 1571 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @01:55AM (#823465) Homepage Journal
    Isn't this similar to the classaction suit that was (or is being) brought against AOL.

    Maybe the suit is only in the proposal stages...

  • by stx23 ( 14942 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @01:56AM (#823466) Homepage Journal
    I don't think it's an issue of just not having alt tags, the design seems to favour browsers that render images and no alternative navigation. One example is the world map, it's an image map with no alternative menu in text, which is pretty poor to say the least. Surely someone from IBM showed their designs off to the committee? Shouldn't it have at this point objections were raised? I would guess it would be easier to build a data driven text based site from scratch rather than attempt to modify everything that's already in place.
  • Hello Moderators! can you say flamebait?
  • I'm sorry, but I fail to see how it could take a whole year to add a few alt tags to a web site. I mean, who the hell are they getting to do it? A blind chimpanzee?

    No matter how big the site is, it can't take a f'n YEAR to do. I can't fathom how it would take more than a year to design an entire site.

    This time estimate was probably just an effort by IBM to get the authorities to say "ahh fuck it, if it'll take them that long then we'll have to let it slide."

    I hope they don't get away with it.
  • how does that work?

    oh, i know...those pin things u press your face or hand into and it leaves the image, also allows for brail usage...

    Disclaimer: This was not ment to be offensive to anyone.

  • It should be pointed out the IBM, at least regarding it's corporate stance to Java 2, is one of the leaders in making software accessible to individuals using all manner of assisstive technologies. That is to say that IBM has applied extensive resources to solving some of the problems faced by people not using your standard point-and-click Windows boxes.

    With this little disclaimer out of the way I can tell you that no website, however complex, will come anywhere near this long to bring up to compliancy with the basic accessibility standards as proposed by the W3C (Check it out: Web Accessibility Initiative []) I don't care how huge, loafy, and beaureacratic you get, getting the basics of this shit down is easy! The company that I work for builds software that does just this and it takes us only 15 days to get huge sites fixed up, and we have ten people doing this. IBM, with it's hoards of programers, trained monkeys writing Shakespeare and all manner of web developers could not, possibly need a year and two million bucks to do this.

    How long did it take them to build the site in the first place? Four years, liberally. So just to review the worlds largest computer services firm, with thousands of employees claims that it will take them 1/4 as long as the entire project to add some alt tags to images. Why don't they just admit they were stupid enough not think about this in the first place?

  • I'm sure we could find someone who couldn't be catered for by most of these buildings.

    If IBM were told to include ALT tags or asked to make the site accesible to text browsers and blind users, then they should fix it up free of charge.

    If they weren't asked, the question is, should they have guessed.. perhaps the answer in this case is yes, but if something isn't stated clearly it's left to interpretation and different interpretations happen, later they are dealt with. I don't think that's "disgusting".

  • No we are talking about people with vision problems -- being classified as legally blind does not mean you can't see at all. Think outside of your box for once.
  • Many Australian developers are very well aware of ALT tags and their importance. I would guess that there is just as great a percentage of American developers not using ALT tags as Australian developers doing the same. Recent similar legal issues have shown that AOL have been careless with regard to accessibility issues also. Incidentally, I would be interested to know if the IBM developers were Americans or Australians.

    I do not see the relevance of your comment: "But I don't think Australia is off the hook--they apparently didn't think of it either."

    IBM were contracted here as the experts/consultants. It is up to them to use ALT tags and explain their inclusion to the client. When you commission the construction of a cabinet, you can hardly be expected to insist that the maker uses specific glues, timber, joins, etc. The cabinet maker should make these decisions (and explain them if necessary) themselves, and any maker taking the easy road deserves a poor reputation.

    I completely agree that IBM should be forced to accept the costs of these fixes. Hopefully it will teach developers world-wide that accessibility is not something to be taken lightly.

    I encourage every Web site developer who reads this comment to visit [], and join our list for Web developers. Many of our members quickly learn the importance of the ALT tag, usability issues, etc.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @02:45AM (#823474) Homepage Journal
    is release yet another browser that will have an AI engine built into it that would recognize the context and the picture in any gif or a jpg image file and would then use more AI to generate a meaningfull sentence stating the purpose of the picture and its context + all the extra info needed for the blind people, and the browser should be navigated by voice. Now that is a work for a year and more (image recognition has being in development for the past three decades, human speech recognition for the past four decades.)
  • Were talking about *people* here.

    The intent of ALT tags is to alow alternate methods of accessing the data to people who can not get information from the graphics for some reason (can't see them, can't load them, can't decode them...)

  • by fatphil ( 181876 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @02:47AM (#823476) Homepage
    My "registered blind" girlfriend (who can see enough to survive without a white stick or anything) always uses Lynx (in 80x25 text mode on a 21" monitor with her face 8" from the screen.

    Therefore she only uses the ALT tags, as there aren't any images, and can't be any images.

    However for the truly blind, the web is often "viewed" using a speech synthesiser.
    There are also Braille interfaces too, but they are a mechanical add-on, but a speech interface is simply software and a standard soundcard.

    Watching her browse, I've learned that "Image 384x240 32K" is a totally useless ALT tag.

  • benifits of keeping webpages under simple standards (and using cgi instead of frames etc)

    1) Small time to download for poor bastards still wtihout cable modems
    2) Accessable to those with disabilities (handicap programs have better ideas what to speak out or what to enlarge etc)
    3) People on public terminals can view it (no plug ins)
    4) People on very simple devices can view it (ie linx, mobile phone internet)
    5) Easy to print
    6) Easy to bookmark exact state
    But no, pointy hair boss wants spinning logo and welcome midi music with flash intro that gives it that sorta look but adds nothing useful)
    (in the case of Burgandy Rum their flash menu made it impossible to tell what the heck was going on, hopefully fixed it now)

    Simple test, give people this option on splash page
    1) High bandwidth, flash frames version
    2) Simple html

    and see which one gets chosen more.
  • IBM aren't saying they can't do it, they are saying, there's a cost involved.

    So since there's no-one saying it's not technically feasible, I guess you are taking exception to the price IBM say it will cost.

    How many pages on the site? How many images? How many megs of files. Does it use imagemap techniques that make ALT tages pretty useless anyway? I assume you know the answers to these questions, if you take exception to the cost IBM put forward.

  • How long would it take to write a lightweight Java app that would distribute this little task worldwide and get it down in no time.

    I can tell you, two weeks, I wrote one, it worked, not a big deal, and I am not even that bright.

  • I actually am the founder of a company that builds software that allows people to diagnose the accessibility of their websites, sort of like a BOBBY on steriods. I posted a report of the IBM website at the following URL: s.html [].

    It is the report generated by our spider running through the Olympic site, to a depth of one, since they are using frames this is essentially the flash page. As you can see they fail to do some pretty basic, and obvious things, that can make a serious difference between a site people can use and a site that is useless. Titling your frames, not to difficult.

    Hope this helps, if anyone has anymore questions shoot me an email, I am happy to chat about this stuff.

  • The alt tag is not recommended; it is required.

    HTML 4.1 [], the most recent standard, makes the ALT tag [] a requirement. The HTML validators [] at W3C won't let you get away with not using ALT tags. They do validate their HTML, right?

  • I don't know what the US definition of public is, but in Canada and England (and, I would guess any English speaking country) it often means Governmental.

    ie: Government facilities are required to accomodate the disabled.

    So, in that case, .gov and (possibly) .mil websites would all have to have alt tags... Other websites can say whatever they want, however they want (I believe your 1st amendment protects that right, or is it the 4th?).

    And no, image maps and shockwave do NOT necessarialy have to go. I believe the ADA would say that the site has to be fully functional for a disabled user; This doesn't mean removing non-disabled extras that don't affect the funcitonality of the site. Otherwise the local town hall wouldn't have any steps. Instead they just add a ramp. Fully functional for the disabled user, and just as functional for the non-disabled.

    >And no friggin frames.

    That goes whether you are a public institution or not. :-)
  • >when did ALTs first come out, in HTML 2.0?

    IIRC they have always been there, even in HTML 1.0. Just people are too lazy to use them.


    Suggestion time (and wasting 1 minute more time):

    I just got this as an error message:

    :Slashdot requires you to wait 1 minute between each submission of / in order to allow everyone to have a fair chance to post.

    :It's been 1 minute since your last submission!

    Uhhhhhhhhhhh... Oookay... How long was that again? :-)
  • I can't for the life of me find a link anywhere, but I vaguely remember something about IBM having a major website design problem with the Atlanta Olympics, 4 years ago.

    From memory it had something to do with some of the event logo's wanting to be changed, and it turned out to be a serious and very expensive problem.

    Can anyone possibly confirm or deny this?

  • AFAIK, the ALT tags were not a part of there initial contract.

    Many things are not in the initial contract. ALT tags are technical materials. IBM was/is the technical part of the project. So IBM had to use ALT tags.

    When you build a house, you are not an architect. So you hire an architect. You say him you want an house, with two floors, with this, this an this. He draws you a plan, he shows you it. OK, this seems to be correct, you sign the contract. When the house is finished, you notice that there is no glass with the windows, the walls are 2cm larges and the roof is not water-proof. You call the architect and he brings you the contract : you don't ask for a water proof roof, you don't ask to have glasses with your windows and tou don't ask for larger walls. Do you think that all that is correct ?
    Like a water-proof roof for an house, ALT tags are mandatory for a "usable" web site.

  • Secondly, you must take into account of all the QA work involved in having usable ALT tags.

    Not to mention the classification and captioning work that needs to go into writing the copy for the ALT tags to begin with, which must consequently be reviewed line-by-line by a writer. That is, assuming this site was developed like most of those I've worked on.

    If it wasn't in the contract to support wide ranges of accessibility to begin with, shame on the client. Basically, IBM could look really good doing it for free. Otherwise....

  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @02:55AM (#823487) Journal
    It takes more than just ALT tags to make a site readable to someone using a screen reader. If you doubt that, just fire up trusty old lynx and try to navigate most sites, even if they have ALT tags.

    Web site tools (like Front Page) are HORRIBLE at producing pages that can be read by these special browsers and screen readers. I tend to code all of my pages by hand just to make them usable. It's possible to have a visually appealing site and still make it usable in text-only mode without having to have an entirely separate "text only" track through the site.

    I think this is "a good thing" personally. Force people to think about what HTML is really for, structuring the document, move style to stylesheets where they belong, and stop just making up a page and if it looks good in IE, publish it...

  • by brokeninside ( 34168 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @02:58AM (#823488)

    What you are saying is that if I contract with a building firm for a new house, unless I specify in the contract the house doesn't have to comply with the building code for my area of residence?

    I'd like to think that the wires will comply with electrical code whether or not I put it in writing, and that the plumbing will meet the plumbing code whether I put it in writing or not.

    Design firms are responsible for finding and understanding applicable law. This is usually known by the name 'due diligence' and is not an incredibly new concept.

    This is the exact same situation, not only is the ALT tag reccomended by the standard, its quite likely that making the web site accessible to non-sighted people is the law in Australia (otherwise there would be no lawsuit).

    Given the presentation that IBM makes of its solutions (being professional) I think that they deserve to lose money on this one. If IBM had intentionally made the sight viewable by IE only, there would be screaming from virtually everyone at slashdot. Systemically overlooking people with eye problems is something that should never happen from a 'professional' web-designer.

  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @02:59AM (#823489)
    Yes, you can build web sites that are interesting and full of eye-candy, yet still be fully features-compliant such that it will work with all browsers [*] on all platforms, for disabled users, for cel-phones, for text-only display, or whatever other situation that we have yet to envision. It doesn't require a lot of extra work from the start, and is probably easier to develop and maintain. You can still use CSS, Java, JS, Flash, or other plug in features as well. This is the whole point of HTML - the browser, whatever it may be, decides how to render what you wrote, ignoring tags as necessary to make sense for that particular enviornment (e.g. ignoring in text browsers).

    99% of broken sites out there can be easily fixed with ALT tags and text menus for image maps. Most other problems stem from JS-only navigation. If you want to add eye candy with images not needed to get the content of the site, ALT="" is quite valid and will not disrupt a page on lynx or other text browsers. There's plenty more easy accessibility tips that you can add, and it's much easier to add them at the start than the end, but even completed web sites can add them easily.

    [*] There are browser problems where the HTML rendering is coding completely wrong, unfortunately, and one had to code around it. CSS on IE3 and NS4 are two good examples: it's just broken yet functioning in IE3, and for no good reason, you have to have JS enabled to use CSS in NS4, and your CSS has to be whitespaced just right lest you run into problems.

  • Federal law requires that all websites USED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (that is to say, those created by government agencies and those intended for use by customers of companies who are government suppliers or contractors) must support access for the disabled. The law does not apply to private-sector websites with no connection to the government - nor, IMHO, does the government possess the ability to create a law that would, any more than they can require me to hire a sign-language interpretter if I want to stand on a soapbox in a public park and air my views. Such a requirement would have a chilling affect on the freedom of speach - placing a monetary cost on speach, and thus a potential barrier to expression - which I believe the court would find un-Constitutional.

    Regarding IBM and the Olympics: When I was at IBM (until last month, I worked in a division closely connected with the 'Interactive Design' group that does these high-profile websites), accessibility was raised as an issue on a couple of projects, and an effort was made to make all of the designers aware that this was something that needed to be done. Though I don't know that it was ever handed down from on high, the general impression was that handicap accessibility for major websites was Policy. I'd say that someone really screwed the pooch on this one. However, if it wasn't specifically listed as a customer requirement in the Statement of Work, then it's legit to classify it as a DCR and put a pricetag on it.

  • by FonkiE ( 28352 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @03:03AM (#823491)
    I see some point here: It's easy to put ALT tags everywhere, but it fairly complex to get the information what is on the pictures.

    What do we have: pictures with something on it that need to be described. Where do we get this informatinon? Form the filename? No.

    From a database? Yes - If they have the information at all ...

    Whatever ... this is not worth 2 million and certainly takes not a year of development :-)
  • 3 jobs back (oooh, 1998-ish) every friday afternoon at 4:30 I and some mates at work would down tools and have a "web treasure-hunt". Someone not playing would shout out an off-the-wall topic which we would all have to search for, and the race was on. Almost always it was for images.

    I almost always won and I used Lynx. I only popped open a graphical browser as a last resort.

    Since then I met my "blind" girlfriend who is consistantly faster than me in finding information on the Web. (she uses lynx too).

    The Lotus Elise doesn't have carpets or decorative fittings. That's the "sporty" way. Lynx is the same. And it's not necessarily to do with being blind or not.

  • Did anyone see the ABC []'s[1] satire The Games [] tonight, where Games Management Head of Administration, John Clarke, had to re-launch the Games website! These guys are right on the money when it comes to their material. Indeed, about a month ago, the satire made a point of possible delays at Sydney Airport, and within 24 hours there was a power blackout at the airport, with huge delays!

    Where do their writers come from, and what do they think this week's lottery numbers are?

    If you get a chance and you like satire, don't miss it, ABC[1], Monday 8pm, with repeats on now at 6pm M-F until the real Games start. But please, remember that it is a comedy, not a documentary!

    [1] Australian Broadcasting Corporation

  • However, if the original requirements document did _not_ include the need for or capability to support ALT tags, then IBM are the teflon

    I think the courts are going to say that acess for the blind (and otherwise disabled when the reasonable capability to do so exists) should be obvious, and is already required by current laws. therefore it need not be written in the contract.

    If I order a custom car, (the rich can afford to hire a few machinists and engineers to design a car to their exact specifications if they want) and it doesn't come with an engine, courts will agree that a means of propelling the car at highway speeds (safely) are standard in all madern cars, and therefore they need to retrofit something in their to make it go. A strict reading of the contract however will not show an engine.

  • Bruce Maguire lodged the complaint because large parts of the site were inaccessible to blind people.

    Hmmm. Does this mean that any little web site in Australia comes under this judgement? I have a small site on my (permanently online) computer at home, am I likely to have action taken against me if I don't have ALT tags everywhere on it? (I do have them, btw).

    URL withheld so I don't get slashdotted, of course.

    Is that an African or European swallow?

  • To use your example: After the house is down, you walk through and notice that the doorknobs are not made of solid gold like you wanted. Can you go to the architect and say, "Well, that should have been included."? Of course not. Doorknobs are expected; solid gold ones are not.

    ALT text isn't a gold doorknob, it is THE doorknob, at least for some people. ALT text can be used by people to decide whether to view the graphics, and so its absence effectively bars access to a major part of the site. ALT text is not just for blind people, its also for people who use graphical browsers who don't load images (perhaps because they're at the end of a slow link and are paying for access per minute), and for those using non-graphical browsers. Sensibly written ALT text allows those people to think "Hmm, I think I'll take a look at that picture", while not having to load all the other ones.

    The sensible thing for SOCOG would have been to include in their contract that the site validate to either the HTML 4.01 strict or transitional DTDs. This would have ensured ALT text, plus a whole host of other benefits.

    Its so easy to verify compliance with this requirement - just run the site through a validator! Any smart organisation making a contract with a web design company should make this a requirement.

  • These Olympics have nothing to do with the rest of Australia apart from Sydney. They were the ones who bought the damn thing in the first place, they are the ones who keep screwing it up (eg tickets that don't fit ticket machines, medals with a Roman stadium on them, the ticketing debacle), and hopefully they are the ones who will pay for it.

    They keep saying on TV that it's "our Olympics" when it's nothing of the sort - they belong to Sydney and we don't want to have anything to do with them.

    Harsh But Fair: you know it makes sense

  • I assume the article is refering to $2 million australian dollars, which equates to $1.3 million US dollars.

    Still way too much, but at least it's in context now

  • This doesn't sound too hard.
  • But Simon Moran of the Public Access Internet Advocacy Centre says the modifications would cost only between $30,000 and $40,000 to implement.

    IBM should give $40,000 to Simon Moran, and let him do it.
  • I assume that because The Age is an Australian site, they're using Australian dollars. So it's a little misleading of /. to quote the figures as straight dollars on the front page (everyone will assume it's US$).

    $2,000,000 Australian is "only" $1,143,600 US.
  • A few facts that seem to have been missed as the news story went around the world (from an Australian):

    1) SOCOG were notified of this problem and were asked to fix the site 14 months ago, the entire site could ahve been changed by one person in less than that time.

    2) The Australian Disability Discrimination Act applys to everything (workplaces shopping centers etc.) and everywhere (except in a few extreme circumstances), and given how easy it is to change the website i think it should apply to them.

    3) SOCOG has been ordered to change the site by the olympics, or damages can be brought against them in a civil action. Which have the potential to be a huge amount, this has not happened yet and SOCOG may still fix the site in time.

    For point 3 i feel they have bugger all chance of completing it in time now however as they were informed 14 months ago, the courts will have little to no sympathy if a civil suit is brought against them.

    So either Socog will have to pay an enourmas amount to have it fixed in time, political forces will influence the 'independant' judicary and get them off the hook, SOCOG will have to pay a huge amount in damages or SOCOG will continue to appeal until the other party runs out of money if a civil suit is brought against them. Then again something i haven't thought of may also happen.

    Essentialy i don't think the site will change in time but it is the precident which is being set that matters. That is it doesn't matter who you are the law applies to all and all people deserve equal treatment and access in all areas of life.

  • building codes are legal statutes.. show me the law that says you must put ALT tags...

    I guess we're arguing over where to draw a line.. you consider blind people a valid default defacto implied user of this site (or all sites, whatever), I guess I agree. I'm just not sure IBM can be expected to get everything right first time, and therefore it's a contractual matter between them and their client, if they wish to pass any costs on. I don't think it's disgusting, I think it's a mistake.

    It has nothing to do with any laws or codes.

    Maybe it should be though, that would be another matter, if we could legislate the RFCs into the statute books. I wonder, would it be SHOULD or MUST that was illegal to go against? :-)

  • by gilroy ( 155262 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @03:22AM (#823504) Homepage Journal
    Blockquoth the poster:
    Like a water-proof roof for an house, ALT tags are mandatory for a "usable" web site.
    Well, that's the rub, isn't it? Does everyone agree that Web sites have to have ALT tags so that they're accessible to the blind? Just reading the reaction on slashdot -- a self-selected technically knowledgable group -- the answer seems to be "no". There are a number of people who question the point of this. (I am not saying they're right; I'm just pointing out that they exist.)

    To use your example: After the house is down, you walk through and notice that the doorknobs are not made of solid gold like you wanted. Can you go to the architect and say, "Well, that should have been included."? Of course not. Doorknobs are expected; solid gold ones are not.

    Personally, I don't view accessibility by the blind -- especially for a major international site like the Olympics -- to be the same sort of frill as a gold doorknob. But the question is: What sort of features are expected by nearly everyone when you say "I'll make you a web site"? I think it can argued that accessibility, sadly, is not one of those features.

    IBM should be smart enough to do this for free or at some nominal cost, just for the PR. But it's not clear they should be forced to do so.

  • The subject says it all; there is no time to make any changes, no matter who orders them.
  • If it will take them $2 million and a year to do this, then they must have made grave errors in designing the site. To me, it's akin to asking a mechanic to change all the tires on your car, and he says it will cost $2 million and take a year. Well, then he's not a very good mechanic, and maybe you ought to take your business elsewhere.

    Except that the Olympic comittee is stuck with IBM.
    Patrick Doyle
  • You beat me to the post. But also, if you look at Bobby [], you will see the list of sponsors. One of whom is ... ... ... IBM.
  • Blockquoth the poster:
    Federal law requires that all websites USED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (that is to say, those created by government agencies and those intended for use by customers of companies who are government suppliers or contractors) must support access for the disabled.
    I don't knwo the specific law you're using. If it's the Americans with Disabilities Act, you are contruing its scope too narrowly. The ADA applies to all "places of public accommodation". That's why it can be enforced against, say, private independent schools. (I'm a teacher at one -- trust me on this.) I don't know if a Web site is considered a "place of public accommodation" -- I very much suspect the courts haven't tried this one yet.

    Anyway, since the site was for the Australian Olympics, (US) Federal law doesn't really apply...

  • find /home/olympomatic -name ?tm? -exec {} \;
  • You obviously haven't worked with a big outsourcer before. This is standard fare. I was recently quoted over $500k to make a small three story building move from a single shared collision domain 10 Mbs hubs to a switched 100 Mb/s network for approx 80 nodes. Direct hardware costs were about $20k, and a bit of network admin time to swap the stuff in and out as everyone already had 100 Mb/s capable NICs and the wiring was all CAT5. Two million is cheap for something the outsourcer obviously does not want to do (it's extra-scope, therefore maintenance fees apply, each change costs $$$$, where each change is likely to be rejigging a single image as well more costly items like rejigging the backend to support ALT tags). Money for jam.
  • If the customer had been smarter, they would have specified HTML 4.01 compliance as a condition of acceptance of the deliverable. The use of the alt attribute for the img element is required by the HTML 4.01 Recommendation []
  • Well, that's the rub, isn't it? Does everyone agree that Web sites have to have ALT tags so that they're accessible to the blind?

    For short : yes. Like someone else stated, ALT tags are needed to make the document HTML 4 "compliant". I suppose that the contract stated that the site would have to be "standard compliant". Today, being "standard compliant" is being HTML 4 compliant. No ?

  • And on [] the first sponsor is IBM:

    IBM's Special Needs Systems focuses on developing and using IBM technology to enhance employability, education and the quality of life of people with disabilities....

  • Adding ALT tags is one thing, but how do you support ALT tags for multiple languages? That would imply multiple character sets, too.

    My guess is they have parallel pages using different character sets and languages? (I've not yet had a chance to look at the site, so please don't flame me if I've missed something obvious.)

    Past experience with multinational sites, I've had to select a language before entering, and then I'd see appropriate text for that language on the site. I'd expect to see something similar here.

  • After some investigation, I find you're correct - I was misinformed. In fact, AOL has apparently already been the subject of a class-action lawsuit under the ADA for failing to support access by the blind.

    For more information: this page [] from the W3C has links to laws about web accessibility from several countries.

    And yes, I realize US law doesn't apply in Australia. But the post I was responding to raised the issue of US law as an expansion of the topic.

  • One thing that I haven't seen people refer to is the difference between the <B> and <STRONG> tags. Now, I know what many of you are thinking .. "what difference?"

    The difference between <B> and <STRONG> is that the former suggests that the text it surrounds should be displayed in a boldfaced font on the screen, while the latter suggests that the surrounded text is supposed to be emphasized because it stands out from the rest of the text in the sentence. You still might be wondering exactly what the difference is.

    In many situations, rendering something in boldface does not necessarily mean that you want the text to be strongly emphasized by somebody who's reading it aloud. Take, for example, section or table headings. You might make those boldface to draw visual attention to them, but that does not mean that you intend to add any sort of verbal "stressing" to those words.

    The bottom line is that there is a difference between putting something in boldface for the purpose of making it stand out visually, and putting something in bold face to suggest that the text should be verbally and/or logically emphasized when reading, speaking or interpreting the text. If you want to design "blind-friendly" Web pages, use <B> for the former and <STRONG> for the latter. It makes a difference for many (most?) text-to-speech translation systems.


  • This is a classic example of a little too much justice far too late. Who's going to think that IBM can implement ALT-tags site-wide in less than a few weeks?

    Better still, how long did this case wait before it was tried in the judicial system?

  • That's a cool site. Like most lints, it's more noise than anything. Of course, I checked didn't do as well as
  • It would be easier if everything was script generated.

    You just insert the graphic name instead of image.

    Every web database and script eventually generates html.
  • The site isnt too good anyhow. I went to order some tickets, and not all events could be ordered online. I still had to ring up for a phone operator, and listen to 4 pre-recorded msgs till I could order. Even if the ALT tages are added, the site still wont do much!
  • Why, thank you for volunteering to spend a few hours a week helping a visually impaired individual to surf the web. Never mind having to stomp on their dignity by forcing them to ask for help.

    If you could think a bit out of the box for more than 6 seconds, you might realize that there are more ways to interface with a computer than just a monitor. Pray to whatever deity you worship (God, Allah, Technology....) that you never have to know what it's like to not be able to see.

    Does anyone have any idea how many adaptive technologies have been produced/perfected to help disabled users, and then applied back to the general public? Think the last time you called telephone information? Voice Recognition. Last time you called for your bank balance? Voice synthesis. Most open-cavity surgeries? Telescopic lenses for visually impaired. 5 years ago OCR systems for the Visually Impaired were more accurate and performed better than OCR for PCs. The list goes on and on. The fact remains that accommodations for disabled individuals help those individuals become contributing members of society (and no longer a tax-drain) and they improve our lives in ways that we never would have thought of.

    Be thankful for what you have today. Always remember tomorrow you could be on the other side.
  • try clicking on HISTORY it actually brings you to ABOUT THE GAMES

    IT seams that the imagemap for the frontpage is off as someone forgot about history :o)
  • Is it really possible to browser the website using a voice browser if IBM add a few ALT tags? Given the use made of frames and javascript I would have thought it would be close to impossible to navigate around the site without a 'standard' browser. In fact, the one item in the 'Help/FAQ' section explicitly states that the site was designed for the latest versions of Netscape & IE - so they are explicitly ignoring any non-standard access of their site!

    It would have been nice to see a bit more support for alternative browsing methods (e.g. is there an official WAP site? Latest sports results are just the sort of thing that i'd like on my phone), but it's a bit late telling IBM to change their site a fortnight before the games start ...

  • Without going and looking, I'd guesstimate that they're using Lotus Domino for the site. The $2 million figure is probably to repair the brain damage in Domino, rather than going through and recoding all the HTML by hand. Domino puts out a fairly flashy (and consistent) web page, but only if you can see it. I've found they tend to be very painful to use in Lynx or non-standard web browsers (Such as IBM's Web Explorer for OS/2.)

    I've also found that at least internally, IBM's web solutions tend to be very overpriced. For a while I worked in their global planning division and was tasked with the job of hunting down groups using non-sanctioned solutions and getting them to move over to the official stuff. Which would run you only three grand for 60 megabytes of web content and IGS would do all the work of getting the content up to the server. A definite win in flexibility and function over the OS/2 or Linux boxes that were being used before uh huh (sarcasm.)

  • Frames: Bad NS-ism, and unfortunately now mainstream. There's more than enough problems with frames, the two largest being the lack of bookmarking anything inside a framed site and how you can suddenly switch to an outside site and still be framed in the first site (which can be potental lawsuit material from a case about 2 years ago). Guess what: thanks to tables and SSI, any site 'effect' that can be done in frames can be done without frames. And if done right, it's just as easy to write a site that has both framed and nonframed versions without sacrifice (there *is* a tag that many authors forget).

    Image maps: Just add a simple line like at the bottom of any /. page *in addition to* the image map. Also, there are ALT tags for image maps that work the same as normal images - lynx handles them nicely.

    Tables: Tables, surprisingly, only work poorly when you specify absolute sizes. Relative size tables work nearly flawlessly across the browser board (including text browsers), as long as you don't try to force the size of the table off the screen by including huge images or whatnot inside them. Most web creatores that complain about tables failing are ones that tend to design for a certain browser size (1024x768) and are agast when the 640x480 results suck. The only recommendation on the size of the window is loosely based on the WinTV size (512x4--) and even that is only tentatively suggested. Wait till 320x240 lcd panels on your toaster are common.

    Style-sheets - Browsers that don't understand style sheets will completely ignore style sheets. Newer browsers (IE5, NS4.5+, Moz, Opera4) have no major problems with style sheets, though some are more compliant than others. The killer is IE3, which supports style sheets but so poorly it breaks pages more than helps them as CSS is supposed to do. (as I mentioned NS4.0 has some significant problems with parsing that can be worked around by a careful CSS writer). So generally, as long as you use style sheets as intended, you aren't going to be breaking anything on any browser save for IE3, and most people aren't using that anymore.

    Remember, if NS and IE stuck to the W3C specs from Mosaic 0.9 on, most of the problems with the web accessibility today would be gone. And even today, NS and IE want to vary from the specs (above and beyond buggy compatibility), and the browser war has done significant damage to the webspace. But we are slowly recovering, as many many sites realize that content is king over appearence, and many major sites start striving to be fully HTML4.0 compatible.

  • by Smack ( 977 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @03:45AM (#823534) Homepage
    IBM isn't doing the web sites for the Olympics after Sydney, so they no longer have any reason to play nice with these people. They can take the attitude "it wasn't in the contract", and not have to worry about who they piss off. I bet if they were still doing the Olympics, you would have never heard of this story.
  • by brokeninside ( 34168 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @03:54AM (#823537)

    boy case opined:

    It has nothing to do with any laws or codes.

    Let's go back and look at the article.

    SOCOG was ordered to make changes to its website before the Olympics start after the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission upheld a complaint against the site by a blind man today.

    Bruce Maguire lodged the complaint because large parts of the site were inaccessible to blind people.

    The commission today ruled in Mr Maguire's favor and ordered SOCOG to make changes to its website before September 15.

    It found SOCOG had breached the Disability Discrimination Act and has ordered it to use ALT text on all images and image map links on its site. [my emphasis]

    What he have here is the finding that SOCOG's web sight breached one of the law's of Australia. Hence, IBM, as part of due diligence in their bid for designing the site, should have taken accessibility into consideration. Hence, my opinion that the retrofit to make the site comply with the law should come out of IBM's pocket.

    Web designers are responsible for knowing the laws that impact their craft, just as plumbers and electricians are responsible for knowing building regulations.

  • by rnd() ( 118781 )

    this would cost quite a bit... each picture would have to be viewed and described by someone knowledgable, and then the tags would have to be added.
  • How is it that Australia is just finding out NOW that ALT tags aren't in use? Why didn't they insist that it be in the contract to begin with? I agree that IBM should fix the pages and I further think it should be done for free (it's just plain poor engineering to leave the tags out). But I don't think Australia is off the hook--they apparently didn't think of it either.
  • Note from the article that "Mr Maguire was previously successful in forcing SOCOG to print its original ticket order book in braille.". While not excusing IBM's web developers for ignoring accessibility (about which more below), it seems that SOCOG also has some responsibility.

    How many highly-visible organizations have to get dinged for failing to provide accessibility before they all learn the lesson?

    Back to IBM, a brief look at the source for the site in question leaves the impression of severe gimmickry and glitter. Frames and JavaScript (to force you to use frames) abound! Perhaps if they had taken a more straightforward implementation strategy, maintaining the site wouldn't be so difficule?

    Incidentally, anybody know who "Millward Brown Interactive" is? Their copyright is in some of the JavaScript.

  • If you would bother to look at the site (, you would see a basic flaw in most of the posts here. For some reason people are assuming that IBM didn't use any ALT tags on the images. That would obviously be moronic. But that's not the case. Most of the images on the site do use ALT tags.

    Not that there are no problem there though. For a pointless breaking of the site for blind users, check out the "Sports" page off the front page. The popup javascript thingie to select a sport is completely worthless, and yes, the imagemap doesn't have any ALT tags. Why didn't they just do a straight HTML page?

  • I find domino websites very painful to use in IE or Netscape or other 'standard' browsers.
  • So? You want META tags now?!?!

    That's gonna run you $4 million plus labor.

    I wonder if the people from IBM who create the web site are related to my auto mechanic?

  • Now I know that IBM is a bunch of kneebiters for not taking the semi-simple steps that it would have taken to make the site accesible to the blind and lynx-using among us, and I sincerely sympathize with Mr. Maguire's plight, but... what about jurisdiction? A common complaint on Slashdot (one that I agree with) is that France has no right to tell Yahoo! what to do, the US has no right to tell Norwegians what to do, and in general, that you have no legal recourse if what you downloaded doesn't agree with your local standards, unless the server or poster is violating his, her, or its local law. The Olympics cater to an international audience, obviously, but that doesn't mean they have to obey any Canadian laws about English vs. French content-balancing.

    In addition, while I strenuously support the widespread accessibility of web sites by the blind, I think any law, Australian or otherwise, that requires sites to structure their content politely is a bad law -- because I think that laws should be the same for the big and little guys; if the IOC should be sued for this, then so should, as well as my personal website, and I think that making my website accessible to the blind should be a personal and voluntary decision by me.

    I can see an excellent argument that the IOC, as a business, should have to provide accessibility (as businesses do) but I shouldn't have to (as my home doesn't), but I still don't buy it. Slashdot is definitely a business site, and I'm very glad that they're blind-friendly, but I honestly don't think that they should be legally obligated to be so, because, no matter how good and just the law, it represents yet another legal pocketknife hacking away at the fundamental principles ("My machine? My rules.") that made the net a win in the first place.

    Ob-IP-Rant: Of course, this would all be easier if it were legal to set up a blind-friendly site that served's content... when's that Sealand thing going up?

  • by danny ( 2658 ) on Monday August 28, 2000 @02:07AM (#823569) Homepage
    It's not just ALT tags - there are other things wrong with the Olympics site as well. For example, the bogus implementation of frames, making it impossible to link to many pages directly.

    This is all really basic stuff, Usability 101 [], and there's no excuse for getting it wrong on a really high-profile site. Heck, they ought to have a full-time usability expert for a site like that!

    Danny []

  • Hey, we are not talking here about redesigning the site for Yet Another Browser that happens to use a completely different implementation of DHTML, DOM, Javascript, etc., We are talking simply about putting ***ALT*** tags in each image, okay? One simple line of text for each graphic they use; how hard is that?

    Of course, it's going to be more time-consuming (though even that could be arguable), but my point is that it doesn't present any technical problem; when did ALTs first come out, in HTML 2.0?

  • I use NS 3 (because NS 4 is brain dead) and the site looks fairly decent in NS 3. There is the usual miscalculated table cell problem that most web generators have because they used absolute rather than relative sizes, and assumed the wrong sizes for various objects.

    In general dynamically generated web pages are badly done because the programs are intended to be used by artists rather than programmers, and therefore the specs tend to be what artists need. Most web artists come from the print media, and they can't think in terms of different monitor sizes, screen resolutions, fonts, objects, and stuff like that. So the end result is generally bad. You do see pressure to "standardize" to one browser, one screen size, etc. But the IBM Olympics site is definitely better than average with respect to this issue. I remember my first encounter with Domino and it was junk. They've come a long way since then.

    As for ALT tags, that's obviously something they missed.

    What would you do if a building was constructed that omitted wheelchair ramps, and due to the way it was built will require as much money as the building itself just to add the ramps? I'd say some architects failed.
  • Who owns the 2000 Olympics' website? If it is owned by--or subsidized by--the Australian govenment, they certainly do have fair say in how the site's information is presented.

    If on the other hand the gubment has no claim to ownership, your argument certainly merits attention.

    The gripping hand, though, is that if the site is hosted in Australia, we could hold that its accessibility is beholden to the same laws that govern access to, say, any Australian building, regardless of ownership, that is open to the public. Which raises the question of what will the ALT tags on something like [], if there is such a site, would look like:


    Which makes me think that the analogy between being blind and running Lynx is becoming more accurate every day.


  • The commission needs to take its rulings to the Federal Court if they want to get them enforced. At this stage, as the article says, it's not binding.

    And yes, it was moronic not to be using tags in the first place.

I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman