2022 Resolutions

The official policies of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania are established every year with annual resolutions adopted at the state convention.

The resolutions committee meets early during the convention. Each proposed resolution is read, spoken for by the authoring member, considered, and then ultimately withdrawn or recommended for passage or disapproval by the Convention.

Resolution 2022-01: Regarding the Use of Overlays to Make Websites Accessible to the Blind

WHEREAS, companies such as EqualWeb, Max Access, UserWay, TruAbilities, AudioEye, and accessiBe are deploying overlays as a strategy to automate the task of making websites accessible—i.e., compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and

WHEREAS, to make websites nonvisually accessible, overlays are intended among other things to identify unlabeled graphics and automatically attach readable text descriptions to them; to enable keyboard activation of links, buttons, expandable/collapsible menus, and other controls which have been incorrectly coded to be triggered only with a mouse; and to insert header tags (often used by the blind for quick and efficient navigation on web pages) where the print is highlighted or enlarged and not already marked as a heading; and

WHEREAS, in achieving nonvisual access, overlays today have their limitations; for example, they cannot determine when a picture that would be described generically as “two people standing in front of a building” should be described as “Sarah and George standing in front of Macy’s department store”; they cannot automatically add audio description to a video presentation; they can inappropriately apply headings to text that is not intended to function as a heading; they can misinterpret the layout of a table and improperly handle row or column headings; and they cannot accurately solve an inaccessible visual CAPTCHA; and

WHEREAS, the current inability of overlays to perform all of the tasks critical to nonvisual access means that, while they may help to make certain parts of a website nonvisually accessible, they alone cannot guarantee full nonvisual access to every website where they are deployed; and

WHEREAS, companies deploying overlays have attracted hundreds of thousands of customers by fostering the false idea that with one easy operation (e.g., inserting a small amount of code) their websites will be accessible and fully compliant with prevailing web content accessibility guidelines and, further, that they will be protected from lawsuits; and

WHEREAS, the companies deploying overlays have not, in any meaningful way, engaged with the accessibility community, not to mention the organized blind, to learn from a broad base of consumers whether or not overlays really improve the accessibility of websites; and

WHEREAS, as the use of overlays has grown, blind people have encountered an increasing number of websites where they have been prompted to turn on an accessibility or screen reader mode by pressing ALT+1, ALT+0, or some other key combination, but there is no readily-available information to tell them whose overlay is operating, how to report problems with the use of the overlay, whether or not the overlay is actually turned on, and how to disable the overlay if it isn’t working as expected; and

WHEREAS, some of the overlays which are supposed to improve the accessibility of the websites where they are installed present accessibility options (e.g., screen reader profile or anti-seizure profile) which are themselves not accessible to screen-reader users; and

WHEREAS, the lack of helpful information and the presence of inaccessible overlay controls leave people with disabilities without the means to provide feedback and suggestions, use the overlay effectively, or report problems related to the overlay; and

WHEREAS, the blind continue to fall behind as the number of websites created and deployed far outpaces the number of websites which we can confidently declare to be usable and accessible, and thus any solution which gives the blind true nonvisual access is welcome: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania in Convention assembled this Thirteenth day of November, 2022, in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; that this organization call upon overlay developers and their paying customers to engage with the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania and the broader accessibility community to ensure that overlays are developed and implemented in ways that truly improve access to websites; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist that current and potential overlay customers recognize that complete and long-lasting accessibility requires more than a one-time installation of code; that accessibility should be a priority throughout the entire lifecycle of any product from design to full implementation; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization condemn and deplore the unethical practices of overlay providers which attempt to convince website owners that overlays are the easiest and most affordable way to protect a website owner from lawsuits and make their websites accessible and compliant with the WCAG; and we demand that overlay providers stop making misleading, unproven, and unethical claims which falsely inflate the value and effectiveness of their technology.

Resolution 2022-02: Regarding Visual Introduction by Speakers

WHEREAS, a trend has developed wherein speakers at events introduce themselves with visual descriptions of their body, clothing, and environment before making their presentations; and

WHEREAS, this practice, which may be called “visual introduction,” is meant to be inclusive of blind and low-vision people who may be in the audience; and

WHEREAS, it differs in purpose from statements of personal identity that speakers sometimes make, even if a visual reference is mentioned; and

WHEREAS, visual introduction has not been developed and promoted as a practice by the National Federation of the Blind; and

WHEREAS, visual introduction has unintended consequences that are not being considered; and

WHEREAS, one of these consequences is promoting the assumption that visual characteristics are important frames of reference when discussing ideas that have little or nothing to do with such characteristics; and

WHEREAS, making choices about what characteristics to describe is arbitrary, since no consensus exists about what information is needed for nonvisual access to the appearance of a speaker; and

WHEREAS, some blind people prefer not to be distracted by a description of the visual appearance of speakers, preferring instead to concentrate on merits of the ideas rather than the attributes of the messenger; and

WHEREAS, the time consumed for visual description may result in core presentation content being omitted due to time constraints; and

WHEREAS, by comparison, the practice of audio description is not analogous, because that is done by trained professionals, describing specific visual context in a show or movie, who exercise neutral objectivity; and

WHEREAS, even though a blind person might learn of an interesting observation through visual introduction, it is not thereby justified to be adopted as a generally reasonable practice: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania in Convention assembled this Thirteenth day of November, 2022, in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; that this organization strongly discourages the general practice of visual introduction by speakers; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that in limited contexts, where speaker appearance may be related to the topic of discussion, we encourage the event organizer to give guidelines to speakers about what key visual elements to describe so that meaningful inferences can be made by the audience; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, while appreciating the motivation behind visual introduction, we ask for energy to focus instead on making sure that presentation material, including slides and supplemental handouts, is nonvisually accessible.