Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In Massachusetts, blind residents can't access registration for emergency alerts

From the National Federation of the Blind in Mass.:

BOSTON -- The National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts (NFB of MA) is working to resolve an emergency issue with the City of Boston and one of its contractors, Everbridge.

The city contracts with Everbridge to provide a subscription service whereby residents can receive emergency alerts by telephone, text message, or e-mail, but blind residents cannot access the service because registering involves a visual captcha.

Captchas are automated tests to tell humans and computers apart, often through the use of distorted letters which must be retyped by the person attempting to register for an online service.

Since blind people cannot respond to visual-only captchas, which cannot be read by screen access software used by the blind, many entities provide an audio alternative or some other form of captcha, such as a simple logic question. Everbridge's system provides no such alternative.

NFB of MA President Mika Pyyhkala has been unable to reach the company since discovering the problem on November 29, despite repeated attempts at contact through its Twitter and Facebook accounts, e-mail addresses, and telephone customer service system, as well as a telephone call to the office of its CEO.

Mika Pyyhkala, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, said: "Blind people need timely access to information in emergency situations, just like everyone else. Clearly, however, Everbridge did not give this basic need any consideration when it designed its system; nor did the cities of Boston and Waltham consider the needs of their blind citizens during their procurement processes. The sluggish response by Everbridge and the City of Boston to this emergency is worse than the response by local, state, and national governments to the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina, given that it would be very easy for Everbridge to fix this problem or for these cities to procure this service from a company that does not use a visual captcha as the sole means of allowing users to register."