Unfriendly Skies? Blind Passengers Sue United A group of blind air travelers has sued United Airlines, claiming that the airline's digital kiosks are inaccessible. And the kiosks are just an example of a bigger problem: electronic devices that the blind cannot use.
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Unfriendly Skies? Blind Passengers Sue United

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Unfriendly Skies? Blind Passengers Sue United

Unfriendly Skies? Blind Passengers Sue United

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

But as Amy Standen from member station KQED reports, the kiosks aren't the only obstacle.

AMY STANDEN: Mike May lives in Davis, California. He says air travel is full of hassles for blind people.

STANDEN: Something as simple as wanting to know which gate your flight is at.

STANDEN: Sighted people can glance up and see that information on digital billboards. But Mike May has to ask someone. Same goes for those check-in kiosks that more and more airlines are using these days.

STANDEN: There's no earphone jack, no audio output, no Braille output.

STANDEN: Often that means May has to find a stranger with time to help, and then hand over his credit card and other private information.

STANDEN: It's demeaning to have to ask. It's inconvenient. And it has an element of not being safe to have to depend on another person for that.

STANDEN: But for blind travelers, the problems start even before they get to the airport, says Jonathan Lazar, who teaches computer science at Towson University in Maryland. Recently he took a close look at the websites of 10 leading airlines. He found that four of them, including United, are inaccessible to blind people. Meaning, the sites are incompatible with the screen readers that blind people use to surf the Web. So, for those airlines, blind people have to buy their tickets by phone.

P: More than one third of the time, they wound up overcharging blind people. Either quoting higher fares, or refusing to waive the call center fee, or both.

STANDEN: On an inaccessible website, a blind person, using a screen reader, might hear something like this.

P: Image. Image. Image. Or 153585293-dot-jpg. Basically, garbled junk.

STANDEN: On an accessible site, blind people hear descriptions that make sense to them. Same goes for handheld devices. Take the IPhone.

C: Phone, design, mail, iPod. Double tap.

STANDEN: All it takes is a quick change in settings to make an iPhone or iPad blind accessible. Every time your finger touches something...

C: Facebook: One new item...

STANDEN: ...the device tells you what it is, which by the way, takes some getting used to.

C: Double tap: Facebook. Facebook. Face - Facebook.

STANDEN: For NPR News, I'm Amy Standen.

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