Sunday, December 18, 2005

Accessibility Review: COMCAST 'Rhapsody' Media Player

The progress of Internet/IT companies in implementing 'Universal Design Principals' into products and services is not good. For some reason my former colleagues working at the forefront of technological change seem to lack any modicum of recognition of the accessibility requirements of disabled people.

I am reminded of comments made to me by venture capitalists [when I told them I was working on consumer products designed specifically for people with disabilities], "Oh, those people don't have any money." Despite facts indicating an enormous and growing market, these individuals would not be dissuaded in their belief.

That was 1990, but today surely companies are more aware of the need for 'Universal Design' in their products and services -- besides, the ADA and other regulations require companies to make sure their products have accessibility built-in. Things must have changed. Don't you believe it!

Today, companies introducing new products or services are no better at designing in accessibility than they were in the 1950's. Indeed, things have gotten much worse -- people used to be nice and many companies were known for caring about their customer’s satisfaction. Many years ago it was easy to contact a company to complain about a problem. Not so today.

In this age of unbridled greed and materialism anything goes and no manager is willing to be responsible for spending one dime on 'non-essential' requirements -- like accessibility for customers with disabilities. Despite our fine sounding laws and regulations there is no enforcement of accessibility requirements by government regulators -- making the 'digital divide' into an ever-widening canyon.

Enough pontificating! On with my review of yet another media player. As of this writing I have not yet found a truly accessible media player. They all seem to be inaccessible. I find this puzzling, as they didn't start out this way. I remember in the early 90's media applications were straightforward. It is also true that nobody was trying to build a proprietary business around such a function.

Here is an account of my recent experience with COMCAST 'Rhapsody'.

'Rhapsody' is the brand name of a new heavily advertised music service offered by COMCAST to their Internet ISP subscribers.

First off, it's advertised as 'FREE' so, call me stupid -- I assumed this to be true. After all, they offer precious little else to their cable modem subscribers -- other than a limited form of 'broadband' at a rather steep price (somewhat dependent on the customer's negotiating skills).

[In a subsequent post I write much more about Comcast’s on-going efforts to stifle all possible competition -- screwing subscribers and directly responsible for the USA being ranked #16, well behind other industrialized countries in terms of telecom infrastructure.]

I received an email from COMCAST inviting me to use this new 'Free' service and I decided to try it. I was hopeful that I would be able to use this service -- since I have eliminated all other music players previously.

As I mentioned earlier, all the music players I have tried thus far have been inaccessible. This access problem is their lack of accommodation of my vision impairment. I am unable to change their color schemes or, get them to work using the settings I have selected using either 'ZoomText 8.0'. Windows 'accessibility' settings are ignored.

In trying to work around such problems I find that, at best I am not able to use the application. At the worst, applications such as Apple QuickTime Player and Real Networks' RealPlayer both failed to function and screwed up my machine. The worst by far was the RealPlayer, which also installed unwanted applications with pop-ups and required hours to be spent, getting it off my system.

To add insult to injury I have never found any contacts that I might ask for help or, complain to about their product. More amazing to me is that they have virtually no reference to the terms 'accessibility’, in any of their help files or FAQs. I have spoken to other blind people who have confirmed that my experiences were the same as theirs -- and not due to 'operator error'.

I am therefore very reluctant to install any new media players and avoid RealPlayer content altogether (I usually write to anyone publishing exclusively with RealPlayer (asking for alternative formats like MP3), explaining the accessibility problem.

So there I was installing Rhapsody when it became apparent that 'Rhapsody' is a product of Real Networks. Immediately I was on guard and began scrutinizing the installation screens for the little checked boxes that would likely be there to make me install 'Real JukeBox' and other Real ‘flotsam’ ('RealSpam').

Very reluctantly I inched forward through the installation and soon found myself struggling through yet another inaccessible installation program.

At this point I realized there was faint hope that this player would be any different than its ‘Real’ parent. I knew then that I had kissed another frog!.

Sure enough, as Rhapsody was launched I was treated to a dazzling display of 'whiteness'! There were white menus with white text displayed on a white background. There was even little white 'tips' popping up to help me along my way...

In case you forgot or just ‘Googled’ in (maybe searching for ‘duck blinds'), I will point out I am visually impaired. Oh no! Yes, its true, and no big deal – I’m cool with it. I mention this because it is important to understand that I need contrast to help me see menus, controls and screen text.

Specifically, I need white text on a high contrast darker background. So simple. Strangely, the other monkeys, which I share this planet with, still think computers should look like 'paper'! IT'S NOT PAPER! It's more like a light bulb! Why would anyone intentionally choose to read text off a light bulb? For some really strange reason most all Internet applications developers are either totally inconsiderate or incredibly stupid!

Forgive my rant but as you get to know me you will realize I do get back on point -- eventually.

Anyway, I struggled to find any 'preferences' or ‘settings’, which might let me alter this crap thing's appearance.

Why do I even try? I also searched the Real Networks' website and related web postings -- hoping to learn how to change this things ways. No luck.

I next searched Real Networks for any and all possible human contacts (thinking that I might give their execs some pointers on accessibility.) There was none listed anywhere.

It's somewhat amusing that the super secret NSA's administrators are more accessible (seriously)!

Anyway, suffice it to say that I found this product to be REALCRAP! On top of that I discovered that in my ‘snow blind’ condition I apparently overlooked that my 'free' 14 day subscription. After the 14 days passed I was being charged a monthly $9.99 for this wonderful Rhapsody service!

This activated my sense of irony and I decided that these guys needed a 'wake up call'. I am reporting COMCAST’ failure to meet basic requirements for accessibility as provided in Section 255 of the Telecom Act.

Congratulations to all of you top secret morons at Real Networks! You’re this month’s winner of our ‘Inconsiderate Idiot Award!

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