Blind, disabled Americans may have trouble accessing COVID-19 websites

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Michael Hingson is no stranger to overcoming adversity; he’s been blind his whole life and survived the attacks on September 1st, 2001.

“We had our offices on the 78th floor of tower one and we were there to do some sales seminars that day but somebody had different plans,” Hingson escaped with the help of his guide dog, Roselle.

Now, he’s the Chief Vision Officer for AccessiBe, a company aiming to make the entire internet accessible to people with a range of abilities.

“Uses artificial intelligence to look at the website and then it actually transmits to the browser rather than changing all the code on the website because we don’t have access to that code,” he explained.

As more pandemic information and test or vaccine scheduling websites have popped up, Hingson and Scott McCallum said, they’ve become less user friendly for people with disabilities.

“They haven’t been accessible, the websites have not been readily available,” Hingson said.

READ MORE: Where to find a vaccine in Washington state

“A lot of times it was pictures or it might’ve been graphs or tables, and the graphs and tables weren’t necessarily designed in an accessible format,” Scott McCallum added.

McCallum, Superintendent of the Washington School for the Blind and his staff were able to set up Blind COVID; a resource for vision impaired individuals in Washington.

The website is accessible and has numbers an individual can call if they’re having trouble getting a test or vaccine appointment.

“To really look for accessible sites whether it was testing or vaccines or access to the information, we wanted to make sure we were providing access to that information,” McCallum said.

The school was able to set up the website with funding from the Washington Department of Health.

KAPP KVEW tested out AccessiBe’s audit tool to see how accessible our COVID-19 websites are in the state.

Prep Mod appears to be user friendly and there is a number for assistance.

Both men hope website creators will take into account people with disabilities from now on.

“Maybe there’s a bright side and more people are aware now and there will be more intentionality behind peoples’ efforts to creating electronic media,” McCallum said.

The Blind COVID hotline is (360) 947-3330 and the hotline for Washington State vaccine scheduling is 1-800-525-0127.