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Comics Empower is an audio comic store for the blind and or the visually impaired. The idea behind the Comics Empower store is to provide audio versions of comic books, much like Graphic Audio. The main difference is that Graphic Audio adapts and dramatizes comic books whereas Comics Empower provides a panel by panel description so the listener knows what’s in every comic. Comics Empower puts the blind first, and this has been illustrated, yet again, in a recent site update that puts the sighted in a dependent situation, requiring the aid of a blind person using a screen reader.
Comics Empower have redesigned their website so the blind and visually impaired using screen readers like NVDA or JAWS can have an advantage over sighted people. When a sighted person visits the Comics Empower website they will see a black webpage and hear a bit of introductory audio. This is a rare flip of the accessibility conversation. Typically, the blind must ask sighted people for help on inaccessible websites but now the sighted are at a disadvantage, something that the designers were fully aware of when making these changes to the website.
On the only page that sighted people can read, the message is very clear about their reasons and intensions. They write, “You know how when you walk into a comic book store, all the new issues are spread out on the walls or the shelves? Well, when a blind person walks in, she or he can’t see anything.
The experience in Comics Empower, the comic book store for the blind, is reversed: The blind can see everything on the page and you can’t see anything.
By doing this, we hope to raise awareness about the blind or visually impaired’s experience in comic books. And here we plan to change that experience.”
At the bottom of the page, it reveals an adaptive way for sighted people to look at the website. This method perfectly illustrates the way the blind and visually impaired have to adapt, using adaptive methods and tools to access the information. Sighted people will soon understand that this isn’t the best solution, but that’s the entire point. They are supposed to notice that it’s not an ideal solution.
Sighted people can select all the text on every page that they cannot read and navigate using this method. At the time of this writing, there isn’t a link or an easy way to make the text visible to sighted people without having to look for a solution and problem solve, which, of course, mirrors the adaptive technology landscape perfectly.
Many sites do not demonstrate why accessibility is important in such a meaningful way. Comics Empower have taken accessibility and demonstrated its importance with a simple color scheme. This will definitely raise awareness to the sighted and the blind alike. It may also encourage web developers to stop and think about the benefits of web access, as well. The developer of the website said in an email that the design is here to stay because it promotes awareness. The goal is not to make it harder on everyone to browse the store but to place the sighted in the adaptive world, for a change.