Friday, 30 April 2021 06:30

Sight-impaired people hit as BoM blocks some textmode browsers

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Sight-impaired people hit as BoM blocks some textmode browsers Image by marcos101 from Pixabay

The Bureau of Meteorology has started blocking the text browsers lynx and w3m from accessing its website, preventing many sight-impaired readers from using the site.

Many sight-impaired readers use lynx and other text-based browsers and a speech-to-text engine like festival to read these pages.

Russell Coker, a senior developer with the Debian/GNU Linux distribution and a member of the Linux Users of Victoria mailing list, told iTWire that if lynx was blocked, then it would be difficult for about half the people using braille readers.

lynx forbidden

The initial page seen when lynx is used to access the BoM site.

The fact that lynx is being blocked was noticed by another LUV member, Tim Connors, on Tuesday, when he posted to the list, saying, "Seems a change was made this morning to block text mode browsers (along with curl and wget etc)."

Another text-based browser, w3m, also fails to bring up the site. But the site renders as it should when using links or elinks as it is sometimes known. All these three text-based browsers are available for use on Linux.

The error message that appears shortly after lynx is opened is: "Potential automated request detected! We are making changes to our website therefore web scraping is no longer supported. Please contact us by filling in the details at https://reg.bom.gov.au/screenscraper/screenscraper_enquiry_form/ and we will get in touch with you."

bom lynx two

The second screen that comes up when lynx is used.

The BoM's accessibility page provides an email address for sending one's details: contact details, the location of the page being accessed, operating system and browser version being used, any other software being used and the nature of the problem experienced.

But when Connors tried to email the BoM email address that was provided on this form, he found that it had been partially decommissioned.

iTWire contacted the BoM media people on Wednesday morning, outlining the issues. A reply, sent the same day, said: "thanks for your email this morning, we'll look into and come back to you as soon as we can." Since then there has been silence.

links bom

The textmode browser links appears to have no problem in accessing the BoM site. All screenshots taken by Sam Varghese on a PC running Debian/GNU Linux.

In a post to the LUV mailing list, Russell, a technology consultant, said that as per his records, the blocking had begun on or about 17 April. "They provided a link to apply for an exemption but didn't respond when I filled in that page" he added.

He told iTWire that for his own use he had configured some servers to reduce CPU intensive jobs when the weather was warm and the BoM was preventing him from doing this.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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