FEMA to Mac, Linux users: drop dead

A stupid usability flaw in the FEMA website is causing frustration for some of the Hurricane Katrina survivors fortunate enough to have computer and internet access. Bottom line: if you're not using Windows + IE, it appears that you won't be able to file a disaster assistance claim on Fema.gov. At MacInTouch, Gary Mullins says:

My 90-year old mother sat out Katrina in her brother's home next door in Diamondhead, MS, about eight miles from the Mississippi coast where the hurricane's eye hit. They survived without injury but with massive destruction to their homes, and my mother has lost most of her possesions.

I brought her to my home in California yesterday and this morning went to the FEMA website to register to start the assistance process.

To my dismay, our Federal emergency agency requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, and only IE 6, to use the website for disaster assistance. I don't want to be political about this, but this smacks of a serious leadership failure that the use of the Internet is reserved for only the Windows community. I will reserve my opinion of the administration for the op-ed pages, but I want to vent my dismay about this to the rest of the Mac community. I hope other Mac users let their political reps, newspapers and other media know of this marginalization. […]

MacInTouch Contributor Todd Del Priore adds:

FEMA's website for disaster registration requires:

"In order to use this site, you must have JavaScript Enabled and Internet Explorer version 6. Download it from Microsoft or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to register."

I tried the latest Safari, IE and Firefox, none work. Heaven help all the Mac users in the South… assuming they have power.

(thanks, pesco)

Update: Good news! Hurricane survivors who've lost everything, but who've managed to obtain access to a connected Mac or Linux workstation, MIGHT be able to file claims at Fema.gov IF they install some fancy schmantzy hypergalactic extensions to their browsermajiggie thing. Barbara Bush asks, hey, what else are they gonna do with all that free time?

Boing Boing reader Chris Packham explains:

I was able to access FEMA's web form using Firefox and OS X, after installing the User Agent Switcher extension, and setting it to Internet Explorer 6 (Windows XP). I tested the site with Safari, first; they have a Bot filter screen that asks you to manually type in the deformed letters from an onscreen graphic, after which I was warned that I had to be using IE 6 w/ Javascript. Using Firefox with the User Agent Switcher extension, I actually got through to the application area of the FEMA website. I stopped there, so no guarantee that the site will work correctly beyond that point, but it seems OK. Having said all that, I do agree that it's outrageous for such an important government website to buck standards compliance. User Agent Switcher available here: Link

Reader Comment: An anonymous reader says,

What's worse than a FEMA site that's not Mac compatible? How about a bureaucratic Catch-22? the call to the FEMA number does not open a claim; it results in a package containing the claim form being mailed to the address of the evacuee. Since the evacuee is in a shelter, mail service has been suspended in many of the hardest hit areas and some of the homes are likely still under water, it seems clear that those claim forms won't be mailed back any time soon. Link

Reader Comment: Michael Dalling says,

Chris Packham's interesting comment read: "… they have a Bot filter screen that asks you to manually type in the deformed letters from an onscreen graphic"

In other words, if you're blind you can forget it. I mean, really, anti-spam measures like this are acceptable on personal sites, but a government site should be available to all.

I noticed that Chris got through by spoofing the user agent in Firefox. It is possible for Mac users to do this, too, with the
default browser. You do this by enabling the Debug menu in Safari.

First, quit Safari. Next, open Terminal, which is in –


– and type this:

defaults write com.apple.Safari IncludeDebugMenu -boolean true

The Debug Menu will then appear on the Menu bar in Safari, and it has an option to spoof the user-agent string.

Reader Comment: Shawn Rider says,

I just tried [the FEMA claims registration website] in Opera, which by default identifies itself as IE6, and the site seems to work fine. This is a solution very similar to installing the FireFox extension, but if folks have Opera already installed, they can use it. Also, in the Opera preferences you can set it to identify as any browser you'd like, just for these reasons.

Reader Comment: anonymous says,

The browser requirement is, of course, a violation of the Section 508 regulations for accessibility and usability of US federal government websites. I'd suggest a complaint to the FEMA IG, but then there are better reasons to complain to the IG about the agency's inability to do its job.

Reader Comment: erich says,

Amusingly, this FEMA 508 accessibility statement page is linked from the bot filter screen. It describes how the FEMA is "committed to providing access to our web pages for individuals with disabilities," both public and government. "If you use assistive technology (such as a Braille reader, a screen reader, TTY, etc.) and the format of any material on our web sites interfere with your ability to access the information, please contact FEMAOPA@dhs.gov for assistance."