Biting the hand that feeds

Chris Hofstader writes about the seemingly mis-guided politics of the National Federation of the Blind — an advocacy group which is throwing it’s weight around with lawsuits in an effort to persuade large organisations to improve accessibility. One of their more recent targets has been Apple who, ironically, do more than any of their competitors:

Last July, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB)at its summer convention proposed a resolution “condemning and deploring” Apple for the sin of not requiring that everything sold in its app store be fully accessible. The NFB proposed a second resolution that said it was “frustrated” and “disappointed” with Apple’s not including accessibility requirements for its app store. The second resolution passed. While I agree that having such a requirement would be nice, Apple has done vastly more than its operating system rivals Google, Microsoft and all flavors of GNU/Linux to promote accessibility. Also, Google and Microsoft have their own app stores with no requirements for accessibility either.

Before I launch into the politics that seem to have led to the NFB resolution, I will provide a few examples that demonstrate Apple’s overwhelming lead in providing systems accessible to people with vision impairment. Since introducing VoiceOver, the utility people with print impairments use to hear the contents of the screen spoken or sent to a refreshable braille display, Apple has sold 100 million devices that are accessible to this community. Additionally, every product in an Apple retail store that has a user interface includes VoiceOver. A blind person can go to an Apple store and try out everything they sell except the iPod Classic which hasn’t had a software revision in a really long time. I can use any Macintosh, iPhone, iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, iPod Touch and more sold in the past few years without installing any extra software. Meanwhile, I would need to spend nearly $1000 extra to use Windows on a “standard” computer if I want to use the most popular screen access utility for that platform. Android from Google includes a screen access tool called “TalkBack” which is, in my educated opinion, years behind the out-of-the-box experience provided by Apple and the costly add-ons required by Windows.

This is one of the things which many people overlook with Apple’s operating system: the built-in accessibility features are years ahead of any other OS vendor, and are available out of the box. It’s a perfect example of the adaptive accessibility model I keep banging on about: a rich set of features, which are available to use by anybody, regardless of their ability. So I get quite disheartened when I read about Apple being slammed for poor accessibility.

The crux of the situation is best summed up by Chris’ comment:

While slamming Apple at their annual convention, they celebrated Google with lots of presentation slots for their Android system. As I wrote above, Android accessibility is poor at best but NFB probably got a fat contribution from Google and, as any advocate knows, money talks, accessibility walks.

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