National Federation of the Blind pushes Apple to add accessibility requirements for apps [U]

Posted:
in iPhone edited June 2015
Members of the National Federation of the Blind have approved a resolution that will have the advocacy group, which successfully sued Apple over iTunes in 2008, begin a new campaign designed to convince the iPhone maker to consider accessibility when approving apps for sale in the App Store.

A trio of accessibility apps available for iOS, including BrailleTouch, Color Identifier, and Light Detector
A trio of accessibility apps available for iOS, including BrailleTouch, Color Identifier, and Light Detector


While the resolution -- which was approved during last week's NFB convention in Orlando, Fla. -- does not call for a repeat of the 2008 litigation that saw Apple pay $250,000 and overhaul iTunes's accessibility features as part of a settlement, Reuters notes that some of the organization's members view such an action as inevitable if Apple fails to implement new accessibility requirements.

"It's time for Apple to step up or we will take the next step," NFB of California board member Michael Hingson told the news service. Hingson said another lawsuit would be "the only resort" to force compliance.

Update: Reuters has corrected its report to note that the NFB did not actually file a lawsuit against Apple in 2008. Further, NFB president Mark A. Riccobono has since issued a statement detailing the actual focus of its resolution and noting that "The issues raised in the resolution are not new."

Riccobono added, "I thought the chatter around the resolution would fade away until some media reports made inaccurate assertions about the resolution, its content, and what actions the NFB will take to carry it out. Many of these inaccurate assertions have been fueled by a provocative and poorly reported article from the Reuters news service, linked here only for reference.

Reuters has already been forced to correct the article because it reported, inaccurately, that the National Federation of the Blind once brought suit against Apple, Inc. This never happened, although a demand letter was sent regarding the accessibility of iTunes and iTunes U, and the Massachusetts Attorney General opened an investigation. Those actions resulted in a voluntary agreement with Apple that was a significant step in getting us the accessibility we experience today."


Apple has made a number of accessibility improvements in recent years, and iOS devices are often described by visually- and hearing-impaired people as having brought dramatic improvements to their quality of life. The company recently featured deaf travel writer Cherie King in an iPad advertisement detailing the tablet's ability to help her travel independently and communicate around the world, for instance.

"My iPad lets me share my journey with the world," King is quoted as saying. "Other deaf people tell me they're traveling more now because they see it's possible."

Blind advocates -- who acknowledge Apple's contributions with features like VoiceOver and the forthcoming screen reading options in iOS 8 -- say the company has not done enough to encourage third-party app makers to follow suit, however. Apps from companies including Bank of America, Southwest Airlines, and Netflix are cited as lacking basic accessibility features like button labels that can be read aloud by VoiceOver, degrading the experience.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 95
    I get why they would want apps to be accessible, but with the number of apps available, I find it difficult to picture how this would work. If it is simply buttons being VoiceOver accessible, I guess that would be a step in their direction. Yet, without wanting to be insensitive, no one is forcing anyone to use an iPhone, so if it doesn't work for you, don't use it.
  • Reply 2 of 95
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,522member
    What law has apple violated here? Why not sue the app maker? Why not sue google?

    I'm all for greater accessibility, but I don't quite understand this story...
  • Reply 3 of 95
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    Perhaps compliant apps could be "tagged" or given their own section (if they aren't already)?

    To be fair, it is completely the developer's choice to spend the additional time to include accessibility features. If they choose to not spend the additional effort, that's on them.

    On the other hand, I'm sure if lawsuits were filed against banks, the banks would lose and have to spend the extra dev time to bring their apps up to speed.
  • Reply 4 of 95
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,522member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post



    Perhaps compliant apps could be "tagged" or given their own section (if they aren't already)?



    To be fair, it is completely the developer's choice to spend the additional time to include accessibility features. If they choose to not spend the additional effort, that's on them.



    On the other hand, I'm sure if lawsuits were filed against banks, the banks would lose and have to spend the extra dev time to bring their apps up to speed.

    I don't know what laws are in play here. But I would think that if Apple has to do this, then every other company that sells commercial software would have to do it. And so far as I know, that's not the case. 

     

    I wonder if the NFB knows their lawsuit threat is bs, but is just trying to use public pressure on Apple. If so, I think that's a pretty bad strategy. 

  • Reply 5 of 95
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    blastdoor wrote: »
    I don't know what laws are in play here. But I would think that if Apple has to do this, then every other company that sells commercial software would have to do it. And so far as I know, that's not the case. 

    I wonder if the NFB knows their lawsuit threat is bs, but is just trying to use public pressure on Apple. If so, I think that's a pretty bad strategy. 

    I suppose if a business/service already had a web site that was compliant, they'd have no real excuse for not doing the same with their app, but I believe compliance is still 100% voluntary.

    Perhaps we can get some blind or disabled folks or maybe a lawyer to weigh in with their opinions here?
  • Reply 6 of 95
    toysandmetoysandme Posts: 243member
    Apple ought to be sued for not including coloured visual notification lights deaf AND NON-DEAF people can use to see if they missed messages etc.
  • Reply 7 of 95
    This happened a few days ago (if you are curious, follow the #a11y hashtag on twitter). Although NFB came out with this resolution, a few blind / vision impaired people I follow, were sharing their disgust on how NFB ended up biting the only hand that feeds (or in this case, "enables" people with disabilities).

    Here's an audio boo clip of one who felt so disgusted that he recorded it https://audioboo.fm/boos/2305608-go-pick-on-someone-who-needs-it-nfb-nfb14

    What no one seems to know, is why NFB doesn't apply the same standards for other platforms (Android, Windows phone etc)?
  • Reply 8 of 95
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,556member
    Why not go after Google and Microsoft? On Android most apps are so badly designed its hard to use them when you can see them, let alone when you can't.
  • Reply 9 of 95
    tontontonton Posts: 14,067
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by toysandme View Post



    Apple ought to be sued for not including coloured visual notification lights deaf AND NON-DEAF people can use to see if they missed messages etc.

    What I'd love to see for deaf people, and everyone else (sighted) for that matter, is a voice-to-text function that can turn voice messages into readable text. Apple already has the technology for this through Siri and dictation software. All they have to do is make it work with voice messages.

  • Reply 10 of 95
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    blastdoor wrote: »
    What law has apple violated here? Why not sue the app maker? Why not sue google?

    I'm all for greater accessibility, but I don't quite understand this story...

    I don't understand their position here either. Like you I believe accessibility is important but there are limits. What is perplexing here is that not all app developers have the resources to add support for the blind, saddling all developers with this sort of requirement would really cool development of apps for iOS.

    What is worst here is that some apps would never have a rational purpose for the blind. Does Angery Birds need need to support the blind? I just see this as foolish as not every app has a rational use case for the blind so why place universal requirements on all apps ?

    As some one else mentioned go after the app developer.
  • Reply 11 of 95
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,522member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post





    I suppose if a business/service already had a web site that was compliant, they'd have no real excuse for not doing the same with their app, but I believe compliance is still 100% voluntary.



    Perhaps we can get some blind or disabled folks or maybe a lawyer to weigh in with their opinions here?

    I actually am borderline legally blind. Apple's products have made the world much more easy to access for me. it is one of many reasons why I'm a loyal Apple customer. 

     

    But I don't know the ins and outs of the law well enough to understand how NFB has a basis for a lawsuit here. 

     

    Also, on the face of it, it seems unfair to target Apple rather than other firms that have done far less than Apple for accessibility. 

     

    edit --

     

    another thought that just occurred to me is that accessibility is a pretty big deal in public education, which is a key market for apple. I would think that the NFB would have better luck appealing to Apple's desire to continue dominating that market, and instead of threatening the stick of a lawsuit, offer a carrot of providing some kind of strong endorsement of Apple products in education if Apple does x, y, and z. 

  • Reply 12 of 95
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    blastdoor wrote: »
    I actually am borderline legally blind. Apple's products have made the world much more easy to access for me. it is one of many reasons why I'm a loyal Apple customer. 

    But I don't know the ins and outs of the law well enough to understand how NFB has a basis for a lawsuit here. 

    Also, on the face of it, it seems unfair to target Apple rather than other firms that have done far less than Apple for accessibility. 

    edit --

    another thought that just occurred to me is that accessibility is a pretty big deal in public education, which is a key market for apple. I would think that the NFB would have better luck appealing to Apple's desire to continue dominating that market, and instead of threatening the stick of a lawsuit, offer a carrot of providing some kind of strong endorsement of Apple products in education if Apple does x, y, and z. 

    Interesting. I hadn't considered the education angle.
  • Reply 13 of 95
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,425moderator
    There are none so blind as those who will not see. In this case, the NFB.
  • Reply 14 of 95
    wigbywigby Posts: 692member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by tonton View Post

     

    What I'd love to see for deaf people, and everyone else (sighted) for that matter, is a voice-to-text function that can turn voice messages into readable text. Apple already has the technology for this through Siri and dictation software. All they have to do is make it work with voice messages.


    I think the visual voicemail is something that can only go on at the carrier end. Not sure if Apple can do anything about that currently.

  • Reply 15 of 95
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 5,029member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post



    What law has apple violated here? Why not sue the app maker? Why not sue google?



    I'm all for greater accessibility, but I don't quite understand this story...

    They have not broken any laws, this group is using a very broad definition of the ADA (American's with Disability Act) which is for things like all public places mush have a wheel chair ramp or handicap accessible toilet. This group does what is known as a drive by lawsuit. These group get funds by suing anyone they can by claiming they violated the ADA. Usually have to prove a person who is protected by the ADA was not accommodated by the company to win. Most time these types of groups go after small businesses by driving by and noticing that may not have one of the accommodation and sue them since it hard to prove that the ADA protect person was not discriminated against and it is too costly to fight an ADA case.

     

    In the case of Apple they are not claiming Apple did anything wrong but the developers who make the apps, they are forcing apple to put in policies which would require any app being sold in the app store to provide accessibility features. Again it would be hard for them to go after each and every developer since they would have to prove how the developer discriminated against an ADA person. In spite of what they said they want to work with Apple, it will end in a lawsuit which they will get money from.

     

    Imagine this group going after Walmart and saying that are require to ensure that every produce placed on their shelves accommodated an ADA person. It is not Walmart's responsibility, nor is it Apple Responsibility to make sure app developers provide solutions for ADA protecting individuals.

     

    When the ADA was passed it was for people in wheel chairs and blind people, today this include drug addicts and Alcoholics and a whole list of various issues like depression. You can image the things a developer maybe force to do to accommodate all these special people.

  • Reply 16 of 95
    ralphmouthralphmouth Posts: 192member

    Apple needs to update their developer UI guidelines for accessibility of the disabled. Not every company especially indie ones can hire experts in this area.

  • Reply 17 of 95
    tzeshantzeshan Posts: 2,351member

    US is becoming crazy nation.  How much can a blind person use a smartphone?  How much can external organization dictate a company to design its product?  If iPhone is a monopoly, this may make some sense.  But but Google Android is dominating Apple iOS.  Isn't this a fact by all kinds of media reports? 

  • Reply 18 of 95
    ralphmouthralphmouth Posts: 192member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tzeshan View Post

     

    US is becoming crazy nation.  How much can a blind person use a smartphone?  How much can external organization dictate a company to design its product?  If iPhone is a monopoly, this may make some sense.  But but Google Android is dominating Apple iOS.  Isn't this a fact by all kinds of media reports? 


     

    Obvious comment by someone who does not have family members or friends who are disabled... Blind people can and want to use smartphones but the problem is that the current UI is not accessible to them. It's a chicken and egg problem.

  • Reply 19 of 95
    tzeshantzeshan Posts: 2,351member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by RalphMouth View Post

     

     

    Obvious comment by someone who does not have family members or friends who are disabled... Blind people can and want to use smartphones but the problem is that the current UI is not accessible to them. It's a chicken and egg problem.


    OK I find a person that is willing to discuss the details.  Please tell us how much a blind person can use a smartphone.  Can he use FB app?  Can he use weather app? 

  • Reply 20 of 95
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,890member
    Did the NFB pass a resolution prompting Google to comply? After all Android is "winning." Apple has done more for accessibility than other phone software/hardware companies.
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