National Federation of the Blind Presses Apple for Accessibility Standards in App Store

With a worldwide market of 1.1 billion people with disabilities, the next major step from Apple would be to create and enforce accessibility standards, according to the National Federation of the Blind, Reuters reports.

Accessibility

In fact, Apple – alongside Google, Twitter, and other tech companies – has taken steps to accommodate users with impairments in recent years, but the most visible ones were made after the company faced a lawsuit over the accessibility of iTunes back in 2008. Apple settled the lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind by paying $250,000 and added accessibility improvements to iTunes. Since then, it has added more such features to its product, but there is a major issue: there are 1.2 million apps in the App Store, but not all are optimized for users with impairments.

Problems on apps begin with unlabeled buttons, which can’t be read by the machine. New features and graphics can be particularly challenging, and many companies upgrade an app, before bringing their accessibility features up to date in a follow-up release. The result is unexpected, dramatic changes in usability.

This is exactly what the National Federation of the Blind wants to get fixed, but they have yet to decide whether they should use a stick or a carrot to get this done. Apple currently has developer guidelines on how to make features accessible, such as labeling buttons, so that they can be read by Apple’s VoiceOver software, but they don’t demand accessibility, and neither does Google.

“It’s time for Apple to step up or we will take the next step,” said Michael Hingson, board member for the National Association of the Blind’s California chapter, describing litigation as “the only resort” if Apple did not bring accessibility requirements to the app store.

The Reuters article points to positive examples of how things can be changed, such as Uber and Twitter apps, and to apps that members of the National Association of the Blind struggle with, such as Bank of America, TuneIn, Mint, Netflix, etc.

Technology enthusiast, rocker, biker and writer of iPhoneinCanada.ca. Follow me on Twitter or contact me via email: istvan@iphoneincanada.ca

  • Jay

    Am I the only one who doesn’t get why a blind person would:
    A) Get an iphone (or any touchscreen phone for that matter)
    B) Care about voiceover in an app
    ?

  • Brian Moore

    As a completely blind Iphone user, I use my touch screen phone all the time to do everything from my work phone which is an app, to gps, to ebook reading and lots of other things.

    Sure, there are lots of apps which are not accessible with voice over. Some of them I would even really like to use. However, there are several problems with this resolution.

    1. it is a double standard. At least apple has integrated a completely usable screen reader into their products. while google has a screen reader for android, it is not nearly as well developed.
    2. there are no standards for google either but no one is pressuring them into compliance. voice over is well documented on apple’s web site as well as other places. Good luck finding documentation for talk back. You might if you try really hard but it will be commentary from users on mailing lists which are archived and will contradict itself several times.

    3. Apple has done the work to make developers aware of the steps required to make their apps accessible by documenting those parts of the apis really well. No such luck with google.
    4. some apps, by their very design, are completely visual in nature and to make them accessible would require significantly changing their functionality
    In my interactions with developers, I have found that asking for what I want or need and explaining some of how to make that happen goes a lot further than threats of legal action. that has its place too but it isn’t here. Many apps are made by a single person working out of their basement.

    I think this will ultimately breed more resentment than get the functionality that this org hopes for.

  • Patrick

    Do you know what VoiceOver is? If you don’t, it’s a feature built into iOS and OS X that speaks aloud what’s on the screen. In the case of a touch screen, it reads what the user is touching and modifies behavior so that, for example, instead of tapping a control once to activate it, VoiceOver will read the text of the control when it is touched, and double tapping it will activate the control. It’s a bit more complex than that but it has basically turned the iPhone from something completely unusable by the blind to pretty much the most accessible phone out there.

  • einsteinbqat

    1. What phone would you suggest them buying? Just because you are visually impaired does not mean that you completely blind and see black all! That is quite an important misconception!

    2. Did you read the article? It clearly have you an example:

    “Problems on apps begin with unlabeled buttons, which can’t be read by the machine. New features and graphics can be particularly challenging, and many companies upgrade an app, before bringing their accessibility features up to date in a follow-up release. The result is unexpected, dramatic changes in usability.”

    How can the voice over read unlabelled objects?!

  • Jay

    I would suggest they get a phone with the 0-9 keys and use it for calling people, why do they need a 900$ phone when they cant see whats on it or use half the features?

    I suppose it could be useful for Siri, the person could ask questions and get information rather well but I don’t believe they would use very many apps that don’t have siri integration….. so like any apps really.

    Which brings us to the second point, that example simply states how problems arise with usability in an app update but I’m questioning the usefulness of the usability options in the first place.

  • SV650

    Why shouldn’t a visually impaired person purchase any phone they wish? An iPhone has many features which make it far more valuable than a dumb phone to a person with poor eyesight. In addition to all the voice technology, the content of the screen can be magnified, the camera can be used to enlarge menu or other text. GPS or iBeacon technology can be used to place an individual. The possibilities are endless. Close your eyes and use your imagination!

  • Earle

    I am totally blind and have been using an iPhone since 2009. I happily use it on a daily basis and use a wide range of apps. Some apps I use are: Foursquare, Google Maps, ScotiaBank, Twitter, Facebook, Dice World and Paypal. This is just a small sampling of the apps I use. There are many reasons a blind or visually impaired person would want an iPhone. In my opinion, the iPhone is the most accessible phone on the market today. I believe the National Federation for the Blind is going about this all wrong though. Apple has done so much to make their own products and apps accessible. I don’t understand why they are targeting Apple specifically. What about Microsoft, and Google? Why pick on a company that is already doing so much to make their offerings accessible? I think this makes the NFB look bad. I’m glad I’m Canadian and not a member of that organization. They are making blind and visually impaired people look like a bunch of whiners and complainers. I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement, but this definitely isn’t they way to go about it in my opinion.