National Federation of the Blind wants to work with Apple on accessibility

A couple of days ago I wrote about Apple and accessibility, and the work they've done not only implementing but promoting accessibility — or better put, inclusivity. The same day an article from Reuters hit the wires that managed to mangle the story of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). It was unfortunate, but it has given the NFB a chance to tell it again, tell it directly, and hopefully to reach even more people. From the NFB blog:

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon Apple to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create and enforce policies, standards, and procedures to ensure the accessibility of all apps, and to ensure that accessibility is not lost when an app is updated.

Apple is singled out, probably, because they're the industry leader. Just like the environmental movements and others have singled out Apple in the past. It's the equal and opposite reaction to the headlines Apple gets when a new iPhone or iPad is launched.

The idea is, where Apple goes, so goes the rest of the industry. That's worked in the past at motivating Apple, because the people at Apple seem to care deeply about issues just like this. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell if it's motivated anyone beyond Apple.

Rather than seeing the attention Apple gets as a competitive challenge, some competitors see it as competitive advantages — something that lets them save time and money by ignoring things while all eyes are on Apple.

I think it'd be hard to argue, however, that Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Samsung, Amazon and any and everyone else with skin in the platform game should be and has to be part of the discussion. For accessibility and inclusivity to be real, it can't depend on any one vendor.

Some customers will choose to use Android or ChomeOS, TouchWiz or Sense, Windows or Windows Phone, FireOS or BB10 — shouldn't they be able to experience the same level of support that OS X and iOS users enjoy? Better even, if they can?

The second part is harder to unpack. The NFB calls for policies, standards, and procedures, and the enforcement thereof. What does enforcement mean? Should apps be rejected from the App Store, Google Play Store, or Windows Phone Store if they fail accessibility, the same way they would if they crashed on launch? If so, which accessibility technologies should be enforced? What kind of team or teams would be needed to review them?

If not outright rejection, then should non-accessible, non-inclusive apps be excluded from featured promotions on the various app stores? Would loss of such an important marketing opportunity incentivize developers to make accessibility and inclusivity a priority? Or, if a carrot works better than a stick, could accessible, inclusive apps be included in special promotions, with dedicated sections, badges, indicators, awards, and other forms of recognition?

If we push down to the developer level, should dedicated advisors, evangelists, "kitchens" and other workshops, code and design reviews, and consulting resources and services be made available, or perhaps even be subsidized by the platform owners?

Should peer and customer pressure be applied, with non-accessible, non-inclusive apps receiving the same kind of scorn as those with horrible visual design or terrible interactivity?

That's a lot of questions. I ask them because I don't know the answers. Maybe there are no easy answers to know, at least not yet. I think the NFB understands the complexities and nuances involved far, far better than most, and even they used the language "work with", because there's a lot of work to be done.

Accessibility and inclusivity, after all, don't just mean making an iPhone or iPad or Mac that can be used by the blind or the deaf, the motor impaired or those with autism, the very, very young or the very, very old, the absolute beginner or the person for whom technology still feels like a challenge even after decades.

It means making an iPhone or iPad or Mac that can be used by everyone. And an Android or ChromeOS device, and a Windows or BlackBerry device. All of them. Everyone.

Give the NFB resolution a read and then let me know — what do you think?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Before I make my comment, let me be clear. I am visually impaired, and love my apple products because of the accessibility they offer. I just don't want this "involvement" by the NFB to raise the prices or cost of the apps to higher than they need to be. I donut this is a real issue, but still. I don't want apps that a totally blind person most likely would not be interested in, say an app for 3d printing or other graphically intensive app, to have to wait for 3 months or longer so that voice can be added to the interface. Again, I am a visually impaired user myself. I am not against the blind getting better service in any way.
  • That's an interesting point! I guess one of the lines of thought is that apps that don't need to do custom interface could stick with UIKit and get the accessibility "for free" as long as they care enough to label things properly?
  • The NFB is probably calling out Apple as they are the market leader. Alas it seems Apple only responds when it comes to legal threats, as it worked for the NFB in the past, and will probably lead down the same road in the future. You think Apple would just work with this group and avoid the bad press (at the same time someone should ask these guys why they are only focusing on Apple).
  • Am I the only one seeing the irony here? Android has 80% market share (or so they claim) yet the organization chooses to go after a company with "minority market share" because they deem it to be the most influential and capable of effecting real and meaningful change. I guess there is some truth to claims that apple devices simply get used more. Sent from the iMore App
  • The N in NFB stands for national not international, meaning US only. In the US, Android has about an 50% share (not quite as dominating as you believe it to be), while Apple has about a 40% share (not quite the minority you claim them to be either) Also note that the usage share among the visually impaired could be vastly different based on the NFBs own research.
  • People don't actually give a crap about market share. It's meaningless. Apple makes the majority of the profit in the industry, and thus have the most in the fight. They're also pretty good when it comes to accessibility already, this is just name dropping Apple to get attention for their cause. Not a terrible thing, but it's little more than spinning wheels.
  • I still don't think it would be right to force accessibility in every App. Incentivize if you want, create a whole category and market for it even. Require Apps that obtain Accessibility Certification stamp to adhere to strict standards. OK. Then those that want to focus on that market can create some great apps.. otherwise, we'll end up with middle of the road, just so we can get published, devs.. I can see prices going up for Accessibility apps.. I think it would be worse though if it was forced on all Apps.. Plus.. what apps, ALL? Games too? how? are there exclusions? Why? Forcing it causes WAAAY to many issues. You can't just add 'audio to text' like you can for movies and say it's good. A 'standard' on the UI only can go so far. As a newbe to being a dev, I've not the resources nor the skills to include such things. Suddenly I'd have a huge hurdle for market entry just to understand accessibility... We don't include lifts in all cars ... we cannot, and shouldn't. Same with Apps.. Some want that market, others don't..
  • Well, there's also a touch of - I hate to say it this way - absurdism in the idea that all instruments can be operated by all persons just by adding "more accessibility." There comes a point where a touch-only device is not a good choice for an individual. Impaired vision and motor disability can be accounted for, but things like that are best handled by the OS. Magnified views and altering the touch pressure threshold required to activate a control, your app would never need to know.
  • Regardless of the market share (ms) held by Apple, including or expanding accessibility options on their apps and devices can potentially expand the ms significantly. The total numbers of people with disabilities in the United States is in the several millions. Our Constitution reads: "All men are created equal...". This includes those with disabilities. I personally believe that all products should strive to include everybody, especially those with disabilities. All companies should do reasonable effort for the inclusion of all people when developing products. Thanks.