App accessibility bites Apple?

Apple Core


Once upon a time Apple was considered a pioneer in accessibility issues. More recently however, they’ve had a checkered record with accessibility, lurching alternatively from innovation to neglect.

Apple (and to a lesser extent Google) is under fire from disability groups for lax accessibility standards on its App store. While Apple itself has made significant strides to make both its desktop and mobile software more accessible, third party software on the app store is much more messy.

One could argue that it’s not Apple’s (or for that matter Google’s) responsibility to enforce accessibility guidelines on third party developers and that advocacy groups campaigning for better app accessibility should complain to individual vendors.

However, given Apple’s stringent approval guidelines and policing of other criteria such as banning crude or objectionable content or apps that too closely mimic features of Apple software, an argument could be made that they include accessibility considerations in the process.

From the article:

Apple hasn’t been a steady champion. In 2008, the National Federation of the Blind sent a demand letter to Apple even as the Massachusetts attorney general began an investigation into the accessibility of iTunes. Apple eventually agreed to pay US$250,000 and add captions and other accessibility improvements to iTunes. Since then it has added more such features to its iPhone, iPod, iPad and Apple TV products.

Now, Apple and Google both have developer guidelines on how to make features accessible, such as labeling buttons that can be read by Apple’s VoiceOver software.

But they don’t require accessibility, in contrast to other strictly enforced rules, such as a ban on apps that present crude or objectionable content. Nor do they offer an accessibility rating system, which some disabled advocates say would be a big help.

That is where the new debate starts: should the blind return to court for protection they believe is guaranteed by law, or nudge their old ally to work harder? Should they pursue app makers, as some lawyers have, or Apple and Google?

Given Apple’s track record, accessibility advocates should forget half-measures and “lawyer up”.

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