Many of you will not be surprised to learn that I disagree with all the sentiments expressed so far about the place of accessibility in today's technological world. Please know that, while vigorous, my disagreement is intended to be respectful. :-)
I believe that nonvisual accessibility is nothing more or less than a human right. We must have accessibility in order to be fully included in society. Equal accessibility to technology is crucial in order to live, learn, work and otherwise participate in today's world. I believe this need for accessibility as a human right applies to everything, including Apple and its third-party app developers.
In light of this viewpoint regarding accessibility, It's no wonder that I do think, in fact, that we VoiceOver users are getting the short end of the stick. iOS 8 hit the street with severe VoiceOver-related bugs that went unresolved for months. Many third-party app developers continue to exclude blind VoiceOver users in spite of our ongoing requests to improve accessibility.
Is Apple doing the best accessibility job of all technology companies right now? The answer is an unqualified "yes!" Of course, we should be thankful to Apple for its ongoing accessibility efforts. But, should we just be grateful for any scrap of access we get? Heck no!
I’d like to see Apple take accessibility from a nice-to-have product feature to a state of full inclusion. Specifically, I’d like to see Apple making accessibility bugs a higher priority during alpha and beta testing of its operating systems and I’d very much like to see Apple taking more serious steps to urge third-party app developers to incorporate accessibility into their products.
Excruciatingly slow on-screen keyboard input and broken web browsing certainly would not be tolerated by sighted iOS users for six months, so why should similar issues with Braille displays and VoiceOver in Safari have to be acceptable to us?
I would like to ask that Apple make sure to include employees with disabilities in the quality-assurance portions of their development processes, so that critical accessibility bugs do not so easily find their way into released products.
With respect to third-party developers, at a bare minimum, I would very much like to see Apple include an accessibility rating in the iOS and Mac app stores. Moving forward, I would like to see accessibility becoming a requirement that is phased in by app category. While there is little reason for business or productivity apps to remain inaccessible, it may be understandable for some drawing, game or photo apps. If an app developer does not submit an accessible app, I would like to see Apple return an initial denial that invites the developer to explain why the app can’t be made accessible. If the developer provides such an explanation, Apple should reserve the right to make useful suggestions that should be attempted before re-evaluating the app. Of course, these requirements should be applied both to brand-new apps and all subsequent updates.
I firmly believe that, if Apple took these steps, we would be seeing a huge improvement in the overall accessibility of iOS and Mac OS, and we would see a significant increase in the number of accessible apps in very short order.
In our advocacy with Apple and with third-party developers, I believe we can and should act with respect and professionalism, while not accepting the short end of the stick. Let’s frequently file bug reports and make support requests, tracking and reporting the results of each contact.
I have a couple of ideas that may help us move forward in a constructive manner:
1. How about forming a team of blind registered Apple developers who officially beta test and work together to report and track bugs with iOS and Mac OS?
2. How about we establish weekly strategy conference calls to discuss ways to effectively advocate?
Let’s all please keep in mind that, while we certainly must be polite and respectful when advocating, we also need to expect the professionalism and respect that comes from the other party’s serious consideration of our need for full inclusion through equal accessibility.
I hope this is helpful to some of you, and that there would be some interest in proactive advocacy. Please comment in this post or email me directly at Darrell (at) blindaccessjournal (dot) com.