The vibe was electric as Steve Jobs took the stage at a special press event called to unveil some “exciting news” pertaining to Apple’s highly-acclaimed and much discussed screen reading solution, Voiceover. The stage was covered with signage written in braille and many reporters and tech bloggers were in complete mystery as to what the big announcement would reveal.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was published on July 4th, 2011, which was prior to the public presentation of the finalized NFB resolution regarding Apple and accessibility. This post, by no means, reflects the actual resolution text, and therefore should not be interpreted as such. You can view all resolutions from the 2011 NFB national convention here.
Okay – so this is a hypothetical press event and accompanying transcript, but I thought it would be interesting to play out NFB’s proposed resolution that would have Apple block all inaccessible application offerings from its App Store. It’s an illogical request, an unfair response to the solutions Apple has put on the table in recent years, and limits creative innovations for application developers. I strongly disagree with this suggestion – and I hope you’ll continue to stand with me in opposition of such ideas.
“Hello all and thank you for joining us this afternoon. As you can tell, our stage is covered with some banners that have braille written on them. These banners represent some of the amazing things being done by blind and visually impaired users of our iOS devices. Some say “money identification”, others say “accessible reading solution”, while others read “navigation solution” and “notetaker”. Whatever the implementation may be, we’re encouraged that so many from the blindness community find freedom in our constant pursuit to provide accessibility right out of the box.”
“First, in true fashion for an Apple event, I’d like to share a few statistics with you. In 2008 we released the first fully-functioning, mobile iterations of Voiceover on our popular iPod Nano line. We were thrilled when the folks from Screenless Switchers> covered the developments as we made the iTunes and iPod experience much more accessible to the blindness community. Shortly thereafter in the summer of 2009, we completely changed the game when the iPhone 3GS came bundled with Voiceover built-in to the operating system. Blind users would no longer need to pay excessive prices to gain access to such common place technology as a mobile phone. Many users that had no interest in our little company started taking notice that we were in the accessibility market – and many began giving our product offerings another glance. In quick pursuit, we rolled Voiceover into the entire line of iOS products and, beginning with iOS 5, blind and visually impaired users can use the “triple tap Home” feature to activate their devices without sighted assistance.”
“We’ve watched our share in the accessibility market increase over the past couple of years and we’re honored to serve this overlooked community of users. The iOS experience has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of Voiceover enhancements through the years – and it just keeps getting better. How many tech companies have a direct means to contact their accessibility team, and they actually take your concerns to heart? The number of Voiceover users keeps growing – and fast. But more interestingly, the number of developers joining our efforts is increasing, as well. That’s why I think you’re going to be pretty surprised at what we have for you today.”
“We were slammed pretty hard this year by a national organization representing the blindness community. Even after all that we had done for the community – they felt we still weren’t sensitive enough to the blind and visually impaired. It seems that too many applications were inaccessible to Voiceover users and many were frustrated with us for not intervening. We at Apple care about our users. Even when other developers were rolling out multitasking solutions, we held off until we could offer something that wouldn’t kill your battery. Our user experience is completely intentional – whether you have eyesight or not. That’s why we were taken aback by this litigation. In any event, we knew we needed to do something, and that we’ve done.”
“We’d like to introduce the A11y Store, rebuilt from the ground up with the blindness community in mind, which will completely replace our longstanding App Store. That’s right – due to litigation and forced functionality we’ve had to strip back any and all applications that aren’t accessible to those users without eyesight. Each and every app in the A11y Store is fully functional with Voiceover – so no more frustrations for the blindness community and their national organizations.”
“Many of you are probably wondering – “What’s going to happen to my application if it’s not Voiceover accessible?” Easy answer. We won’t approve it into the A11y Store. Even though that means less money for developers and even less money for our company – our lawyers have been happy to make the change if it means putting a smile on a Voiceover user’s face. And with the A11y Store, you won’t find Angry Birds or Tiny Wings here. Why? Because the blind and visually impaired would never be able to play those games with Voiceover – so why should you?”
“We know you’re a creative bunch and don’t doubt your ability to make applications more accessible. And, sure, we considered other alternatives. We’ve been able to offer refunds to Voiceover users that purchased completely inaccessible offerings – and could have continued to do so. We could have included an indicator stating whether apps were accessible or not. It would have shown that we place high importance on accessibility and, in the process, grabbed the attention of application developers. But why have a retrofitted solution when you can just reinvent the wheel, right?”
“Litigation completely obliterates the need for innovation. You won’t have to think creatively anymore – just follow a few guidelines and make your apps accessible. We’ll double and triple check your work, and once the app has been rigorously tested for accessibility, it will be fast tracked into our A11y Store. I know many of you were eager to get creative when Voiceover users came to you about accessibility concerns – but this just saves them the heartache and you the headache. Do it – or your apps don’t make it into the store. We figure this will mean many of you will jump ship and move to another platform – which won’t be near as accessible to blind and visually impaired users as ours is – but that’s a risk our attorneys are willing to take.”
“And that’s not all. We’ve gone ahead and disabled all visual feedback from our iOS devices. We figured that, with Voiceover at the forefront of all our minds, who needs to look at a screen anyway? And, hey, it means way better battery life. Take that Android. The best part is – all of this new functionality will be rolled out this afternoon. No delays. You’ll see the App Store replaced with an A11y Store icon very soon.”
Not an exciting Apple event – that’s for sure. I bet there’d be a ton of very upset developers on hand. What do you think about Resolution 20112 and NFB’s desire for Apple to block all inaccessible applications from its App Store? What are your alternative solutions to this resolution? Share your insight with us in the comment section.