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In a World Ravaged by Inaccessibility, Aira Brings New Hope to the Blind Community

May 28, 2017 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Do you cringe every time you think about that huge pile of print accumulating in your mail basket? Are you worried you might miss something important to your family or be forced to pay a late fee on a bill for the stupid reason that you missed the print notice that was mailed to you last month? How about all the cans in your pantry? Would you like to be more helpful to your child participating in recreational opportunities outside your home? Would you just like to receive sighted help on your schedule, rather than someone else’s?

Aira, the self-styled “Visual Interpreter for the Blind,” is here to help. Aira really is like OnStar for the blind! Simply open the Aira app on your smart phone, dawn the supplied glasses, press a few buttons and, voila! You have near-instant sighted help! Even better: they know what they’re doing!

It’s almost that simple. There are a few caveats:

  • Aira currently requires you to have a smart phone with a data plan and a decent level of knowledge about how to use it effectively.
  • With pricing starting at $89/month for the most basic plan, the cost is out of reach for most blind people.
  • Although Aira goes to extensive lengths to serve everyone in the United States, including providing a AT&T MiFi hotspot for the glasses, it remains limited by the availability of network infrastructure. Your smart phone must have a good signal to your carrier or you must connect it to WiFi in order to use the service.
  • You must be comfortable talking with people, patient with the need to aim your phone’s camera or turn your head and some prior experience working with sighted readers is helpful.
  • Using Aira is not the same as true accessibility. A sighted person is helping you work around a barrier that might otherwise exclude you or prevent you from enjoying the benefits of full participation.

If you can maneuver past these caveats, though, Aira is amazing!

In the week and a half since our family started using Aira, we have used it to help us:

  • Clean our refridgerator: An Aira agent read the expiration dates of numerous items so that Allison could decide what to throw out.
  • Settle the bill: Aira helped Darrell read a Cracker Barrel receipt so he could separate the items he purchased from those his mother bought.
  • Identify medication: Aira helped Allison read the labels on several pill bottles.
  • Go to baby school: Aira described the motions of the teacher and the overall scene to Darrell as he and Allyssa participated in a music therapy activity.

We know we haven’t even begun to touch the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. Last month, Aira helped a blind man run a marathon!

Although Aira is not perfect, they’re off to a great start. We are looking forward to Aira’s continued evolution as an important part of a blind person’s toolbox of alternative techniques, skills and technologies used to enjoy a full life on terms of equality with the sighted.

Are you using Aira? Would you like to learn more? Please feel free to tell us about it in the comments.

We love hearing from our readers! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the blog better? What topics would you like us to cover in future articles?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Teaching and Testing iOS App VoiceOver Accessibility Webinar

August 5, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This approximately one-hour podcast is an audio recording of a real-world demonstration for following a systematic plan that explores, evaluates and tests iOS apps for accessibility with Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader for blind and low-vision users. The August 3, 2016 webinar was presented by Darrell Hilliker and hosted by the Arizona Technology Access Program. A video, including closed captioning, is also available.

Teaching and Testing iOS App VoiceOver Accessibility Webinar Notes

Introduction

Webinar Purpose: introduce and demonstrate a step-by-step plan that provides a straightforward way for advocates, developers, educators and others to quickly explore, learn and improve the accessibility of all apps in Apple’s iOS ecosystem.

What is a Screen Reader?

  • A form of assistive technology
  • A Software program that turns information shown on a screen of a computer or mobile device into Braille or speech
  • Screen readers and accessibility enable blind people to learn, work and live in a technology-based world alongside sighted people.

VoiceOver

  • One type of screen reader that was created by Apple
  • Has been a built-in feature on all iOS devices since 2010
  • Enables Braille and speech access for users who are unable to see the screen
  • Speaks screen elements aloud or enables them to be displayed in braille

Accessibility

  • True accessibility means that all parts of a platform’s features, benefits, information, policies, procedures, products, responsibilities, rights, services and technologies are developed and implemented in ways that are usable by people with disabilities.
  • VoiceOver and other screen readers work best when apps are deliberately developed in ways that ensure compatibility.
  • Important for blind/VI individuals to be considered during development and included in the testing process.
  • Apple provides developers guidelines for making apps work with VoiceOver.

The Benefits of a Plan for Evaluating and Testing AppAccessibility

  • Advocates may use the plan to identify the accessibility issues they report to developers.
  • Developers may follow the plan to test their apps.
  • Decision makers may incorporate the plan into their user-acceptance testing and other procedures.
  • Educators may use the plan as a framework for evaluating the non-visual accessibility of iOS apps.

Starting VoiceOver

  1. Press the Home button on the iOS device. (round button located on the bottom middle of the screen)
  2. Tap Settings.
  3. Tap General.
  4. Tap Accessibility.
  5. Tap VoiceOver.
  6. Hold the VoiceOver switch and swipe to the right to turn it on.
  7. (Recommended) Hold the Speak Hints switch and swipe to the right to turn it on.
  8. (Optional) Triple tap the screen with three fingers to enable the Screen Curtain. This feature blanks out the screen, resulting in a more realistic environment for nonvisual accessibility testing.

Use Any of These Techniques To Activate VoiceOver Without Sight.

  • Press the Home button three times quickly. (Works if the Triple Click Home option in the iOS device’s accessibility settings is configured to use VoiceOver)
  • Hold down the Home button and ask Siri to “turn on VoiceOver”
  • Connect the iOS device to a computer running iTunes and turn on VoiceOver under the accessibility configuration screen.

The Plan

  1. Open the app to be tested.
  2. Tap the top of the screen with four fingers.
  3. Flick to the right through all elements on the app’s home screen.
    1. Are all controls labeled in a way that makes sense when you listen to VoiceOver without looking at the screen?
    2. Are you able to choose all buttons and other controls by double tapping them as you hear them spoken by VoiceOver?
    3. Does VoiceOver stay focused throughout use or does it become jumpy and read items out of order?
    4. When one or more items in a list is highlighted or selected, does VoiceOver say “selected” or provide any other indication of its status?
    5. If a list typically enables a sighted user to pull down with one finger, is a VoiceOver user able to update the list by swiping down with three fingers?
    6. Are all elements available to VoiceOver or are some items not spoken?
    7. Are there features that require the use of custom gestures that are not available to VoiceOver users?
    8. If visual cues, such as color, are important, does VoiceOver speak this information?
    9. Are all elements presented in a logical order as you move around the screen? If the relationship between elements is important, is it clearly conveyed nonvisually?
    10. Listen for special hints, such as “double tap to play,” spoken after the name of each element. If these hints are never heard, make sure hints are enabled in VoiceOver settings.
    11. If audio is playing, does its volume decrease, or duck down, while VoiceOver is speaking?
    12. Does a two-finger scrub (Z-shaped gesture) activate the escape function of the arrow in the upper-lefthand corner of the screen?
    13. Does the app offer accessibility enhancements such as direct touch, keyboard shortcuts, magic tap or specific support for Braille displays, switches or other forms of assistive technology?
  4. Flick to the left through the same home screen. Make detailed notes of anything that does not seem to function as expected with VoiceOver enabled.
  5. Tap the top of the screen with four fingers.
  6. Flick to the right, one element at a time, and double tap the first item where choosing it should lead to another screen.
  7. Repeat steps 3 through 5 on every screen the app contains, testing and noting any issues found with all elements.

Reporting and Resolving Accessibility Bugs

If you are a developer, using the notes obtained from testing, make all bug fixes necessary to deliver a fully accessible experience for users who rely on VoiceOver. Consider prioritizing the correction of accessibility bugs according to the order suggested in the plan. See the resources at the end of this presentation for details.

If you are reporting accessibility bugs to a developer, consider using the following format:

  • Description: A few concise words explaining the accessibility issue.
  • Steps to reproduce: Write down the exact steps you followed to cause the accessibility bug to happen.
  • Current behavior: Summarize the incorrect or unexpected behavior you are observing.
  • Expected behavior: Summarize the behavior you expect to observe once the accessibility issue has been resolved.
  • App and hardware information: Include a statement concisely providing as much information as possible about the version of the app being tested and the iOS device on which it is running.

Example Bug Report

The following accessibility bug was recently filed with Facebook against an important feature in the company’s iOS app.

Description: The details of event invitations are inaccessible to VoiceOver.

Steps to reproduce:

  1. Make sure VoiceOver is turned on in Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver on the iOS device.
  2. Open the Facebook app.
  3. Open any event invitation.
  4. Tap the top of the screen with four fingers.
  5. Repeatedly flick to the right through the event invitation, pausing after each flick to listen to the information provided by VoiceOver.
  6. Note that important information, such as the event’s date, location, time and other details, are not spoken.

Current behavior: In its current implementation, event invitations are inaccessible and virtually useless to blind people using Facebook’s iOS app.

Expected behavior: Blind Facebook users should be able to access event invitations on terms of equality with their sighted friends.

Facebook version 60.0.0.37.141 is running on an iPhone 6 with iOS version 9.3.3.

Accessibility Testing

  • If you are a developer, check your work using blind alpha testers, followed by a select group of beta testers from the blind community.
  • If you are an advocate, thoroughly test the app according to the plan,then provide detailed feedback to its developer along with your accessibility request.
  • If you are an educator, test the app against this plan and any additional laws, policies or regulations your institution may have in place before recommending its use for your blind students.
  • If you are a decision maker, test the app against this plan and any additional laws, policies or regulations that apply to your agency, company, organization or personal conscience, then do not recommend or purchase the app if it is not accessible. Provide feedback about your decision to the company that owns the app.

Resources

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Picture Imperfect: Our Family Explores Photo Management on iOS

August 2, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately one hour and 49 minute podcast, Allison, Darrell and baby daughter Allyssa go on an adventure through their photo library, experiencing fun and frustration with accessible and inaccessible iOS apps.

We found Moments by Facebook completely inaccessible with VoiceOver. Please submit feedback to Facebook’s accessibility team.

We were looking for a good way to organize and store our family’s memories, photos and stories, not unlike sighted families the world over. We tried Keepy, on the recommendation of a parenting podcast we like, only to find it almost, but not quite, accessible enough to use. Please send customer feedback to the developer asking for improved VoiceOver accessibility.

On a positive accessibility note, we enjoyed adding descriptions to our photos using TapTapSee and BeSpecular. We appreciate the work the awesome BeSpecular volunteers do to help blind people see.

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Asked to Make Your iOS App Accessible to Blind People? There’s a Plan for that!

May 14, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Are you a developer who has been asked to make your iOS app accessible to blind people using Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader? Are you uncertain how to respond, why you should care or where you can go to get started? I hope to demystify these questions and encourage you to create and improve your product in ways that empower and include all your customers, even those who can’t see the screens of their smart phones and tablets.

How should I respond to a request for VoiceOver accessibility in my app?

However you choose to respond, I would encourage you not to simply ignore the request. As a professional, you expect a timely response to communications you initiate, so please afford your blind customers that same courtesy when approached. Please consider the following ideas for communicating with users regarding accessibility requests:

  1. Respond to the request right away informing the customer you have received it and you will take steps to follow up promptly.
  2. If you have a bug-tracking or case management system, create a ticket and escalate it as needed in order to get an answer.
  3. If you do not possess the authority to make this strategic decision, please work with your company’s owner or executive leadership to urge them in the right direction. If you do have the necessary authority, please read on for information on how you can open your doors to your blind customers.
  4. If your business has decided to be inclusive to blind people, please respond affirmatively to your customer, utilize the resources provided here and elsewhere online and start working actively with the connected, online blind community.
  5. Regardless of the outcome, please remember to follow up with your customer by providing updates as you are able to release information to the public.

Why should I care?

There are at least four reasons why you should incorporate accessibility into your apps:

  • Accessibility is simply the right thing to do. Would you create an app designed to categorically exclude women, African-Americans, Chinese or any other group of people? If not, then why would you want to exclude blind people or anyone else with a disability? The answer to the accessibility question determines whether or not everyone, including people with disabilities, will be afforded the opportunity to learn, work, enjoy leisure activities or otherwise participate in the benefits your app offers.
  • There is a business case for accessibility.
  • Accessibility can be easy, fun and interesting. In 2015, the White House and several other U.S. government agencies sponsored a hackathon demonstrating and discussing techniques for improving the accessibility of several forms of technology.
  • Accessibility is the law of the land in many parts of the world. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and numerous other lesser-known laws require accessibility and full inclusion of people with disabilities in activities, education, employment, products, programs and services offered to the public at large. Similar laws are on the books in many other nations. Failure to empower people with disabilities to use your app may result in complaints, lawsuits, loss of business, negative publicity and a poor reputation.

Where can I go to learn more about iOS accessibility and get started with developing my apps in an inclusive manner?

Apple provides an excellent overview of all the accessibility features available on its iOS platform. The Applevis online community hosts Information For Developers On How to Build Accessible iOS and Mac Apps. Finally, a comprehensive, systematic plan has been published to aid developers and others in beta testing and evaluating the accessibility of iOS apps with VoiceOver.

Sticking On Labels: Making the GetGlue iOS App Accessible

November 27, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 45-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow use the new iOS 5 VoiceOver custom-labeling feature to make the GetGlue social-entertainment iOS app accessible. Join us to learn about an exciting, useful iOS feature and have some fun along the way.

Custom Labeling Step-By-Step

  1. Locate the unlabeled button by dragging your finger or flicking to it on the screen.
  2. Double tap with two fingers and hold them in place. This is also known as a two-finger double-tap-and-hold gesture. You will hear three tones followed by “Alert, label element, text field, is editing.”
  3. Type a short label for the button.
  4. Locate and double tap the Save button. It can be found above the keyboard on the left side of the screen.

In addition to making the controls in an app accessible, the custom-labeling feature can be used to describe pictures in other contexts, such as the photos in your iPhone’s camera roll.

Allison asked an excellent question: Are custom labels backed up to iCloud or iTunes? Please feel free to answer in the comments.

GetGlue Information

GetGlue is a Foursquare-like social network for entertainment. It is available on smartphones and the Web. You can check into your favorite books, movies, music, TV shows and much more and share information about all the fun you’re having with your friends. The primary GetGlue.com website works best with browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari on computers. The mobile m.getglue.com website is intended for use with smartphones. It may be a more accessible alternative to the primary site for some computer users.

Tip from Allison: I recommend signing up on the GetGlue website before logging in with the iOS app.

There are two ways to get started:

We’d Love To Hear From You!

Do you like the show? What would you like us to cover next? Please give us your feedback in the comments.

Listen or Pause – Custom Labeling Demo

Download – Custom Labeling Demo

Phoenix-Area Blind iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch Users Asked to Fill the Room at Upcoming iOS Developer Group Meeting

January 29, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The Phoenix iOS Developer Group (PI) will be holding its February meeting on the topic of accessibility. Justin Mann, a blind iPhone user, will be presenting on the use of Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader with several innovative iOS apps that enable business productivity, social-media participation, identification of items in the surrounding environment and much more.

Anybody is welcome to attend. This is an excelent opportunity to show some app developers that accessibility matters and that blind people are using iOS devices in number. Let’s fill the room with as many Phoenix-area blind people and their talking iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches as we possibly can!

The meeting will be held at the University of Advancing Technology located at 2625 West Baseline Road, Tempe, Ariz., from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 2.

We look forward to seeing all of you there.  

Making a Difference by Thrusting Accessibility into the Public Sphere

January 7, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

On Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010, Karen and I enjoyed a nice dinner meeting with Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Marc Parry in a nearby Applebee’s restaurant for an initial in-person interview as part of a story he was writing about technology accessibility for blind college students. Over the following Monday and Tuesday, Marc and I spent a great deal of time reviewing and testing the accessibility or inaccessibility of a number of college-related websites.

On Dec. 12, 2010, the Chronicle published an article entitled Blind Students Demand Access to Online Course Materials, in which my contributions were prominent.

The article highlighted significant accessibility barriers with ASU on Facebook, an application designed to help Arizona State University students connect in a virtual community. The app, developed by San Francisco-based Inigral, Inc., featured controls that couldn’t be accessed by keyboard navigation and images lacking text descriptions.

An Inigral representative contacted me within a few days of the publication of the article, saying she would be in the Phoenix area and asking if we could meet in person to discuss the situation. I agreed, a lunch meeting was scheduled then postponed that very morning till January due to family circumstances.

On Friday, Marc published After Chronicle Story, a Tech Company Improves Accessibility for Blind Users on the publication’s Wired Campus blog, stating that Inigral representatives met with the university’s Disability Resource Center and work is underway to improve the app’s accessibility.

After briefly reviewing the ASU on Facebook app as of Friday, Jan. 7, I can report that significant improvements have already been achieved. The “Go to App” link can now be followed using keyboard navigation, the website is more usable and I notice fewer images lacking descriptions.

Inigral’s co-founder, Joseph Sofaer, posted an accurate Jan. 4 article about the key elements of good website accessibility on the company’s blog.

The important point I hope readers will take away is that advocating for accessibility does make a difference. One more web-based application is now going to be accessible because a blind person agreed to be part of an article published in a widely-reade higher-education publication. It is critical for us to continue going after what we know is right: the equal accessibility that affords us the full participation we must have in order to learn, live and work in society as productive members alongside our sighted peers. This means we absolutely must pound the pavement. When we encounter an inaccessible app, piece of software or website, we *MUST* contact the company about it right away asking that it be corrected. If we don’t get timely responses, we need to follow up, escalating communications as far and as high in a company’s chain of command as they must go in order to get results. It’s a lot of hard work that can’t be done by one person, so I urge each and every one of you out there, whether you are a blind person or a sighted one who cares about us, to do your part by taking each and every possible opportunity to advocate, kick the ball out of the stadium, score the touchdown and win the game for the pro-accessibility team!

Exploring the iPod Touch and Learning Braille Using the Refreshabraille 18 Display

January 6, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Tyler Juranek demonstrates the iPod Touch with VoiceOver and the Refreshabraille 18 display.

Tyler covers a number of topics in this approximately 30-minute podcast, including:

  • A physical description of the Refreshabraille 18 with commentary and a demonstration of its durability.
  • A thorough demonstration of the process for pairing the Refreshabraille with the iPod Touch using Bluetooth.
  • Remote control and navigation of the iPod Touch using the controls on the Refreshabraille from a distance.
  • Contracted Braille keyboard text entry.
  • Using VoiceOver Practice Mode to demonstrate a possibly easy means for teaching and learning Braille.

I am honored to welcome Tyler to the Blind Access Journal podcast for his excellent debut. We are looking forward to many more contributions.

Download, Play or Pause: Exploring the iPod Touch and Learning Braille Using the Refreshabraille Display

iPhone App Maker Justifies Charging Blind Customers Extra for VoiceOver Accessibility

December 23, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A recent version 2.0 update to Awareness!, an iOS app that enables the user of an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch to hear important sounds in their environment while listening through headphones, features six available in-app purchases, including one that enables VoiceOver accessibility for the company’s blind customers.

Awareness! The Headphone App, authored by small developer Essency, costs 99 cents in the iTunes Store. VoiceOver support for the app costs blind customers over five times its original price at $4.99.

Essency co-founder Alex Georgiou said the extra cost comes from the added expense and development time required to make Awareness! Accessible with Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader.

“Awareness! is a pretty unusual App. Version 1.x used a custom interface that did not lend itself very well for VoiceOver,” he said. “Our developers tried relabeling all the controls and applied the VoiceOver tags as per spec but this didn’t improve things much. There were so many taps and swipe gestures involved in changing just one setting that it really was unusable.”

Essency’s developers tackled the accessibility challenge by means of a technique the blind community knows all too well with websites like Amazon and Safeway that offer a separate, incomplete accessibility experience requiring companies to spend additional funds on specialized, unwanted customer-service training and technical maintenance tasks.

“The solution was to create a VoiceOver-specific interface, however, this created another headache for our developers,” Georgiou said. “It meant having the equivalent of a dual interface: one interface with the custom controllers and the other optimized for VoiceOver. It was almost like merging another version of Awareness! in the existing app.”

As an example of the need for a dual-interface approach and a challenge to the stated simplicity of making iOS apps accessible, Georgiou described a portion of the app’s user interface the developers struggled to make accessible with VoiceOver:

“Awareness! features an arched scale marked in percentages in the centre of a landscape screen with a needle that pivots from left to right in correspondence to sound picked up by either the built in mic or inline headphones. You change the mic threshold by moving your finger over the arched scale which uses a red filling to let you know where it’s set. At the same time, a numerical display appears telling you the dBA value of the setting. When the needle hits the red, the mic is switched on and routed to your headphones. To the right you have the mic volume slider, turn the mic volume up or down by sliding your finger over it. Then you have a series of buttons placed around the edges that control things like the vibrate alarm, autoset, mic trigger and the settings page access.”

Georgiou said maintaining two separate user interfaces, one for blind customers and another for sighted, comes at a high price.

“At the predicted uptake of VoiceOver users, we do not expect to break even on the VoiceOver interface for at least 12 to 18 months unless something spectacular happens with sales,” he said. “We would have loved to have made this option free, unfortunately the VoiceOver upgrade required a pretty major investment, representing around 60% of the budget for V2 which could have been used to further refine Awareness and introduce new features aimed at a mass market.”

Georgiou said this dual-interface scheme will continue to represent a significant burden to Essency’s bottom line in spite of the added charge to blind customers.

“Our forecasts show that at best we could expect perhaps an extra 1 or 2 thousand VoiceOver users over the next 12 to 18 months,” he said. “At the current pricing this would barely cover the costs for the VoiceOver interface development.”

Georgiou said payment of the $4.99 accessibility charge does not make the app fully accessible at this time.

“It is our intention that the VoiceOver interface will continue to be developed with new features such as AutoPause and AutoSet Plus being added on for free,” he said. “Lack of time did not allow these features to be included in this update.”

Georgiou said the decision to make Awareness! Accessible had nothing to do with business.

“From a business perspective it really didn’t make sense for us to invest in a VoiceOver version but we decided to go ahead with the VoiceOver version despite the extra costs because we really want to support the blind and visually impaired,” he said. “It was a decision based on heartfelt emotion, not business.”

Georgiou said accessibility should be about gratitude and he would even consider it acceptable for a company to charge his daughter four to five times as much for something she needed if she were to have a disability.

“Honestly, I would be grateful and want to encourage as many parties as possible to consider accessibility in apps and in fact in all areas of life,” he said. “I would not object to any developer charging their expense for adding functionality that allowed my daughter to use an app that improved her life in any way. In this case, better to have than not.”

Georgiou said he wants to make it clear he and his company do not intend to exploit or harm blind people.

“I first came into contact with a blind couple when I was 10 years old through a Christian Sunday school (over 38 years ago),” he said. “They were the kindest couple I ever met and remember being amazed at the things they managed to do without sight. I remember them fondly. I could not imagine myself or my partner doing anything to hurt the blind community.”

A common thread in many of Georgiou’s statements seems to ask how a small company strikes a balance between doing the right thing and running a financially sustainable business that supports their families.

“I don’t think you understand, we’re a tiny company. We’re not a corporate,” he said. “The founders are just two guys who have families with kids, I’ve got seven!”

Georgiou said he understands how accessibility is a human right that ought to be encouraged and protected.

“I recognize that there is a problem here that can be applied to the world in general and it’s important to set an acceptable precedent,” he said. “I think I’ve already made my opinions clear in that I believe civilized society should allow no discrimination whatsoever.”

In spite of accessibility as a human right in the civilized world, Georgiou said he believes this consideration must be balanced with other practical business needs.

“When it comes to private companies, innovation, medicine, technology, etc., It’s ultra-important all are both encouraged and incentivized to use their talents to improve quality of life in all areas,” Georgiou said. “The question is who pays for it? The affected community? The government? The companies involved?”

Apple Needs to Refund VoiceOver Users for Inaccessible Apps

August 15, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

By guest writer Michael Hansen.

With the release of IM+ Pro—an instant messaging client for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad—with VoiceOver support, I got to thinking: I don’t mind paying $10 to an app developer for an app with full VoiceOver accessibility. However, I do mind paying any amount to a developer for an application that I cannot use. The exception is @Planetbeing’s Signal app, which I would buy regardless because he and the Dev Team have done the jailbreak community a great service with all of their hard work on jailbreaks/unlocks for the iOS platform. @Planetbeing’s app aside (which I haven’t bought yet because I cannot currently access Cydia with VoiceOver), I see no reason to pay for an application that I cannot use, be it an iPhone app or something for my Windows computer.

Palringo Poses Problems

Within the last couple weeks, I purchased Palringo Instant Messenger Premium, developed by Palringo Limited, from the iTunes Store. I was able to log into AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), but was not able to log into Facebook. VoiceOver reported “Facebook…logging in,” when I tapped that icon. Even after I confirmed that Palringo accessing Facebook was okay (my account had been frozen because Facebook had not recognized Palringo) I still got the same “logging in” message.

Accessibility Problems Start With AIM

In AIM, the situation was different but no less problematic. While I was able to access my contacts list and receive messages, I was unable to read the messages—VoiceOver would read the contact’s name but not the message itself. There went $4.99. Thanks, Palringo.

Apple Grants One-Time Refund for Palringo…Grudgingly

This afternoon, I contacted Apple through the iTunes Store to request a refund for Palringo Instant Messenger Premium, due to inaccessibility. In an e-mail sent at 6:22 PM CDT today, Apple said they would reverse the charge for Palringo Instant Messenger Premium—just this one time.

“I’m sorry to hear that you can’t use ‘Palringo Instant Messenger Premium’ with your device,” said Lilly, the iTunes Customer Support representative who responded to my request. “Please note that The iTunes Store Terms of Sale state that all sales are final, so this is a one-time exception.”

So what does Apple expect the blindness community to do? Pay for apps and not be able to use them? Install pirated versions to try them out before buying them in the app store? I don’t think so.

Apple needs to consistently provide refunds to VoiceOver users for inaccessible apps—it’s as simple as that. I will never download pirated applications, but honestly, given that Apple does not have an app trial service, I’m not surprised that Piracy is as big as it is—the lack of a trial service effects many more people than just VoiceOver users. It is in Apple’s best interests, no matter what way they look at it, to institute a trial service—the Android folks have already figured that one out.

I also think that Apple should require developers to list VoiceOver support in their application descriptions in the iTunes store, similar to how they list iOS version compatibility.

Next Steps Likely Uphill

I plan to contact Palringo Limited to ask about future accessibility of their products. I am also going to present my concerns to Apple.

Please stay tuned, as I will write when I have any updates.

Michael Hansen is totally blind and is a senior at Addison Trail High School in Addison, IL. Previously, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Skyline newspaper at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, IL, during the 2009-2010 school year. He can be reached at AMTK62 (at) gmail (dot) com.