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Wednesday, July 09, 2014, 04:51 am PT (07:51 am ET)

National Federation of the Blind pushes Apple to add accessibility requirements for apps [U]

Members of the National Federation of the Blind have approved a resolution that will have the advocacy group, which successfully sued Apple over iTunes in 2008, begin a new campaign designed to convince the iPhone maker to consider accessibility when approving apps for sale in the App Store.

A trio of accessibility apps available for iOS, including BrailleTouch, Color Identifier, and Light Detector

A trio of accessibility apps available for iOS, including BrailleTouch, Color Identifier, and Light Detector


While the resolution — which was approved during last week's NFB convention in Orlando, Fla. — does not call for a repeat of the 2008 litigation that saw Apple pay $250,000 and overhaul iTunes's accessibility features as part of a settlement, Reuters notes that some of the organization's members view such an action as inevitable if Apple fails to implement new accessibility requirements.

"It's time for Apple to step up or we will take the next step," NFB of California board member Michael Hingson told the news service. Hingson said another lawsuit would be "the only resort" to force compliance.

Update: Reuters has corrected its report to note that the NFB did not actually file a lawsuit against Apple in 2008. Further, NFB president Mark A. Riccobono has since issued a statement detailing the actual focus of its resolution and noting that "The issues raised in the resolution are not new."

Riccobono added, "I thought the chatter around the resolution would fade away until some media reports made inaccurate assertions about the resolution, its content, and what actions the NFB will take to carry it out. Many of these inaccurate assertions have been fueled by a provocative and poorly reported article from the Reuters news service, linked here only for reference.

Reuters has already been forced to correct the article because it reported, inaccurately, that the National Federation of the Blind once brought suit against Apple, Inc. This never happened, although a demand letter was sent regarding the accessibility of iTunes and iTunes U, and the Massachusetts Attorney General opened an investigation. Those actions resulted in a voluntary agreement with Apple that was a significant step in getting us the accessibility we experience today."


Apple has made a number of accessibility improvements in recent years, and iOS devices are often described by visually- and hearing-impaired people as having brought dramatic improvements to their quality of life. The company recently featured deaf travel writer Cherie King in an iPad advertisement detailing the tablet's ability to help her travel independently and communicate around the world, for instance.

"My iPad lets me share my journey with the world," King is quoted as saying. "Other deaf people tell me they're traveling more now because they see it's possible."

Blind advocates — who acknowledge Apple's contributions with features like VoiceOver and the forthcoming screen reading options in iOS 8 — say the company has not done enough to encourage third-party app makers to follow suit, however. Apps from companies including Bank of America, Southwest Airlines, and Netflix are cited as lacking basic accessibility features like button labels that can be read aloud by VoiceOver, degrading the experience.