Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Google Your Rights Online

Advocacy Group For the Blind Slams Google Apps 287

Posted by samzenpus
from the we're-not-going-to-take-it dept.
angry tapir writes "The National Federation of the Blind claims that Google Apps lacks required features for blind people and wants the US government to investigate whether schools that adopt the e-mail and collaboration suite run afoul of civil rights laws. The NFB is asking the US Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to probe whether New York University and Northwestern University are discriminating against blind employees and students through their use of Google Apps' Education edition."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Advocacy Group For the Blind Slams Google Apps

Comments Filter:
  • Disabled people (Score:4, Interesting)

    by viablos (2018696) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:15PM (#35509404)
    This is also problem with so many open source projects. They all forget about disabilities and blind people. I've tried to get them to support them, but no one is interested adding such features. That's what proprietary software has done a lot better - they actually do account for disabled and blind people too. It's a major obstacle with open source software, but for example Microsoft and other big companies have generally supported such features.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by oliverthered (187439)

      well it says it's Gmail etc... are they saying that sighted people are not allowed to use a superior product even though, last time I checked, you can use a pop or imap client with Gmail as I do.
      I've been told their are even free ones and text only ones like elm or cat /var/spool/mail/myemail > /dev/espeak
      or what-have you.. (I seem to remember festival or espeak or something along those lines producing a device for the job)

      festival /var/spool/mail/myemail (with some args) may also work!

      • I also think that Google does voice to text and TTS, well I've heard it's on voice and TTS on my mandroid, if only I could see where I've put it down.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by viablos (2018696)
          It's also collaboration suite and other products. Now I'm not saying Google is required to add such support, but those schools should think if these tools really fit them. If their collaboration software is completely non-working and unusable for the blind students, then the school is obviously choosing wrong software.
          • Re:Disabled people (Score:5, Interesting)

            by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:26PM (#35509542)

            Or maybe your an astroturfer, since these are you only two comments.

            Gmail supports imap, and their other products support many other standards. All of these standards are inter-operable with normal software the disabled use.

            • by CastrTroy (595695)
              Maybe GMail is fine, but what about all the other Apps in the Google Apps portfolio? Are Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Picasa friendly to the blind. I doubt it.
              • by BitZtream (692029)

                Blind friendly photo viewing website ... fucking brilliant really, whats it do, read off the pixel colors pixel by pixel?

          • Re:Disabled people (Score:4, Informative)

            by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:58PM (#35509838) Journal

            I have a bit of a vision impairment, and I can tell you, it's hard for even partially sighted people to use Google tools. It pisses me off every time there's non-speaking text, and what the heck is up with gmail? Android still has major problems, too, with the web browser and e-mail not talking. It's not illegal to make tools that don't work well with screen readers, but no public institution should require people to use these tools.

      • Google Docs, calendar, and several other products. Can't IMAP a Google Doc.

        • Re:Disabled people (Score:4, Interesting)

          by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:29PM (#35509574)

          Google docs can surely be used with a browser designed for the blind. Calendar uses caldav, that again surely has client software that is blind friendly.

          • Re:Disabled people (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Digicrat (973598) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:59PM (#35509852)

            Exactly my first though. The second thought would be is Google taking the basic steps necessary to ensure that their sites are compatible with standard screen-reader browsers for the blind.

            I attended a lecture a while back on how to make applications and websites accessible to the blind. The text to speech requirements are on the client side, but they do require adherence to certain standards to work. That includes simple things such as naming all divider (div) tags, providing alt text for all images. There was some mention about certain JS/AJAX techniques being incompatible if not done correctly, though I don't recall the details.

            The question then, which TFA does not address, is does Google take these necessary steps? Or is the problem that the current crop of screen readers are unable to process elements created using the JS methods Google employs?

            I also wonder whether they actually brought the issue up with Google privately to address these concerns, or if they just jumped straight into the press release.

            • The issue is not specifically with Google, even if TFHeadline is somewhat ambiguous.

              They are suing workplaces/institutions that are not adapted to blind users. These entities are the ones that must chose the tools useful for such people. The only implication of Google in this would be if they (implicitly or explicitly) said that their app was compliant with those standards and it happens that it is not. And even in the app is compliant, it does not mean that there is a good setup for using the accessibility

              • by Compaqt (1758360)

                Wait, maybe I don't understand correctly, but are you saying that some disability "advocates" are saying that schools can't use headphones because that would mean fully-abled students can experience something that the disabled (deaf) can't?

                While I support disability access where that wouldn't cost much more than standard access, it's not possible to provide the range of sensory experience to a disabled student that's available to a fully-abled student.

      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        Not only that but some schools use a single sign on for their gmail service, and you don't actually have a password to use should you want to use IMAP or POP. Stuck with the web interface, which brings in the ADA compliance stuff.

        • by cynyr (703126)

          that sounds like the schools problem, not google's google has ways/methods in place to handle these use cases. What percent of users need them? Not that i would like being left out, but sometimes these people seem to want some way for blind people to be able to become competitive shooters, or race car drivers, or fighter pilots, all of which really need you to use your vision and i start lumping them in with the crazies over at peta and greenpeace.

      • by Compaqt (1758360)

        What distros have an espeak device? Or is it set up when you install festival?

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      This proprietary software is free, or do you pay for it?

      Have you considered offering the same amount of money to the open source people to add these features?

      • by exomondo (1725132)

        This proprietary software is free, or do you pay for it?

        Have you considered offering the same amount of money to the open source people to add these features?

        I don't know about you but I don't think the cost of a license is going to cover a developer's time to implement such features.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          I would imagine if this advocacy group bought licenses for all its members that would cover it.

          • by exomondo (1725132)

            I would imagine if this advocacy group bought licenses for all its members that would cover it.

            What are you on about? This 'advocacy group' isn't buying licenses of anything for anyone.

      • This proprietary software is free, or do you pay for it?

        Have you considered offering the same amount of money to the open source people to add these features?

        Have you considered that open source coders are not mainly motivated by money but rather "scratching their itch"? If an issue does not occur to the developer then they are likely to not tackle it.

        Open source software known for creating good backend software but not front end UIs as usability is a specialized skill that few developers possess be they open source or not.

        • by cynyr (703126)

          Most larger projects would probably be happy to work with you to add something if you pay them for it, and allow them to be the unconditional owners of said product when it was done(so they can release and update the open source software in the future).

          As for the UI usability, hire a consultant to work with the project. I'm betting most would be open to that as well.

    • Re:Disabled people (Score:5, Informative)

      by silanea (1241518) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:32PM (#35509602)
      Accessibility is a top priority for GNOME [gnome.org], KDE [kde.org], Mozilla [mozilla.org], OpenOffice [openoffice.org] and LibreOffice [libreoffice.org] and many other major projects. Smaller projects often lack the resources to properly implement full accessibility. But then, so does the vast majority of smaller proprietary software.
    • Apple is also one of the big notable companies which has support for the disabled at the forefront of its products.

      • by Jim Hall (2985)

        Apple is also one of the big notable companies which has support for the disabled at the forefront of its products.

        Unless you have limited vision, and require a very sharp contrast on the screen - like my father-in-law. He's been an Apple fan for as long as I've known him, but complains bitterly about MacOSX and dropshadows everywhere. You can't turn off dropshadows in MacOSX, apparently. He says it makes things very hard to see. Even to do basic thinks like locate the mouse pointer, because it's too "blobby".

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Open source produces the best command line oriented applications. There are several open source screen readers available. There's even a Braille terminal. What more do you want?

    • by Trufagus (1803250)

      "...but no one is interested adding such features."

      The weakness of open-source is not that the developers have any less desire to support accessibility (I would guess that they have more), but rather that the nature of open-source sometimes means that the applications are less closely tied to a framework or OS that can easily provide those features.

      After all, individual apps don't usually provide their own accessibility support, whether open-source or not - they must gain support for accessibility through t

    • by Nyder (754090)

      This is also problem with so many open source projects. They all forget about disabilities and blind people. I've tried to get them to support them, but no one is interested adding such features. That's what proprietary software has done a lot better - they actually do account for disabled and blind people too. It's a major obstacle with open source software, but for example Microsoft and other big companies have generally supported such features.

      So what if google doesn't want to put in disablilty crap in their software. They shouldn't have to. Of course, they competitors do, so they will get the business, but then, thats what capitilism is all about?

      I'm disabled, but i don't want to company doing shit for me because it has to. I want them to do it because they support the disabled, not because they are forced to.

      If they want my business, they'd be smart to. If they don't, I go else where. It's simple and easy, and yet we have laws to force

    • by gatkinso (15975)

      It sounds like the open source community is very.... ...short sighted.

      harharhar

    • by Rix (54095)

      Who is "they"?

      Roll up your sleeves and pitch in or STFU.

    • by antdude (79039)

      Isn't it because of money and laws? Opensource doesn't seem to have those for the teams to bother with. :/

    • This is also problem with so many open source projects. They all forget about disabilities and blind people.

      If it's open source, why couldn't people with said disabilities adapt it to their own unique needs?

      • by layabout (1576461)

        If it's open source, why couldn't people with said disabilities adapt it to their own unique needs?

        simple. Because the act of writing code is one of the most handicap hostile acts in computer science. Pump your favorite language through a text-to-speech engine. What comes out is complete and total gibberish. It usually sounds like something the old gods would speak if they wanted to assure their own destruction. Since code is neither speakable nor listenable, how would a blind person or a person with an upper extremity disability write code? If it was easy, we would see at least an order of magnitude

  • From the title I was initially thinking of Android apps since that's more in the news, but that made me think how it's going to be almost impossible for the blind or partially sighted to move to current touch screen technology.

    Anyone know of any research in that field?

    • iOS has many features for blind people - apparently it's one of the best machines out there to use.

      • by isorox (205688)

        iOS has many features for blind people - apparently it's one of the best machines out there to use.

        Yup. From the first "enable" to the last "write", although "show run" gets a bit boring through a text-to-speech device.

  • by kitsunewarlock (971818) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:43PM (#35509696) Journal
    Its not their fault. Google is still in beta!
  • by Oidhche (1244906) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:48PM (#35509742)
    Blind people lack required features for Google Apps.
  • I suppose the NFB's going rate is lower than your average anti-trust congressman's office.

    Great savings for Microsoft. ;-)

  • Google provides an IMAP gateway for all of its mail, including Google Apps.

    These people can use any email client under the sun to access their mail, including the vaunted Outlook.

    This whole thing seems like a money grab to me.

    • by brunes69 (86786)

      Also before anyone comments the above also applies to Google Docs and Calendar. Google provides open access to *ALL* of it's apps.

      • by codegen (103601)
        Look at the comments above about how schools are using single sign on so the students don't have a password to access the docs, calendar and mail through anything other than the browser.
    • by compro01 (777531)

      Yeah, the university does not allow access through those. It can only be accessed through the university's single sign in system, thus the reason why the universities are being sued, not google.

    • Read TFS. They are not suing Google, they are suing the University or whatever.

      Google Apps can be the most accessible system in the world. But if the University IT block the POP3 and SMTP port, or forbids attaching headphones or speakers to the computers, it does not help. So, they require the University to provide accessibility, then the University will chose the tools that suit them better to get that done (google apps or not).

  • by PJ6 (1151747) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:24PM (#35510104)

    I'm currently working on a couple of government projects that must adhere to the latest accessibility standards, and they include this little doozy: no javascript.

    Think about that. No javascript.

    HTML was never designed for applications. We have javascript to get around this. No matter how sophisticated the "toolkit" or "framework", it's all still a stupid, ugly hack. But it works.

    HTML alone though? Someone needs to pull these people aside and tell them that they've gone batshit insane.

  • by quietwalker (969769) <pdughi@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:25PM (#35510122)

    I have worked with the NFB on projects before, and prior to that when I was contracting at IBM, I was the section 508 guy for my group. I have a decent bit of insight into accessible software development, and push for it's inclusion at my current workplace.

    However, realize that the NFB is an advocacy group. They do not care about business needs, or the cost of adding support for screen readers to your application. They could care less that you need to spend 40% of the project costs retooling, or increase the work effort by 20%, in order to support approximately .3% of the population. They simply want it to work for them - as it should be, and the rest is your problem.

    So, what's is that problem?

    Well, businesses have roadblocks in realizing that providing accessibility standards for your software is a losing proposition - the NBT actively attempts to cloud this viewpoint or strike it down as morally objectionable. However, it is unlikely that the level of effort that goes into producing an accessible application or website will ever show any reasonable return. Additionally, as with all software, the later in the game is is added, the more expensive it is - so retooling an app is worse than the cost of folding it in from the beginning. So we're looking at a big expense with no return - low ROI.

    Beyond all this, non-sighted or otherwise impaired individuals are already coping with non-accessible interfaces on a daily basis. They have specialty software that helps them cope with this, and in other cases, there are learned workarounds. Just like a Microsoft product user, they are conditioned to accept the failures, and while aggravating, they can usually accomplish their goals regardless.

    So, what are my points?

    1) Never agree to retool an existing app (though you can accept submissions)
    2) While in the planning stages decide what level of accessibility support you're going to aim for. It's increasingly expensive, especially the QA side where there's a severe demand for accessibility testers. Make a rational cost-based analysis. Some things you get for free just by adhering to strict HTML standards (like providing alt text for your images AND LINKS, or properly labeling your tables with a summary attribute, and column descriptions) for webapps.
    3) Don't ever sweat the compliance if it's hard to do at any one point - it's simply not financially worth it. Go for as much as you can. All the rich "web 2.0" features which make the difference between a sale or a miss don't translate well in the accessibility world. It won't help your product if it's accessible if no one is going to use it. Remember - unless the laws change, compliance is usually a 'good to have feature' - not a 'must have'. Prioritize it well.
    4) Harsh though it may seem, you can rely on your disabled users to provide their own solutions. Your software is unlikely to be a required resource - worse comes to worse, they can always use something else willing to lose money by supporting specialty groups.

  • Looking at those Video, it seems that the problem is more to do with the functionality of the screen reader, which seems unsuited to interactive web apps. I suppose the only real way to avoid this is to have the functionality interface with desktop software that the user is used to. But Google actually does this remarkably well. Gmail can be accessed via IMAP and POP3, Docs can be shared easily via links and downloaded as in standard formats, you can use Google groups with plain old email and Google calenda

  • If it is open source, then let them add this functionality themselves.

  • Has anyone participating in this discussion actually done web design for accessibility? I've been looking at it for our course management system. It's not trivial, but it's also not difficult. In increases development time / cost, but probably not more than 10%. It's perfectly possible to design reasonable visual interfaces that work fine with common screen readers. A sighted user won't even be aware that it's been done. It's a combination of avoiding some standard pitfalls that a screen reader can't reason

If Machiavelli were a hacker, he'd have worked for the CSSG. -- Phil Lapsley

Working...