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Steering digital inclusion from the driving seat: Q&A with Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet

When he helped co-found UK technology access charity AbilityNet in 1998, Robin Christopherson was already on his way to helping drive forward digital accessibility, and since then his work has continued to change people’s lives. He is now AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, after helping to grow the charity’s services. These services include website and mobile accessibility consultancy, which AbilityNet now delivers to companies including Microsoft, the BBC, HSBC and Sainsbury’s.

Christopherson has also led and worked on all manner of projects and campaigns to increase digital accessibility, particularly for blind and visually impaired people. This has included providing expert commentary for news sources such as The Guardian, and presenting on and testing new technology, whether that’s a driverless car or the latest smartwatch.

In recognition of his valuable contributions, he was surprised with a special award at the annual Tech4Good Awards earlier this month. e-Access Bulletin caught up with Christopherson to find out more about his work and get his thoughts on the evolution of accessibility.

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Apple urged to act on app accessibility

The US National Federation of the Blind has called on technology giant Apple to include accessibility to non-visual users as part of its process of approving apps for supply through its App Store, or when they are updated.

The call came in a resolution passed at the federation’s annual convention held this month in Orlando, Florida.

This acknowledged that Apple has made major steps towards making its own products accessible, including integration in many of them of the screenreader programme VoiceOver. It also noted that VoiceOver can allow non-visual access to mobile apps, and praised Apple for releasing and promoting tools and guidance to make it easy for app developers to incorporate accessibility features for VoiceOver users.

However, the resolution said: “despite Apple’s efforts to encourage accessibility, too many applications are still not accessible to VoiceOver users because buttons are not properly labeled, images of text cannot be interpreted, and other display elements cannot even be detected by VoiceOver.”

Noting that Apple “is not reluctant to place requirements and prohibitions on application developers, but has not seen fit to require that applications be accessible to VoiceOver users”, it said accessibility “should be as important as any other requirement imposed on application developers.” It thus called on Apple to “create and enforce policies, standards, and procedures to ensure the accessibility of all apps… and to ensure that accessibility is not lost when an app is updated.”

In all, some 19 out of 22 resolutions passed at the Orlando convention relate to digital technology.

These include a resolution urging the Obama administration to act more quickly on its own pledge to introduce new regulations enforcing the accessibility of all US public sector websites, first proposed in 2010 but recently delayed until March 2015.

Others included resolutions urging better accessibility for Microsoft SharePoint collaboration software; apps and websites collecting data and interacting with devices to build the “internet of things”; tools and technologies helping people manage diabetes; enterprise software; electronic health records; educational tools used by science students in the laboratory; cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync and Google Drive; home security systems; digital books; anti-virus software; apps made by airline companies to book and track flights; online ballot-marking systems; remote computer access tools.

All this year’s NFB resolutions can be read in Word ’97 format on the federation’s website.