Visually impaired students now lack a Mac screen reader, something that could hurt school sales and put Apple on the bad side of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), Alex Salkever writes in his latest Byte of the Apple column for BusinessWeek Online.
ALVA Access Group no longer supports or build new versions of inLarge and outSPOKEN, two products for blind and visually impaired Mac users. outSPOKEN was the only such screen reader for Macs on the market — and without screen-reader software, blind pupils could be forced to turn to Windows products instead, Salkever writes. And since school administrators need to buy products that meet ADA guidelines, this puts Apple in a bad spot, he adds.
“I think it’s horrible,” Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation for the Blind in Computer Science, told Salkever. Giving blind students Apples will “further isolate blind kids who are already isolated from the basic school population,” Chong said.
In a worst-case scenario, Apple’s lack of software for the visually impaired could be construed as a violation of federal accessibility guidelines under the ADA, Salkever writes. Of course, the company can’t force third-party software companies to continue developing products they don’t want to build, and Apple can’t be expected to pick up the slack for every third-party developer that quits developing for the Mac, he adds. Besides, Apple claims that it’s not ignoring blind users.
“A screen reader is something that’s important to us, and we continue to evaluate our options in that area,” Chris Bourdon, senior product-line manager for Mac OS X, told Salkever. “Accessibility is something that has been important to us through the entire development of OS X.”
The columnist thinks Apple should build a screen reader, then release it into the open-source domain, “much like it did with the Safari Web browser.” This would silence critics, eliminate any school-district fears of lawsuits and bad publicity, and be a “huge service to the visually impaired community,” he adds.