Thursday, March 17, 2011

National Federation for the Blind asks DOJ to investigate inaccessibility of Google Apps

From PC Magazine:

The National Federation for the Blind on March 15 requested that the Department of Justice investigate Google for what it considers to be the discriminatory nature of its Google Apps product.

New York University and Northwestern University recently adopted Google Apps for Education, transitioning their e-mail systems and collaborative tools into the Google-based cloud.

The NFB contends that Google Apps "contains significant accessibility barriers for blind people utilizing screen access technology, which converts what is on the computer screen into synthesized speech or Braille."

This violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NFB said.

"Given the many accessible options available, there is no good reason that these universities should choose a suite of applications, including critical e-mail services, that is inaccessible to blind students," Marc Maurer, president of the NFB, said in a statement. "Worse yet, according to recent data more than half of the American higher education institutions that are outsourcing e-mail to third-party vendors plan to deploy this suite, even though they know that it cannot be used by blind students."

"Last week we had a productive discussion with Dr. Marc Maurer of the National Federation for the Blind, and he shared a powerful message on the importance of accessibility," Google said in a statement. "We left the meeting with a strong commitment to improving our products."

Google pointed PCMag to a Web site that outlines the company's accessibility resources. Later, the company said in a blog post that it will be at the CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference this week to discuss the accessisbility of its products.

"We've been working in this space for a while, launching features such as captions on YouTube, applications such as WalkyTalky and Intersection Explorer on Android (so people can use Google Maps eyes-free) and building easy-to-navigate, accessible Google search pages to work smoothly with adaptive technologies," Google wrote. "We have more to do. At CSUN 2011, we're looking forward to more insights about how to make Android, Chrome and Google Apps better enabled for people who rely on assistive technologies like screen readers."

The NFB said the universities cannot claim ignorance because the Department of Education has warned them about the use of inaccessible technology.

The organization filed a similar request for investigation against four Oregon schools that adopted Google Apps.

Earlier today, Google released a new process for Google Apps administrators to receive updates from the search giant. Google typically releases updates to its products automatically, but some customers with complex IT systems said they wanted more notice when Google was about to roll out updates.

As a result, Google will allow Apps users to subscribe to a "rapid release" or "scheduled release" program. Rapid release participants will get the updates as soon as they are available, while those on the scheduled option will get them on a consistent, weekly basis.

Google released a new launch communication tool that will provide updates on Google Apps releases.