Historically, both on this blog and on BlindConfidential, I have very rarely engaged with commenters. I write articles, I post them, people read them or not and some choose to comment. While I was reading Marco Zehe’s excellent Android review series , I observed him engage with his commenters both in the comments on the series and in the text of other articles in the series as they appeared. Last night, for the first time ever, I posted a comment to my own blog in response to something that an individual defending Android had posted. As there have been a pile of mostly negative comments posted regarding “The Amish User Experience, the article I posted yesterday, I chose to, instead of responding to them in the comments section, write a separate post containing my thoughts on their notions.
I am also going to explore the titular subject of this article, “Do blind technology consumers get what we pay for?” and, I’m quite certain the this subject that the Android fans will trash me again. Bring it on boys.
In most of my articles, I provide links to virtually all proper nouns and terms I think readers might find confusing. This article has a few links but I ran out of time today and didn’t add them. I’m sure that any links that today’s piece would have had are linked to from the one I wrote yesterday and they’re links on this page to that article.
Did We Get What We Paid For?
One commenter wrote, “The gay / LGBTQ community, in the past, used to be more flamboyant. They would openly dress or do certain actions to attract haters to them, in order to raise awareness. I am seeing a shift in this as of late, the community is taking a more humble approach and accepting themselves first before seaking acceptance from others.”
If we’re going to use the LGBT community as a metaphor, I’ll paraphrase the gay former Massachusetts congressman, Barney Frank on the day President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, “How long are we going to wait for our rights Mr. President? How long are we going to wait?” And, I ask you, how long are you going to wait for Google to end the discrimination they perpetrate against people with disabilities through their technological segregation?
I ask, “How would the LGBTQ community react if Google charged their community full price for a product or service and, then, only permitted them to use a subsection of the features?”
Accessibility doesn’t apply to the majority of the LGBTQ community so let’s suggest a hypothetical. What if Google decided to go into the hotel business and told all LGBTQ people, all racial minorities and a few religious minorities that, while they need to pay full price for their room, they cannot use the swimming pool, the gym or any other facility? Now, please tell me how the discrimination we face due to technological segregation is any different?
In the hotel example, any of the aforementioned minorities would probably start to remedy the problem by going straight to the Department of Justice and have the place closed down if changes aren’t being made immediately. About two years ago, Chris Cotters, a member of the Freedom Scientific board, flew to Tampa for a meeting and tried to check into the Westshore Hotel. There, the on duty manager tried to refuse him a room. He called his employer, a big time Boston law firm, their people called the company that owned the hotel and, within an hour, that manager had been fired. That is how discrimination should and must be handled. Why then shouldn’t the people in charge of making Android accessible receive the same treatment for continuing to enforce technological segregation on our community?
When I buy something, I expect to be able to use 100% of its features. I paid full price for an Android device and I bought a second one (the Nexus/7 I used for my research) second hand. In either case, I paid for all of the features on the device and, as Apple has done with iOS/7, I expect to be able to use all of the features for which I paid my hard earned dollars.
In reality, as anyone can read in the comprehensive testing I did and described in “I Give Up,” there are a whole lot of features that are not accessible to people with vision impairment and, far worse, to people who are deaf-blind. Shouldn’t we get a discount reflecting the percentage of inaccessible features when we buy such a device?
I don’t want to hear, “Well, I can use the subsection of accessible features to do everything I want,” as that’s the most selfish thing anyone can say about accessibility. Readers of this blog would know that I don’t write about personal use cases, I stick to objective measures things like standards, guidelines and best practices. I do this because, as a user, I am an statistically insignificant sample size of one. I also can only do functional testing based on a user who has a total vision impairment. Hence, I look at standards developed for universal accessibility so as to ensure that my testing applies not only to me but, rather, to all people with disabilities that require access technology.
If I only tested the apps and features that I would want to use, I would have saved myself a whole lot of time and frustration. Instead, I tried to test every feature, every app, every control in each and so on as I cannot predict what other people, the people who read this blog, might want to do and neither can you.
By claiming that an Android device is accessible means that your definition of accessibility means that my deaf-blind friend Scott can’t use it but, in your mind, that’s ok. You’re saying that we don’t deserve every feature for which we paid, even though we paid full price and you’re saying that your personal use cases are more important than the collective use cases desired by all people with disabilities.
Shooting The Messengers
If one takes a look at the traffic on the Eyes Free mailing list, one would think that my old buddy Marco and I were the most evil villains in the blindness community. what did Marco and I do to provoke such anger? We spent our personal time, entirely without compensation, to research an Android system from as an objective way possible. You’ll notice that there’s no “donate” button on this blog or on Marco’s either, we do this testing so as to inform readers of the results of our findings. I test against published standards, guidelines and objective measures; Marco did a functional testing process based in actually using the device.
When we each started our efforts, we both hoped that Android would be an accessibility giant, we both wanted to write really positive pieces. Instead, based on the data we gathered, we wrote articles telling the truth, Android, based in objective measures and more subjective functional testing failed on nearly every count. The reaction by the Eyes Free community, though, was to dig in and, without correcting a single fact in any of the articles we’ve published on the matter, toss ad hominem at us. We spent a lot of time and personal energy actually testing these systems and reported the results. So, I suppose, if you don’t like the news, you’ll shoot the reporter.
What amazes me, as a blind technology consumer, is that Marco and I received far more anger aimed at us than the same people who bought devices on which they could only use a subsection of the features but paid full price ever toss at Google, a company they obviously worship with some sort of religious fixation, for not being 100% accessible in the same way that Apple has done with iOS/7. You can shout at Marco and I all you like, it still doesn’t change the situation, you pay full price for Android, you don’t get a full feature set.
Sure, I used fairly inflammatory language in “Amish” but Marco wrote everything without the sarcasm readers expect from Gonz Blinko. Marco is a truly and incredibly nice person; the same is rarely said of me. Marco engaged with the Eyes Free community during his testing (something someone critical of my piece commented positively about yesterday); I did my testing in a black box. Even with two very different approaches, we concur, a blind person gets a subset of the features for which they paid.
Anyway, feel free to call me as many names as you like but, please, lay off Marco. I write using vocabulary that may incite, Marco does not. Be fair, he’s worked for a lifetime in accessibility and has delivered a whole lot of the software blind people enjoy today including the terrific accessibility experience you Android fans have in FireFox. Read my profile, I’m a self proclaimed crackpot, stoner and loudmouth; Marco is the real deal, he works his ass off to make the world a more accessible place nearly every hour of every day.
Marco and, more so, I have been accused of having a pro-iOS bias. This is true but it’s not based in “belief” that Apple does a better job but, rather, in having tested both systems extensively, gathered our data, added it all up and, voila! we find that one system is more accessible than another. We report with a highly fact based bias. So, if we have a true “bias” it is for reporting on actual testing results and not by how we feel. Data matters !.
To those of you who have accused either or both of us of bias, I have a single challenge. When you have taken an iOS device and an Android device and have, as I did, tested every aspect in every app on each, and scored with one point for everything that meets every aspect of the iOS or Android accessibility API that passes (some controls will have six or more items to test) and give 0 points when any fail. Then, divide by the total number of tests that were performed to get a score. Apple will get an A+ with 100% (in integers) and Android will get a failing grade. Don’t take my word for it, don’t be lazy, do the work and you’ll see the results yourself. My work can be replicated and repeating an experiment is at the crux of finding the truth.
Years ago, there was an annual event at CSUN called “Dueling Windows.” On stage, there would be a JAWS user, a Window-Eyes user and users of a few of the long forgotten screen readers on the stage. The users on stage were not employees of the screen reader companies but they were allowed to approve the users as experts. Then, side by side, with identical PCs with all of the same software (excluding the different screen readers) they were asked to perform tasks by a panel. The users were not given the tasks in advance and were always designed to test a very wide range of use cases. This was really fun and, for those of us working on screen readers back then, it was incredibly informative. Many times, we would see something happen with our user on stage and return to the office to make it better in the future. It also gave consumers a good taste of what worked well and what did not with each screen reader so they could make a buying choice. Sadly, after JAWS won the event five or six years in a row, they stopped doing it as it was like watching the New York Yankees play against a Long Island Little League team.
I’d like to propose a “Dueling Mobile” event that works similarly. On stage, we could have a user hand picked by Apple, Google and Microsoft to represent them. A panel of experts could compile a list of tasks common to mobile computing. One at a time, the users on the stage will try to accomplish the tasks. Success will be judged on the amount of time it took each to accomplish the task, the number of gestures necessary to perform the same task and I’m sure my more scholarly friends would come up with a number of more metrics against which the contestants could be judged. The CSUN call for papers went out last week, if someone wants to work on this as a proposal, I’ll be happy to help.
What will be accomplished by such an event? We will have another data set based in an objective measure that we can publish and blind consumers will be better informed when they hope to make a purchasing decision.
Why Do I Write This Blog?
One commenter asked why I would take the time to write my blog. I enjoy writing, I studied writing in graduate school at Harvard, writing is what I do. I write this blog because I enjoy working through ideas in written form. I enjoy the process and I enjoy the conversation that my articles sometimes provoke.
I suppose a fair number of readers like it too as virtually all of my pics get hundreds of hits and, this year, a half dozen or so have gotten more than a thousand with one over 5000. In the past month, my blog has been featured on the front pages of Daring Fireball and TechCrunch so I suppose people in the mainstream are enjoying it too.
What I cannot answer is why readers come back to my blog as frequently as they do. When I write a piece, I never know if it will be a hit or not. I had thought, for instance, that two of my recent articles, one critical of the VoiceOver support in Safari on OS X and the other about how hard it is to find the history of access technology online, would be big hits (on my lowly standards of big hit), instead, they were two of the worst performing articles I published this year. Other articles, like “Remembering GW Micro” felt self serving even to me as it discusses my own role in AT history but it is one of the articles on which we’ve gotten more than a thousand hits. So, I never know, I just write what comes to mind and toss it out there and hope some people enjoy my work.
If we don’t get access to every feature for which we paid, we are being ripped off.
Discrimination through technological segregation, especially now that web sites, under ruling by US Department of Justice, are, indeed, places of public accommodation, is identical to segregation in the world of bricks and mortar. We don’t tolerate it there, why tolerate it in our technology?
Use data to drive your arguments and you won’t be accused of ad hominem and other logical fallacies.
And, if you want to shout about the accessibility in Android, put up or shut up. Do the testing like Marco and I did. Test everything like I did. Then, publish your results. If you are unwilling to do the work Marco and I did but insist you’re right, I just ask, where’s the data?
Jeffrey - JDS says
As I so often do, I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with your article/position somewhat. You toot how android sucks for a blind user and a deaf blind user but don’t talk to other disabilities. i.e. the numerous references to the fact that in many cases it’s significantly better for a low vision user (or certain subsets of low vision users. How users with physical disabilities can plug in a whole subset of controllers, rate enhancement systems and alternate input devices and alternate input devices through USB or bluetooth without any effort. Heck the fact that I can plug in my desktop keyboard with a standard otg usb cable and use it to control my android tablet or phone (without any additional hardware/software) is pretty neat. The fact the latest talkback betas add keyboard commands for the screen reader and fix a number of the edit field issues is also pretty noteworthy. You will probably say you are only talking to your experience as a blind user”; however, by referencing a deaf blind user’s experience you are going afield of that delimiter. Personally, I’m not amish, I’m blind and I use android every day by choice as my primary device. I have the latest blackberry, ios and android devices and choose to use android because it meets my needs.
I agree with you that all mobile platforms need to start enforcing their accessibility guidelines both internally for their apps and 3rd party apps. I agree that Google doesn’t enforce it enough on some of their own apps. I don’t think that Andorid/Google is the only culprit (i.e. Blackberry and Microsoft are also guilty of this offense.
I won’t speak to marco and your experience on the eyes-free mailing list; simply because, it does need a moderator and some of the trolls need to be kicked off.
Other than that, as always… enjoyed the post.
To be fair for low vision users iOS is also really good, what makes Android better? With iOS you have a very easy ability to zoom in on the screen, to have elements read aloud. You can also connect quite a few devices easily through Bluetooth or even USB if you have the Photo connection adaptor (that lets you use a PC keyboard also).
With iOS7 iOS also introduced system wide support for increasing font size that most applications are adopting.
You should really take a look sometime at the full list of features you can enable or use under General->Accessibility on an iOS device, many of them also help low-vision users.
Greg W. says
I am a blind android user and I can do everything on my Samsung Galaxy S4 that people do on their IOS devices. I make phone calls, text message people, check e-mail, search the web and many others. How can you then say I am not getting my monies worth when I am using android? To say that I and others are not is a false assumption. I can even use Google docs and sheets very easily on my device. You are constantly putting down Android users because we have to customize our devices. Well guess what that is the main reason most of us use Android. It is so we can make our devices work the way we want and not the way Apple wants us to use them. This is a curiosity question. You and some developers have all these complaints, have you once sent any kind of feed back to Google to help make the platform better? If not then you need to stop the complaining and putting Android down. Android is improving all the time and Google is also constantly improving there apps on the PC side. This can easily be seen in Marco’s blog on using some of the Google apps.
gary m says
hello i agree with Gre W the user of android. you are not giving a fair view at the matter. accessibility has improved drastically with the introduction of Android l. i will bet that there will be more Apple users curious about the improvements of Android l and will try out an android tablet or even a budget friendly phone. i think aht apple devices are overpriced and you don’t get your moneys worth out of the i phone or i pad the current i pad cost $600 where as an Android nexus tablet cost #$250 and can do more . Also the i phone 6 and 6 plus apple had to release since it was at the mercy of losing even more customers at the hands of samsung and android. if you don’t know take a look at a samsung galaxy s4 or s5 or even note 3 or note 4, devices you will see all the improvements of Android accessibility that’s comparable to apple. Also samsung has spend lots of time improving accessibility. i cna tell you some features that samsung device can do , you have tripple click to turn on and off accessiblity, you haveaa darkening mode, you have an easy mode, you have magnification, you have invers for people who use black on white or white on bblack for better contrast issue for low vision. Also ther otehr improvements but i will leave hta for you to try as i do have a samsung device. . Also Android l will also give nexus devices the same comparable accessibility as I OS. . i can tell there are lots of accessibility issues in the past few days about I OS 8 and accessibility being broken with voice over. So i will challange your falacies that apple has now gotten a big challenge wher as google is now going to be controlling things as its got plans to offer there own devices and to keep android up to date with accessibility matters. So i would like to challange you to take a second look at Android when Android l is released and then compare andd contrast your falacies.
Lulu Keel says
Having read both articles under discussion here, as well as Marco’s blog entries, I have to say a lot of valid points have been made and I, from my own toyings with android, which is a long way from your thorough testing, cannot but agree with everything you say.
I think we all have a tendency to get defensive about the things we use and like, objectivity and impartiality is what we should aim for but if we’ve used a product or screenreader for a long time it’s all too easy to feel proprietory about it and when someone attacks it we’re going to leap to its defence, even if we know deep down that what’s being said might be all too true. However I’m sorry that quite such vitriol is being thrown in your direction and in Marco’s when you have done so much work and given your time for free.
I really do like your duelling mobiles idea. I would like very much to see that happen. You, I or anyone can put forward a point of view but no one can argue with side by side test results like that. … or can they? *smiles* Anyway here’s hoping such a sensible course of action comes to pass one of these not-too-distant days.
I absolutely have to agree with you. Apple has set a new standdered that all apps should be accessible. Even buttons should be labeled. You make some very good points.
S. Massy says
Like the previous poster, I find myself both in agreement and disagreement with your position. Particularly, I feel very uncomfortable with the black & white positions you express and the extreme ways in which you seem to feel compelled to put things.
First, I’d like to repost something I sent to eyes-free regarding your article(s) and the reactions they elicited there:
I’ve been using NoteWorthy Composer as my primary music composition program since 2002. I learned how to use it entirely from reading the help file and experimenting. I do all my editing by hand; I’ve tried using midi recording programs and found my skill wanting.
Fast-forward to the end of 2010, when I started interacting with VI people online. Eventually, someone asked about composition programs. At first, I tried explaining how to use NWC. Then it sank in that this program is pretty much inaccessible (and I suck at explaining how to do things) and I stopped. Especially after I realized that I’d probably have about as hard a time learning it if I started now, using NVDA – I learned NWC with Jaws 3.7, with which the “accessibility” is better but still lacking.
Android has loads of advantages in the general case: price, lower barrier to development, open source. I’d much rather work with Android. But my entire purpose for acquiring a smart phone is to get as much accessibility as possible for the lowest price. If I was in it to develop apps, I’d go with Android. But I’m in it for the daily life superpowers. I’d rather save the studying and work-arounds I invested in NWC for something where the tradeoff is more one-sided in favor of effort.
Léonie Watson says
These quasi-religious technology wars are ridiculous. They’ve been happening since forever: Internet Explorer versus Netscape, Windows versus Mac OS, Jaws versus Window-Eyes, Android versus iOS… Bla bla bla.
It’s good to find objective research and investigation in amongst all the hyperbole, so thanks to you and Marco for putting in the time and sharing your thoughts.
jan brown says
Good work Chris.
Both you and Marco whose articles I loved have done a good service. Of course, some people don’t care whether an operating system is completely accessible and buy what they buy for a myriad of reasons.
Keep up the good work.
Paul Warner says
Good articles, Chris, but it seems to me that often the deciding factor in choosing IOS or Android is cost. If you have the choice, this is very much a First World problem. Often, Android phones are purchased or supplied in contracts simply because they are affordable to so many who might otherwise have preferred an iPhone.
Indeed, the difference in price can be so dramatic that those who go for Android phones are prepared to accept the hassle of having to download apps which do provide better accessibility than the stock apps which were the subject of your evaluation, this ‘extra work’ making it possible to save large sums of money. I think that the average Android user will be using a fair number of non-stock apps and the Eyes-Free community and others provide good resources to help in this respect. While comparing stock IOS to stock Android is a valid methodology, it does not really compare what happens in the real world. In the Android ‘Amish community’, most users are sneaking in all kinds of cool technology.
I’m sure that in a comparison of out-of-the-showroom specs, a BMW car will win hads down compared to a Nissan Micra. Not everyone can afford the former and often the latter choice can be justified for all kinds of reasons which would not normally attract criticism. I agree that the IOS UX is generally superior but that does not invalidate Android as a sensible option for someone on a tight budget.
When Apple can produce an iPhone for the price of a Moto G, perhaps a fairer like-for-like comparison can be undertaken.
That said, and if I can afford the luxury of that choice, my next phone will be an iPhone!
Thanks for the articles, I’ve really enjoyed reading about your Android experiences. I also appreciate the more objective look at the iOS versus Android debate, and it’s something I’d love to do as well if I could obtain an Android device.
I wanted to comment on the price point. It’s true that the latest iPhones are very expensive, usually starting at $200 on contract. However, if you are willing to go for a less powerful and fancy device, you can get a cheaper or even free option. The standard model is the latest iPhone for $200, the previous model (or lower-cost model, in the case of iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C) for $100, and the next oldest (iPhone 4S, for the moment) for free. I realize that the specs of a lower-cost Android phone will be better than an iPhone5C in some cases, but also keep in mind that iOS is so tuned to its hardware that it can perform on lower-powered devices as well as Android can on higher-powered ones. My point is, if cost is an issue, you can either wait for sales or choose a less powerful iPhone.
These are both great articles Chris. To those who are saying that the standards approach is not a good one, or that it is invalid, I strongly disagree with you. I’m not saying that the subjective approach isn’t good for testing useability, but the subjective approach isn’t what determines accessibility, the standards approach does. Standards are an objective, agreed-upon method for making sure that this stuff works and works for users across the widest variety of communities. The standards, although they are not the end of accessibility, they are the foundation of it and any other efforts should begin after standards have been met.
This is a pointless argument. In my opinion, smart phones are tools. They are a means to an end, and not the end itself. Even the really fancy gold embroidered phones by Tag Heuer do not escape this definition.
If blind customers have found ways to utilize mobile platforms to accomplish their goals, why create articles defending one operating system over another? This community would be a whole lot better off if people Used whatever works for them and devoted their energy to improving their platform of choice instead of arguing about its merits.
with the new talkback things just got eadier. web views are more useable, and I don’t have to use the l gestures anymore. I can select copy cut and paste text and quickly switch between reading by words and characters. and use a bluetooth keyboard to take notes. I can use the alarm clock, web, calendar, voice search, some games, email, and more. OCR without paying for knfb reader, barcode and money scanning, tap tap see. music movies and tv shows, audio voice recording and even my camera app is fully accessible. not to mention I get eloquence and other voices and a great file browser called total commander. naturespace and other nature apps as well. some apps I tried are not really useable but then some apps I tried on my son’s ipod touch with ios7 are not very useable either. but if I had to choose, I’d choose my android device. I just really like it a whole lot! my moto g for $200 with kitkat and updates from google play i got mine off google play devices… yes it works great! and nearby explorer is the best gps app ever! patiently waiting for nls bard and knfb reader to come to android.
really all apps accessible on apple? well if that’s the case then why can’t I play madden nfl on my son’s ipod touch? after all all apple apps have to be accessible, right? someone explain that one.
Oliver gold says
As always Chris I appreciate your work and most of your opinions. The only issues I have are your take no prisoners attitude toward accessibility. While on one hand it is important to have outspoken advocates for a 0 tolerance policy for noncompliance to accessibility standards, it is on the other hand that I sometimes want to tell you to shut the fuck up already.
At times I feel that the no compromise approach is allowing perfection to be the enemy of the good and every time I read your take on access and what should be done I get a little pissed off at this attitude.
Do we get what we pay for? Name something that we as blind people get 100% of what we pay for in the public arena. Should we get ½ off at the movies because we can’t see the screen? Should we pay less to attend an opera or a concert with a great light show simply because we can’t enjoy it the same way as our sighted counter parts? How about when we buy clothes? Should we pay less because we cannot enjoy the colors as our sighted friends do? Hey, how about TV? Shouldn’t we pay less for our cable because we can’t see the images on the screen? I’d certainly like to pay less for that. Blenders, toasters, thermostats, refrigerator temperature adjustment nobs, electric stove dials and so many things are not 100% accessible and yet we don’t pay less for them. ON the contrary, if we want accessible options we frequently pay more.
My point is this Chris, just because it is not perfect does not necessarily mean it is not accessible. I use my Android equally well as my friends use their IOS devices. What I do and what many others do on their phones helps us to decide on the accessibility of the devices. Should there be better standards and rules of compliance? No doubt, but making the claim that something is not accessible because it doesn’t meet a 100% threshold is making perfection the enemy of the good.
There is absolutely more that needs to be done to make products more accessible to people with disabilities, but disparagement without praise is an unhealthy approach to moving ahead. I hate IOS, I mean it, and I honestly and viscerally hate it. Apple has done well with access, but I hate being told how to use my device, which device I must own and worst of all ITunes. The UI is awkward for me and the holier than thou superiority attitude of Apple fan boys makes me want to puke, but if it works for someone who am I to argue?
The biggest problem I have with IOS and Android comparison articles is that those who write these articles seem to be uber techno geeks. There are so few articles written by everyday users. I love technology, I can’t get enough of it , but I’m not a programmer and I don’t speak operating systemese. I know access technology and what meets and exceeds my personal needs. I challenge anyone to use their IOS device better than I use my Android device doing exactly what I do and want to do with my Android. The articles frequently leave the impression that if you are blind then you should only use IOS because Android sucks. As you know Chris from being on the Eyes-Free group, many of us are extremely happy and satisfied with our Android devices. Every time we read these IOS and Android comparison articles we are being told that we are completely out of touch and stupid because we prefer Android. What’s always missing in these articles is the understanding that we don’t all wish to use our devices the same way as everyone else. If you want to make the argument that Google should do more for accessibility, then make that argument without suggesting that if you are not using IOS you are obviously wrong.
Birkir Gunnarsson says
Excellent blogs, and excellent work telling it like it is, even with liberal sarcasm and wit thrown in for good measure. Please do submit the dualing phones idea for a CSUN presentation (no banjos required but some sort of Deliverence reference preferred). I would be happy to contribute, though mostly I would be excited to come watch. Me and my colleague did an objective screen reader comparison back in 2011 at CSUN that definitely drew its fair share of criticism, but was also highly rated by those who attended. Sadly life has gotten in the way and we have not managed to update this side-by-side testing, but I think the underlying methodology, defining a set of tasks one wants to achieve in a testable manner and then putting the different accessibility solutions to work, always yields interesting and informative results.