Model T Syndrome Continued

This morning, I read and published a comment by an Android user who took offense at being labeled a puppy yapping for a biscuit. The anonymous post stated that this user was a member of the “Eyes Free” mailing list, a group to which I also belong and correctly stated that some of the people on the mailing list were critical of various things regarding Android accessibility. This person also correctly stated that GPS navigation apps designed for people with vision impairment are superior and less costly on Android phones than on any other types of handsets.

Then, the user writes that it is good that Android supports some of the most minimal features like answering and placing calls and entirely dives into symptoms of Model T Syndrome by stating that there is an expectation that Android will get better. The anonymous Com enter then states that it is only due to Android accessibility that a person with vision impairment can use Sprint as a carrier. Sprint, if we forget, is bound by Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act to provide accessible handsets and that it hasn’t before should be the basis of an FCC investigation and not a celebration of Android’s half assed accessibility.

My point is that it is absolutely unacceptable for any company to release access technology that is too far from the state-of-the-art. On handsets, this means that the AT is competitive with VoiceOver on the iPhone and not a handful of really excellent features like pedestrian GPS and few of the basics like out-of-the-box web browsing.

Let’s explore how Android as a whole compares to Android accessibility. How many mainstream users would buy an Android phone if it wasn’t competitive with the iPhone? What if such users had no web browsing, could not read descriptions in the Android Market (a problem fixed in 2.3 but not available to any blink with an Android 2.2 based handset), could only “see” some buttons with meaningless information on them in order to do things like installing new software, could not use more than half of the standard apps, could not use the on-screen keyboard, could not use the built-in email client, could not use any of the handsets without a built-in hardware keyboard, could not turn it on without assistance and could not do a panoply of other fundamental smart phone activities? The answer, plain and simply, is that a phone with all of these problems would have been the laughing stock of the telecommunications biz. But, our anonymous comment-or seems to say that we should be grateful and that such failings are acceptable for we blinks.

I’m not suggesting that people with disabilities should have an experience substantially better than that of our mainstream friends but, rather, I’m saying that anything less than parity out-of-the-box is unacceptable. this is entirely the Model T Syndrome and an entirely discriminatory approach to software development on behalf of the technology giants that make such incredibly flawed solutions like we must endure on Android. Google has billions and billions of dollars in its arsenal but cannot make a screen reader superior to that built by a really smart and really terrific 22 year old hacker in his spare time. This would be the equal of Chevy building a new car based not on state-of-the-art electric engine technology but, rather, on the Model T, a vehicle that was pretty wonderful a century or so ago.

Google is not alone in this problem. Microsoft released Windows Phone 7 with no accessibility solution and no way for third parties to create an accessible solution. Symbian seems to have lost its accessibility in more recent releases, Blackberry seems to have broken its accessibility and Palm never had accessibility in the first place. None of the failings of other OS, though, is an excuse for Android to provide such a substandard solution. We have state-of-the-art accessibility from Apple and all comers should provide something quite similar and do so immediately.

— End.

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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

4 thoughts on “Model T Syndrome Continued”

  1. Hi BC. I am the same user who wrote a comment to your last post. You’ve written something here that confuses me. You talk about all of android’s shortcomings, and conclude with the following sentence. “The answer, plain and simply, is that a phone with all of these problems would have been the laughing stock of the telecommunications biz. But, our anonymous comment-or seems to say that we should be grateful and that such failings are acceptable for we blinks.”
    I don’t know where you’re getting that from. As I said in my previous comment, I’m not suggesting that we just take what we’re given. We should critique google and its performance regarding accessibility. We should not say that everything is perfect and bury our heads in the sand regarding the significant work that still needs to be done.
    I only had one point in bringing up the positive aspects of android. That point is, as a practical reality, those features of android that are supported are making a difference for users right now. Should we celebrate it? NO. But should we acknowledge it? Yes. I will return to my sprint example to prove this point. In an ideal world, we should sue them for a wider selection of truly accessible devices. But the reality is that no such suit has been brought, and I am only one individual who wants the best deal for his dollar. That being the case, I will take an android handset with unlimited internet that I can tether to my netbook any day. When compared to a 5 GB limited IPhone with no tethering and a crummy network, the sprint family plan is an absolute steal.
    I’m still unsure why I can’t point this out without being considered a puppy. The phones have problems, and if they continue to have them in future versions of android we may need to take further actions. But what should I do in the meantime to avoid the puppy dog label? Should I pay twice as much for an IPhone, and then another hundred dollars for a GPS because of the ideal of parity? Should I buy a nokia phone with talks or mobile speak, only to find that certain features don’t work on that phone so I have to buy another model? Should I be limited out of a network with the cheapest prices because I’m blind? If I am to shun android, otherwise I gain the label of a grateful fool, I’m curious to know what else I should have done.
    Here’s something else to consider. why can’t the ideas of acknowledging current accessibility efforts while asking for more coexist? They do in linux all the time. Just go over to the vinux list to see what I mean. The developers have done a great job with orca and other access tools. Yet, users have asked why we can’t read large documents in open office without crashing, and have complaint about glaring firefox issues.
    Also, look at NVDA for windows. Users like what it can do, but often make other suggestions about improvements they want to see. If we can respect the current access of free products on windows and linux while asking for more, why can’t we do the same on android? Granted, those products are further along than talkback, but that was not always the case. I remember when both NVDA and orca stunk bigtime. They would never have gotten to where they are today without the support of the community, so why can’t we act the same way toward android? Please don’t misunderstand me. We should not be jumping for joy right now. We should not bow down to the feet of google. But we should at least acknowledge that some progress has been made and encourage more.

  2. I think the biggest “sin” that Google had made is to ship an accessibility solution that is fundamentally half-baked. This isn’t a group of voulanteer open source hackers (i.e. NVDA or Orca), but an official team at Google tasked with producing accessibility for a product. To ask for parity with the sighted experience is only right to do and ethically the only thing to do.

    The nice part of iPhone is that you come really close to using the device as a sighted user would. Yes, that includes paying $60 or so for GPS software and waiting for other developers to produce more blindness friendly GPS software. After all, you want the platform to be accessible and clearly it takes a great effort to do just that; the whole point of having a platform is so that third-party developers can build app’s to serve users. With the two GPS app’s that are blind-only app’s produced by EF, you get something useful, but at the usual shotty quality that seems to permeate the rest of their offerings.

    Stop being a cheap blind consumer and actually pay for the app’s that everyone else pays for. Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you should expect free GPS app’s–there’s certainly not enough of a market for it. And, clearly as Google has proven, an open source solution that relies upon the time of unpaid developers or token effort/time of paid developers doesn’t work because they have other projects that take up their time and free doesn’t really pay the bills does it. Yes, I’d rather pay twice as much for an iPhone because they released an actual fully functioning product. If you’d like to give Android free quality assurance–btw of which Google should be responsible for–then continue dealing with fundamental drawbacks of the platform. You’re just contributing money to something that isn’t any good for the foreseeable future. Contrasted with other products, you can see why BC would come out with guns blazing because other companies have enough respect for the blind user to put on the table something that shows up to the game ready to play.

  3. Lol. To the second commentor, way to shoot yourself in the foot. You write that things should be equal for the blind, and that BC is correct. Then, however, you write the following about free GPS. “

    Stop being a cheap blind consumer and actually pay for the app’s that everyone else pays for.
    This statement reeks of iggnorence. Nobody else pays for sprint navigation, which is included free as a gps solution on many handsets. Nobody pays for google maps, which is again a free app on handsets.
    If you want to tell me not to be a cheap consumer and pay what everybody else pays for, then perhaps give me an example of an app that is truly free to only the blind. Otherwise, you are making the point opposite to the one you are trying to prove. All the sighted get free GPS, but because I don’t have working eyes, I must not be a cheap blind guy and pay? What kind of logic is that? It seems to suggest that we cannot and should not have equality .
    You continue this argument by saying:
    Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you should expect free GPS app’s–there’s certainly not enough of a market for it”
    It’s not just because “I’m blind”, thanks for putting those words in my mouth. It is instead, because I am trying to be a smart money conscious consumer. And before you tell me to get a job so I would have the money to pay, I want to inform you that I already have a successful career. If I can get a free product that works pretty well, as opposed to something I must pay for, I am going to take the free route. Ask your sighted friends: they would do the same thing. Finally, I want to address your concern of not having a market for something like a GPS app. Isn’t your whole point parity? And if so, then the blind market should be exactly the same as the sighted market for the same tools they get to use.

  4. I don’t really understand your point about feature phones–they’re not meant to be smart phones. They have less in terms of capabilities but that also means that there’s less to worry about when it comes to accessibility. Phones like these have physical buttons so have almost no need for screen readers.

    With Talks and Mobile Speak, that’s your right and perhaps they’re not meeting the new bar. When they first started, guess what, there was no such thing as an accessible smartphone… Now, they do support web browsing, some app’s, and all in-box app’s. (btw, that’s ahead of Android).

    With regard to carriers, sure, AT&T sucks, but that point isn’t really valid anymore because Verizon just got the iPhone; you also assume that I’m in the U.S. You also have the option of using Talks/MobileSpeak. Also, the Haven and a bunch of feature phones are just fine (including the line of LG talking phones).

    Complete access is a myth; what we’re asking for is as close to parity as we can get with sighted people. Obviously, short of curing blindness, we’re not gonna get complete parity (someday perhaps), so next best thing is to look at all that we can do with the device. Android just ranks really low there…

    In other industries, companies do get slammed for pushing out the door something that’s clearly faulty; why shouldn’t that apply here? Shouldn’t we expect a certain level of quality? I never understood why people put up with product A when product B does almost everything better. It’s the capitalist market we live in and competition drives innovation. clearly, lots of companies are copying iPhone today because touch happens to be a damn good and natural interface; they just missed what iPhone did with accessibility.

    Finally, you don’t seem to get the jist of BC’s point. The point is that the bar has been raised. At one point, we had zero access to smartphones. Then came along Talks and Mobile Speak which taught us about mobile internet browsing, menu based interfaces, and a little bit of Windows mobile. Finally, iPhone set a new bar by kicking some major butt with new interfaces and doing an excellent job of including a ton of features (i.e. braille, multiple languages, etc etc). And, then you have Android…

    Now, you can probably understand why Android is being compared to a car some odd 50 years old in this slide backward, because it misses the bar set by almost all of the products before it.

    With regard to Windows Mobile 7, yes, they haven’t released anything. I don’t particularly see this as good or bad. They are likely working on some kind of solution behind the scenes. Even if they are not, they are not making any false promises. You’re also basically one step from Android…if you buy a Windows Mobile 7 phone with a keyboard, you could probably learn by trial and error how to dial and use some basic phone functions. Heck, you could probably even download a few app’s that are easy enough to learn if you memorize the on-screen location of things. Does that sound that far from your Android experience?

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