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Friday, January 21, 2011

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice, way to conduct an argument by lol'ing.

Fyi, only after 2.2, did Android get free turn by turn navigation.(called "navigation"). Notice that certain handsets/carriers offer this as a paid option and block/remove the nav option (which btw is actually kind of accessible). Take for example VZ or other third parties like Tom Tom that offer paid options. Guess what, you might not even have 2.2...so what then? You're left with Google Maps.

Now, what type of access do you have to Google maps? Can you use every single feature that sighted people get? Can you even use half of them? Do you even have any idea what you're missing? Any touch screen access? Any browser access? Can you review the 2d map after doing a search for a point of interest?

I'm fervently of the opinion that you *do* pay for what you get. In certain cases, yes, free goes pretty darn far. However, if you believe in the free market, if someone's still paying for something, you gotta ask yourself why would anyone pay for something when it's free elsewhere? Why do people still pay for mobile speak or talks; how about Mobile Geo? Why do people pay double for the iPhone? I posit that it's because people gravitate to something that works for them and right now, the companies that seem to understand our needs as blind users like Apple, Code Factory, FS, and others, should be getting our money.

Again, would a sighted consumer buy a car without windows? Then, why in the world would a blind person pay for a phone that doesn't browse the web, doesn't support its own native email client, doesn't even support most of its devices (those sans keyboard). Yeah, the car without windows can be driven and yeah, the phone without touch screen access can be worked with a keyboard, but why would you support a company that fails at something so basic? Do you realize the total lack of respect they're showing for blind users? Umm...all they have to do is pick up an iPhone and they've got an idea of what the "standard" is.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the previous commenter:
You make some nice points, so I will acknowledge them before making any more of my own.
First, you are correct that some carriers remove the free navigation option and make you pay more for their own in house branded solution. You are also correct that, prior to 2.2, there was no free turn by turn directions.
As for the IPhone being the state of the art, you have hit the nail right on the head. I own an IPod touch, and it does everything from music and video playing to web browsing and games. I could not ask more from a little device. In the case of apple products, you do in deed get what you pay for, and it is quite a bargain.
I do disagree with one thing you've said, and it's because of my own personal experiences. You write that companies who respect the blind like codefactory, FS, and nuance should be getting our money. I take issue with this, especially regarding mobile phones. Prior to my switch to android, I used the nokia 6220 classic. I purchased that phone so that it would work with the KNFB reader, a product I have found quite useful. When I used this phone, I had many of the same problems android has now. I could not browse the web, because talks kept giving me the following error message. Scrypt alert, undefined value. The web would then crash out and I would have to retype the entire URL again. This happened at random, and sometimes would happen on pages that talks had previously read with no problem. Also, it happened more often when doing read alls, forcing me to read the web line by line. That's just as bad as the ideal web reader, which is android's current web access solution. I had similar problems with email. Talks was able to read an entire message to me, but I could never review by line, word, sentence, or any other function you would expect from a multi hundred dollar screen reader. It's not just the nokia phone that was a pain in the ass either. I got a samsung blackjak prior to that phone. And while most of its features worked with Mobile speak, I was unable to set any alarms for myself or use the calendar. These were known access issues with the blackjak at the time, with no workarounds or fixes.
My point is that When our own "blind centered" companies can't even get it right with the major phone models, and have the audacity to charge us through the nose, I feel more able to overlook the flaws of google and others who try to make accessibility without charging a dime. These are just my experiences, and judging from this blog, I am clearly in the minority. Most phone owners like talks, mobile speak, etc. Good for them. I certainly do not wish them ill will, and they should, as you rightfully point out, use a program that best fits their needs. For me, though, I am getting all I got out of my nokia, and then some from my android phone. I can at least review email line by line now, which is sadly a step up from talks. I can also read the entire message using k9 mail. In a pinch I can browse the web using ideal web reader. And while it is clunky and inconvenient, at least it doesn't crash completely forcing me to type everything in again. I have walkytalky for GPS, youtube for playing videos, several working music players, and tunein radio, which gives me a huge selection of sporting events to listen to. Let's also not forget skype, which is largely accessible with talkback.
None of these things worked on my nokia, because it only supported edge on ATNT, not 3g or wifi. And even symbian apps that could handle streaming, such as Nokia's shoutcast app were completely useless with talks.
Is android for everybody? Certainly not. Does it have a long way to go to be perfect? You bet. But I still contend that it's pretty darn good right now, and I am not slapped with any kind of "blind tax" to use it.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honestly cannot fathom why people would consider Android to be "pretty darn good right now". You cannot browse with the phone's native app, nor can you send email. The accessibility team recommends installing a weird counter-intuitive shell and dialer. You can't use phones that don't include keyboards. As previously mentioned, phones with keyboards are going away.

Today, I can buy any Apple product, take it home, and use it out-of-the-box. And every built-in feature is usable. Why are you not campaigning for Google to do the same thing? Instead, you're sending a message to Google saying, "It's OK. Don't bother implementing proper accessibility! Us blind people will gladly lap up whatever scraps you throw our way, because it's free! And cheaper than the iPhone! We love you, Google!" Is that the message we want to be sending? Should blind people be forced to buy overpriced, locked-down devices in order to have the same access to our phones that sighted folks do?

7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the final comment I will make, because you have a ridiculous desire to take my argument to an absolute extreme. For a summation of my argument, please read the first comment to this entry thoroughly. Pay particular attention to the fact that I do not just have praise for google. Also, reread the comment I posted to the first entry entitled Model T syndrome. I point out how troubling it is that phones without tactile keyboards are currently not useable.
Nonetheless, these points are overlooked, and my arguments are contorted into something they're not. You write:
"You're sending a message to Google saying, "It's OK. Don't bother implementing proper accessibility! Us blind people will gladly lap up whatever scraps you throw our way, because it's free! And cheaper than the iPhone!"
This is a straw man argument. It's not just because android is cheap that I chose it. Points other than money were mentioned, such as the network I can use the phone on. It's head and shoulders better than ATNT. Look up consumer reports for last year: ATNT was ranked the worst network around. I'm baffled as to why you chose not to consider this, when trying to summarize my argument.
The last point I will make is this. If your argument is truly that we shouldn't settle for anything less than complete access, we essentially have no other choices than the IPhone today. I can't pay for talks or mobile speak, because they don't work with a lot of third party apps. To give the AT companies my money would be telling them not to make a proper access solution for symbian and windows mobile. Using their products would be eating scraps thrown our way like a dog, and I know full well from your android argument that we can't do that. I shouldn't purchase the screen reader for blackberry, because it's sending the message to RIM that they can shove the cost of access on to us blind consumers. We should not purchase products like the haven cell phone, or the oasys, because they don't have full feature sets when compared to smart phones. In fact, we should shun the companies creating these things too.
If this is really the argument you're making, it leads to an obvious question. Just how do we expect anybody to make accessible devices for us if we're not to choose them over what's generally accepted? How do you expect anything to get better by limiting a blind person's choice, or else giving them derogatory labels like puppies? Oh, and BTW, where does microsoft windows fit into all of this? You must purchase incomplete access to programs via freedom scientific and GW micro. You still don't have access to installing a fresh copy of windows, using custom business applications, or even microsoft money. So, by logical extension of your argument, are all blind windows users beggars for scraps too?
I want to hear the answer to this one! And if you think I'm just being an extreme lunatic, please reread the original entry by BC. He is encouraging us not to act hostile to google alone, but to every company that doesn't give us full access. His words are that they should be shunned. So, where do we go from here?

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Confused with all the anonymous commenters...lol (I don't know if there's more than a few of us commenting).
I don't think anyone's saying you can't buy Android phones or that Jaws, Talks, or any other screen reader's have sighted parity. What BC pointed out and what other commenters have stated is that android particularly lacks in so many areas that the conclusion unfortunately is that they really should have done better before coming to market with such an offering. Will it get better in the future? Probably...but for now, it's not and there's no good reason why it isn't.

It really then begs the question why they released such a product; Jaws 3.2 (first version as I recall on Windows 3.1) certainly had suck points, but it served a real need in Microsoft Word support and word processing; it actually was a real pioneer and lifesaverfor those of us who needed Word access. You should put your counterpoints in historical perspective btw. Jaws has a legacy and served a great need for a lot of us back in the day; is it kind of overpriced now? Sure... Does it kind of lack in a lot of areas? Yep. Does it have a lot of following just because it's been around for a long time? Yes.

Btw, Mac's have access to the installer via VoiceOver and you have access to iLife and other Apple software. Again, the new comers have matched and beat the incumbents.

continued below...

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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?

9:50 PM  

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