Do We Get What We Pay For?

By Chris Hofstader

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.

Bias?

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.

Dueling Mobile?

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.

Conclusions

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?