Google Apps discriminates against the blind, group claims

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has filed a federal complaint against New York University and Northwestern University, claiming that their use of Google Apps for Education is discriminatory.

Both universities have recently adopted the package, a free suite of hosted communication and collaboration applications that includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, and Google Sites.

But the NFB has told the Department of Justice that the package is not accessible to blind people using screen access technology, which converts what is on the computer screen into synthesized speech or Braille. Also named in the filing are four Oregon public school districts that are using Google Apps. 

Dr Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, says he is deeply concerned that more than half of the American higher education institutions that are outsourcing email to third-party vendors plan to deploy the Apps for Education suite.

"Given the many accessible options available, there is no good reason that these universities should choose a suite of applications, including critical email services, that is inaccessible to blind students," he says. 

"Nor can these universities claim ignorance of their legal obligations, since the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education have specifically warned all university presidents against the adoption of inaccessible technology."

The move, it says, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Google says it's working to improve the accessibility of its products. This week, it's at the CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference.

"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," promises Naomi Black, engineering program manager for accessibility.