This week, AT&T announced the launch of AT&T Mobile Accessibility Lite, a suite of applications for Android smart phones designed to be intuitive and easier to use for people who are blind. While I have not yet had a chance to fully test the new release, I am impressed by four things:
First, it is offered at no cost.
Second, AT&T Mobile Accessibility Lite is designed by Code Factory, an internationally recognized company that has made a name for itself in developing excellent software to provide access to mobile technology for people with vision loss.
Third, it fills an important need, as it was designed to be easy to use for someone with vision loss. More on this below.
Fourth, it was immediately released in English and Spanish.
Is AT&T Mobile Accessibility Lite a perfect solution? Probably not. No doubt many consumers with vision loss want to see full (and usable) accessibility built into the Android operating system (just like Apple builds in Voiceover into its iOS devices). While Android does include some accessibility features and apps, the results are not considered very user-friendly (see AccessWorld). Perhaps others might fault the AT&T and Code Factory approach for setting up a separate interface for consumers with vision loss. This is partly true, though access to apps running on Android is provided through the new accessibility option.
This brings up another point. The ideal would be for blind people to have access to all Android apps. The next step, then, would be to get app developers to use existing APIs and create apps that can use TalkBack or another built-in screen reader by default. This will not necessarily be easy. But, first, Google must take a leadership position to promote full accessibility within Android and then work to push developers to use the accessibility strategies in their Apps. Accessible Design it is the right and increasingly expected thing to do.
Bottom line: The AT&T release is a significant first step—the recognition that blind customers want to use a range of devices and are worth investing in.