Blind Bargains

Blind Bargains Top 10 Stories of 2012: 10. Windows Phone Access? What Windows Phone Access.

Another year has just about come and gone, and with it comes our annual chance to reflect and count down the most influencial and talked about stories of the year. This year's panel included participants from across the assistive technology scene: Darren Burton, Jason Meddaugh, Wayne Merritt, Jamie Pauls and Joe Steinkamp. We'll post a new story every day until we reach number one. Also, we've partnered with SeroTalk and will be participating on their year in review show coming in early January, so stay tuned. So without further delay, let's start our countdown with one of the biggest failures of 2012.

The accessibility on Apple'S iPhone has been labeled as groundbreaking and revolutionary. Google has made some big strides with accessibility of Android smartphones, especially with the changes in the Jellybean release. RIM released a free and somewhat functional screen reader for Blackberry and even Nokia continues to partner with Code Factory to improve on its free speech access for Symbian phones. But one major player is notably missing from this list.

Despite prior promises, Microsoft continues to offer absolutely zero, nada, nill, zilch in terms of accessibility for its Windows Phone devices. If this were a new company with no experience when it comes to accessibility, we might excuse them just a bit. But Microsoft has, or at least used to, be one of the leaders in working with screen reader manufacturers for Windows computers. So we can't exactly say they just don't know who to ask.

In a year where more companies are taking notice and improving accessibility for their products, it's sad that we continue to have major failures by companies we thought knew much better. Perhaps the only consolation in this whole mess is that hardly anyone, blind or not, seems to care much about Windows Phone. Who would have thought that Microsoft would provide the only major smartphone operating system with no access?

We've got a long way to go, so check back often for more stories in our top 10. And be sure to sound off with your opinions in the comments.

Category: Articles
Displaying 1 comment.
darknexus Wednesday, 26-Dec-2012 04:43 AM ET:

I'm not usually one to advise patience in this situation, but let's remember a few things. First, Microsoft has worked with screen reader companies in the past, not designed their own screen reader (Narrator absolutely does not count). Do you really want jaws for windows phone, with all the instability and bugs that could bring? I don't. Talks for Symbian was bad enough, and that was stable most of the time. It's better, in my opinion, that we get a screen reader made by the os vendor (or at least an API made by said vendor) that doesn't involve hacks and API hooks. Second, remember that both iOS and Android were on the market for several years before they were made accessible. As you have correctly pointed out, Microsoft isn't making much of a splash in the market with Windows Phone. I've been following this closely, and the reasons why they aren't gaining a foothold are too long to list here, but let's just say that at the moment Microsoft have bigger fish to fry than a relatively small base of blind customers (that would be us) who are already using either iOS or Android and most of whom have zero interest in shelling out the cash for a new device with an operating system that has so far gained very few apps. Investing the resources for accessibility, considering how bad Windows Phone is doing even among the sighted, would not seem like the ideal business strategy to me. It might gain them a bit of pr, but hardly any customers right now. Keep in mind that they have no accessibility API on windows phone. None, nada, zero. The core libraries would have to be heavily modified to implement one. This is a bit different from Apple which, having ported the majority of their Cocoa libraries from OS X which already had a solid accessibility framework, required considerably less effort once they chose to do it. Android falls roughly in the middle of the two situations (they had an API but it wasn't very capable until 4.0). I don't expect to see Windows Phone accessibility any time soon. At the moment, it's too much effort expended for no short-term gain, and short-term gain is what Microsoft need if they want to turn WP around.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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