SAN FRANCISCO — Advocates for the blind are debating whether to use a carrot or a stick to persuade one of their oldest allies, Apple Inc, to close an emerging digital divide in mobile technology.
As digital life increasingly moves to the world of smartphones and tablets, some disabled people with visual, hearing and other impairments are feeling more left out than ever.
As baby boomers retire and age, the number of people needing help is multiplying. Many advocates for the disabled believe federal law requires that apps be accessible, but courts have not ruled on the issue. Few disabled want to risk alienating Apple, considered a friend, by fighting it.
Mobile apps that work well can transform a blind person’s life, reading email on the go or speaking directions to a new restaurant. Some young blind people no longer feel the need to learn Braille to read with their fingers, when Siri and other computer voices can do the reading instead. Captions on videos and special hearing aids bring hearing impaired into the digital fold.
But when apps don’t work, life can grind to a stop. Jonathan Lyens, a San Francisco city employee who is legally blind, has a hard time browsing for jobs on professional networking site LinkedIn.
“The app is insane. Buttons aren’t labeled. It’s difficult to navigate,” Lyens said. When it comes to social-media apps, new problems arise with every release, he said. “I get nervous every time I hit the update button.”