The Importance of Being Proactive

As a blind iPhone user and someone who relies on VoiceOver for everything from email to social networking to games, I live with the daily frustration of apps and app updates often not being accessible. Yes, I have my automatic updates turned off, as I want to know and more importantly control what I am updating on my iPhone. Is there anything more frustrating than having an app you love suddenly become inaccessible? We have all had it happen to us.
 
Most of our reactions to this happening are to curse the situation, and angrily take to Twitter blasting the app and/or developer. This can be constructive if done professionally. I would highly recommend calming down before taking to Twitter to attack any broken accessibility in an app. If done politely and professionally, calling an app out on Twitter for broken accessibility can some times be productive. 
 
I find that some of the smaller companies releasing apps will be quite responsive on Twitter. Take in to mind that a lot of these companies aren’t even thinking about accessibility when they design an app. It doesn’t mean they are a bad person, a lot of the time time they are unaware of how easy it is for them to make their app accessible. A professional tweet to the developer will get their attention.
 
Unfortunately, larger companies like ESPN will completely ignore you. I have been on ESPN for their lack of accessibility for years. Their website is clunky with VoiceOver on a Mac, and most of their apps are completely inaccessible. I have contacted their developers through their app offering feedback, and have never gotten a response. 
 
Fortunately for the sports fan out there, there are several other socially aware companies that are more than happy to hear from us. 
 
As a big sports fan I am a big fan of all the content of Bleacher Report and their app Team Stream. With Team Stream I was able to get push notifications alerting me about all kinds of sports news. The problem was when I clicked on a notification often times the content wasn’t accessible. It was frustrating to say the least.
 
I contacted Team Stream through their app, and was pleasantly surprised to get an email from them within hours. They started inquiring what they could do to make their app accessible to the blind. I listed a few things and explained how VoiceOver worked, and within days Team Stream’s development team contacted me again with more questions. After a few weeks of emails going back and forth, I received an email letting me know they were awaiting their latest app update approval from Apple, and they had completely reworked their app to work with VoiceOver. All of this happened from me being proactive and contacting the developer.
 
I am happy to report that Team Stream still is completely accessible and I now receive all of my sports news from them.
 
As a big fantasy sports fan, I was very upset when an app called Big Noggins which was mostly accessible disappeared. I relied on the app to view both my Yahoo and ESPN fantasy teams. The app was fantastic for most things, although I wasn’t able to edit my lineup in the app. After a little research, I learned that Yahoo had acquired Big Noggins. Unfortunately, after Yahoo implemented Big Noggins technology in to the Yahoo fantasy app, they broke all accessibility. I was really angry, as sure fantasy sports means nothing in the grand scheme of things, but playing the games sure does provide me with a lot of entertainment.
 
I took to Twitter professionally blasting Yahoo. I then contacted Yahoo through the app about the broken accessibility. With Yahoo being a giant company, I never expected to hear back from them.
 
Surprisingly, I got an email from one of the top developers at Yahoo. Again, he had never thought about blind people playing fantasy games. He was embarrassed and apologetic. We have had a great dialogue over the past few months, with him asking my suggestions on how blind people use VoiceOver.
 
You may have noticed in the recent update to Yahoo’s main iPhone app, we finally got a mention and improvement of VoiceOver in the app, and I am happy to report that the fantasy Yahoo app is very close to coming out with an update that will be accessible moving forward, and that we VoiceOver users have a voice with the Yahoo app development team.
 
Am I guilty of rushing to judgement and angrily firing off a tweet at companies that break accessibility? You betcha, but instead of cursing them and doing nothing, by being proactive and taking the time to contact the developer of apps, you would be surprised how responsive many of them are. A lot of the times, developers have so much on their mind, they just don’t take the time to think about everything, so please join me in being proactive and taking the time to contact an app developer about accessibility. You will be surprised at how responsive many of them are. And who knows what once was inaccessible might soon be very accessible!

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