I have been dismayed that the National Federation of the Blind is taking legal action against NYU and Northwestern for their campus implementation of Google Apps for Education:
A complaint filed Tuesday with the federal government accuses New York University and Northwestern University of discriminating against blind students by adopting Google e-mail and other programs that aren’t fully compatible with technology that translates written words into speech.
The National Federation of the Blind has requested a Justice Department investigation into the schools’ use of Gmail and other Google programs, saying that requiring students to use them violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Baltimore-based group is also asking other colleges not to adopt the software until it’s accessible to all students and faculty.
Google Apps for Education runs the Columbia University Alumni Association email system, too, and I really enjoy the speed of Gmail with the branded authenticity of the Columbia University community.
That said, California State University are not wild about Google Apps accessibility, either:
We discovered a number of accessibility issues during our testing. These issues are outlined in the report as well as “workarounds” that can be used to improve the user experience for persons with disabilities. When campuses choose to use Google Apps, they are required to provide an equally effective service for people with disabilities and it is critical for campuses to ensure that the “workarounds” meet the educational needs of the student and/or faculty.
What I want to know is if the previous email systems employed by NYU and Northwestern were ADA accessible. My experience tells me those email access points were likely not 100% accessible because, like Google Apps for Education, they also relied on imperfect web browsers for rendering most of the email sessions. Do we blame Google for the accessibility incompatibilities or do we blame the swath of inferior web browser rending engines still in use in the wild today?
It’s easy to pick apart Google Apps for Education because it is massive and convenient — but we must also evaluate the previous email systems to see just how un-accessible Google Apps is in a direct and fair comparison when it comes to feature sets, reliability and readability.