Google Apps slammed by advocacy group for the blind

The National Federation of the Blind wants the U.S. to probe whether Apps adoption is discriminatory against blind people

The National Federation of the Blind claims that Google Apps lacks required features for blind people and wants the U.S. government to investigate whether schools that adopt the e-mail and collaboration suite run afoul of civil rights laws.

The NFB is asking the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to probe whether New York University and Northwestern University are discriminating against blind employees and students through their use of Google Apps' Education edition.

Specifically, the NFB alleges that Google Apps applications like Gmail, Calendar and Docs contain "significant accessibility barriers" for blind people using screen access technology, which converts the contents of the computer screen into synthesized speech or Braille.

"The NFB will not tolerate this unconscionable discrimination against blind students and faculty and callous indifference to the right of blind students to receive an equal education," said Marc Maurer, the NFB's president, in a statement.

NYU and Northwestern, as well as other schools using Google Apps for Education, should suspend their use of the suite until it gains the missing accessibility features, or discard it outright, he said.

Alan Eustace, senior vice president, engineering and research at Google, said that the company had "a productive discussion" last week with Maurer.

"He shared a powerful message on the importance of accessibility. We left the meeting with a strong commitment to improving our products," Eustace said in an e-mailed statement.

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