Today, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) announced a cooperative agreement with Apple Inc. to make Apple’s iTunes software more accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Earlier this month, Apple released iTunes 8 with substantial improvements to accessibility for both Mac and Windows users. Under the agreement between Apple and the NFB, Apple will make iTunes U accessible by 31/December, 2008, and will provide full access to the iTunes application by 30/June, 2009.
Over a span of three years, Apple will continue to work with the NFB to maintain accessibility in iTunes for the visually impaired. Apple will donate $250,000 to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind to assist the agency in providing adaptive technology to blind residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
It is interesting to note the timing of this announcement. It comes just one day after Freedom Scientific announced iTunes support in its Jaws for Windows screen reading software. The NFB made no such fanfare when GW Micro announced its work with Apple on iTunes accessibility with Window-Eyes earlier this year, when that accessibility came to fruition earlier this month, or when the vast majority of the iTunes application became accessible with Apple’s VoiceOver screen reading technology for Mac OS X in early 2007.
Nevertheless, Apple has shown tremendous commitment to blind and visually impaired computer users over the last several years with the development and release of VoiceOver, Braille display support in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, access to iTunes under both Mac and WIndows operating systems, iPods with speaking menus, and countless updates to their own OS and software to improve accessibility. It’s about time that an organization like the NFB took notice.