[nfb-talk] Fwd: [nfbcs] Response to "The Hands That Feed"

Michael D. Barber michael.nfbi at gmail.com
Sun Feb 26 13:24:28 UTC 2012

I am clearly disappointed in Mr. Hofstader's article and its inaccuracies.
This is a clear demonstration of writing an article out of anger rather than
being interested in the facts.  And, I wonder if he ever thought of having
the decency to actually call Mr. Chong and engage in a dialog with him to
get the record straight in his mind?    

If he wants to join the ACB, that's his choice.  He might  prefer their
approach when it comes to dealing with companies and making their web sites
more accessible, but there are so many other things he may not like at all.

Michael Barber

From: nfb-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org [mailto:nfb-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On
Behalf Of David Andrews
Sent: Saturday, February 25, 2012 8:13 PM
To: blindtlk at nfbnet.org
Subject: [nfb-talk] Fwd: [nfbcs] Response to "The Hands That Feed"

On Saturday, February 18, 2012, Chris Hofstader posted a blog entitled "The
Hands That Feed."  This post can be found at
http://www.hofstader.com/node/10.  For the convenience of the reader, I am
including the text of Hofstader's blog post at the end of this article.

I will not try to summarize what Hofstader was trying to say in his blog
post.  It speaks for itself.  However, I feel that a number of inaccurate
statements made in his blog post must be addressed in order to set the
record straight.

		Hofstader says, "Last July, the National Federation of the
Blind (NFB)at its summer convention passed a resolution 'condemning and
deploring' Apple for the sin of not requiring that everything sold in its
app store be fully accessible."

In fact, the National Federation of the Blind, during its 2011 convention,
passed one and only one resolution regarding Apple.  Resolution 2011-03
resolved that the National Federation of the Blind "express its frustration
and deep disappointment with Apple for allowing the release of applications
that contain icons, buttons, and other controls that cannot be identified by
the blind user of VoiceOver, thereby rendering them nonvisually
inaccessible."  It further resolved that the NFB "urge Apple, in the
strongest possible terms, to work with the National Federation of the Blind
to create and enforce a set of requirements for accessibility that will, at
a minimum, compel application developers to label buttons, menus, icons,
selection lists, checkboxes, and other controls so that VoiceOver users can
identify and operate them."  Resolutions passed at the 2011 NFB convention
can be found at

Regarding Resolution 2011-03, many people have asked me why Apple, an
acknowledged leader in accessibility, was singled out for criticism while
other companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Adobe (who clearly lag behind
Apple in terms of built-in accessibility to products and who justly deserve
criticism) were not included in the resolution.  As one of the authors of
Resolution 2011-03, I would say that it was not a matter of singling out
Apple for special criticism.  We have been trying for years to get Microsoft
and Adobe to mandate accessibility to their products, and so far, we have
not been as successful as we would like.  It seemed reasonable to me to try
to get Apple, a relative newcomer to the field, to come to the table and
work with us to build some minimal accessibility into products allowed into
the App Store.  While it could be argued that terms such as "disappointment"
and "frustration" might seem a bit harsh, I felt that Apple needed to know
how strongly we felt about the need to mandate basic accessibility to icons,
buttons, and other controls.  Also, I reasoned that since Apple already
imposed some pretty strong requirements on app developers that other
companies did not, why not call upon Apple to add accessibility to the mix.

Hofstader says, "Curtis Chong, head of NFB in Computer Science, the portion
of NFB responsible for computing issues decided to threaten people at Apple
with a resolution of condemnation if they didn't attend the convention. ...
It seems that Curtis did this because his feelings were hurt or some other
completely childish motivation for biting the hand that feeds us best."

For the life of me, I cannot understand how my dealings with Apple could be
regarded as "threatening."  Last year, as President of the NFB in Computer
Science, I did ask Apple to speak at our annual meeting, and I clearly
stated that there should be a minimum set of accessibility features which I
thought should be required.  When I was informed that Apple would not be
coming to the NFB convention, I wrote back saying:

		"I am more than a little surprised that Apple would not want
to expand upon the positive interactions that occurred between it and the
National Federation of the Blind at the Federation's convention last year.
At that convention, Apple received a $10,000 Jacob Bolotin award and
garnered good will from convention participants because of its participation
at the convention.  In short, Apple had a presence at our convention, and
this was duly noted and very much appreciated by me and other Federation

I also said:

		"We acknowledge the many good things that have been
accomplished by Apple that have benefitted the blind, but we believe that
ongoing dialog between Apple and the organized blind must be active and
continuous so that a meaningful exchange of viewpoints can occur."

Again, while we may not always agree with the fine folks at Apple, it is
hard to imagine how the language above can be regarded as "threatening."
There certainly is no indication that resolutions condemning and deploring
the company would be considered at the convention if they chose not to come.

		Regarding a meeting that took place at Microsoft in
September of 2004, Hofstader says: "I can't recall what angered Curtis that
time but he took all of the correspondence and lots of other data covered by
the NDA (nondisclosure agreement which everyone at the meeting did sign) and
dumped it out onto the Internet."

Hofstader's memory of events that took place in 2004 are markedly different
from mine.  I certainly never "dumped it out onto the Internet."  Yes, I did
provide Dr. Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, with
a written summary of the meeting, and yes, that summary was indeed published
in the December, 2004 edition of the Braille Monitor.  In my letter to Dr.
Maurer, I took great pains not to reveal anything that was specifically
flagged as a nondisclosure item, and I definitely did not write the letter
out of any sense of anger or irritation with Microsoft.  I concluded my
letter to Dr. Maurer by saying, "Overall I think the meeting with Microsoft
went as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Representatives
of some of the product groups heard from real live blind consumers and may
have received insights that they never had before. We, on the other hand,
learned something about how accessibility is handled at Microsoft-that is,
it is still not truly a corporate mandate but rather something which various
groups must be persuaded to incorporate into their product development
cycles."  The letter as published in the Braille Monitor can be found at

I know that in this day and age, blog posting is extremely popular and often
serves as a convenient channel for communication.  Convenient and popular as
blogs are, I believe it is incumbent on anyone who posts in a blog to ensure
that the information disseminated is accurate.  I regret that in this case,
the accuracy quotient was not as high as it could have been.


Curtis Chong, President
National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science

Original Blog As Posted By Chris Hofstader

The Hands That Feed.
Sat, 02/18/2012 - 11:44 - cdh 
Why do organizations that claim to advocate for people with vision
impairment choose to take action against companies that do a good job with
accessibility while giving a free pass to many that do nothing for our

Yesterday, I was talking to my friend and Serotek CEO, Mike Calvo. He
enthusiastically told me about a device that the people at the Disney Magic
Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida gave him to use for his visit there
on Sunday. According to Mike, a guy who knows a whole lot about
accessibility, it looked like a little box with headphones. The information
provided directly into his ears provided a step by step narrative of the
park and described what he would have seen if he hadn't been blind on the
rides and during the shows.

"I'm 44 years old," said Mike, "I've been going to Disney since I was three.
This was the first time I got to really enjoy it all."

Last year, the American Federation of the Blind (AFB) gave Disney one of its
prestigious Access Awards for the excellent accessibility of their theme
parks. Also, last year, three blind American individuals filed a class
action lawsuit against Disney for violating the Americans With Disabilities
Act (ADA) for having certain portions of their web site inaccessible to
people with vision impairment.

I tend to support using lawsuits as a tactic to force companies to stop
discriminating against people with disabilities by presenting an
inaccessible web site. Web accessibility isn't too hard to do if the site's
developers just follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
available at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) web site and certainly a
company like Disney can afford to do so. At the same time, I accept that our
community must first warn a company before filing a lawsuit and,
furthermore, we should offer our services as accessibility experts to these
companies before we start tossing around litigation. I understand that
American Counsel of the Blind (ACB) takes the "try niceness first" approach
to solving web accessibility problems, a tactic for which they should be

Disney, with the excellent accessibility of their theme parks, should also
make their web sites fully accessible to people with vision and other print
impairments but, given that they have demonstrated that they are willing to
provide profoundly greater access to their parks than any other such
organization (Six Flags, Busch Gardens, Universal, etc.) lends me to believe
that, if properly made aware of the web issues, they would likely take
action to remediate their site in a reasonable amount of time. I'd add that
a company like Disney would also likely hire blind contractors to help them
test their accessibility as they try to roll it out.

So, why file a lawsuit against Disney while letting organizations that are
much worse off of the hook?

One might assume that the three individuals who filed the suit acted
impetuously and, as they don't represent any of the advocacy organizations,
they really do not represent the class of people with vision impairment.
Unfortunately, this practice of using aggressive legal tactics and publicity
against companies who do a better job with accessibility seems built into
the culture of some so-called advocates. Even worse, some companies who have
web sites with loads of accessibility problems get applause from some groups
claiming to represent the community of people with vision impairment.

Last July, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB)at its summer
convention passed a resolution "condemning and deploring" Apple for the sin
of not requiring that everything sold in its app store be fully accessible.
While I agree that having such a requirement would be nice, Apple has done
vastly more than its operating system rivals Google, Microsoft and all
flavors of GNU/Linux to promote accessibility. Also, Google and Microsoft
have their own app stores with no requirements for accessibility either. 

Before I launch into the politics that seem to have led to the NFB
resolution, I will provide a few examples that demonstrate Apple's
overwhelming lead in providing systems accessible to people with vision
impairment. Since introducing VoiceOver, the utility people with print
impairments use to hear the contents of the screen spoken or sent to a
refreshable braille display, Apple has sold 100 million devices that are
accessible to this community. Additionally, every product in an Apple retail
store that has a user interface includes VoiceOver. A blind person can go to
an Apple store and try out everything they sell except the iPod Classic
which hasn't had a software revision in a really long time. I can use any
Macintosh, iPhone, iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, iPod Touch and more sold in the
past few years without installing any extra software. Meanwhile, I would
need to spend nearly $1000 extra to use Windows on a "standard" computer if
I want to use the most popular screen access utility for that platform.
Android from Google includes a screen access tool called "TalkBack" which
is, in my educated opinion, years behind the out-of-the-box experience
provided by Apple and the costly add-ons required by Windows.

When counting accessible devices, Apple's more than 100 million is more than
all of the software and hardware sold by the access technology industry
since its formation more than 30 years ago. People in nations ignored by the
AT biz now enjoy unparalleled access if they can get a used iPhone 3GS which
can be had for much less than JAWS, the leading Windows screen reader from
Freedom Scientific.

Why then did NFB choose to single out the leader in affordable
out-of-the-box accessibility while celebrating Google's tremendously
sub-standard access?

At the NFB convention in 2010, they gave Apple one of their accessibility
awards. In 2011, Apple decided that because of its upcoming Lion operating
system release that they would not attend any of what we in the blindness
biz call "the summer shows" - including the national NFB convention, the ACB
convention, Sight Village in UK and various smaller conferences. Apple
representatives explained to NFB that they needed to focus on the
accessibility of their new OS release and of numerous smaller initiatives
they were preparing for autumn 2011. 

Curtis Chong, head of NFB in Computer Science, the portion of NFB
responsible for computing issues decided to threaten people at Apple with a
resolution of condemnation if they didn't attend the convention. Then, at
the convention, he pushed through a resolution deploring the company that
has provided an excellent out-of-box experience that is years ahead of their
competition. It seems that Curtis did this because his feelings were hurt or
some other completely childish motivation for biting the hand that feeds us

How do I know all of the back room wrangling that happened between the
largest organization that claims to represent blind people and a notoriously
secretive corporation? Because Curtis, in the most unprofessional move of
this unfortunate incident, decided to release all of the correspondence
between himself and our friends at Apple. This data dump included the names
of individuals at Apple, their personal email addresses and mobile phone
numbers and, yes, the people in Apple accessibility positions received some
harassment from the NFB faithful but, likely to Curtis' chagrin, comments on
blogs that republished the correspondence defended Apple as, yes, the
community knows which hands to avoid biting.

Though they do not represent me and the members of our community with whom I
choose to associate, I'd like to apologize to these hard working individuals
for the behavior of the NFB. Even at times of greatest conflict, froth with
frustration, actions like those done by Curtis Chong are not those that a
respectable advocacy organization should undertake. Rather, they are
reminiscent of the childishness of kids who have discovered some small
sliver of their own personal ability to influence the world and choose to
use it for instant gratification in lieu of sustainable and systemic

If this was the first time Curtis and NFB had pulled such a stunt, I could
forgive it. One might say that Chong's actions might have been an overly
zealous reaction to his feeling disrespected by a company that received an
award from his group only a year earlier. Sadly, this wasn't the first time
he did this.

A number of years back, Curtis attended an accessibility event on the
Microsoft campus. Then, my friend Madeline Bryant McIntyre ran the MS Access
Technology Group (ATG) and everyone in attendance, including me, signed a
non-disclosure agreement. As we were under NDA, our friends in the MS ATG
felt they could converse openly with us about their timelines, their plans
for the future of their accessibility initiatives and secret under-the-hood
aspects of the then unreleased Windows Vista. I can't recall what angered
Curtis that time but he took all of the correspondence and lots of other
data covered by the NDA and dumped it out onto the Internet. Microsoft could
have taken legal action but can you imagine the headline in the Wall Street
Journal, "Behemoth Microsoft Sues Blind Advocacy Group" so MS couldn't react
to Chong's violation of their agreement. My friends at MS can no longer
trust Curtis and I doubt any NFB representative will be invited back to a
private session, thus limiting NFB's ability to advocate for our community.

At the time Curtis attacked Microsoft, the Redmond software giant was the
leader in accessibility, a fact to which I testified in the DOJ's antitrust
case against MS.. Microsoft's ATG continues to employ some of the most
talented people in the field and I'm expecting some terrific things from
them in the upcoming Windows 8. 

Thus, while trashing Apple and going public with MS information, NFB also
chose to file ADA based lawsuits against some companies for having web sites
with lots of accessibility violations. The first such suit was against AOL
and NFB chose to settle the case for a rumored $5 million award without AOL
making any improvements in their then miserable accessibility.

The next suit was filed against Amazon whose web site contains many
accessibility violations. Amazon hired New Hampshire based, Paciello Group
(TPG) to help it with its defense against NFB. Mike Paciello, head of TPG,
finds his way onto all sorts of accessibility standards groups and acts
publicly like an advocate for accessibility for people with all sorts of
disabilities but also accepts clients with reprehensible records on
accessibility and, given the history of some of these outcomes, his clients
don't seem to ever actually take accessibility seriously. I contend that he
should work for clients who have actual plans of becoming accessible rather
than adding the name of his highly respected company to the bad guys of web

If you are thinking, "Everyone deserves a defense," I must remind you that
these cases are civil lawsuits and, in the US, only defendants in criminal
cases have a constitutional right to a defense. This community has seen
Freedom Scientific, the largest and most wealthy company in the blindness
business, file all sorts of harassing civil cases against smaller rivals who
could not afford a defense so had to bow to the big guy's wishes. I know
this because, while I worked for FS, I participated in this harassment and,
since leaving the company, I have been on the losing end of their

Amazon settled its lawsuit with NFB for an undisclosed sum of cash and, now,
years later, the Amazon web site is still loaded with bad accessibility

The next NFB suit was against American retail giant, Target. Once again, TPG
was retained by the defense and, once again, NFB dropped the suit after
Target gave them an undisclosed amount of money and, not surprisingly,
Target's web site continues to have major accessibility problems.

After settling its lawsuits, NFB made public statements congratulating AOL,
Amazon and Target for taking steps to become accessible. As a user, I saw
only minimal and patronizing attempts at accessibility by the defendants in
these cases and NFB certainly did not represent the community of people with
vision impairments actual needs and desires.

At last years NFB convention, ebay was the lead sponsor. Guess what? The
ebay web site had, at that time, dozens of accessibility problems . NFB took
ebay's sponsorship dollars while ignoring their poor accessibility. Those of
us who would say that any group advocating for our community should require
accessibility before rewarding a company by splashing its name all over
their convention like they were a friend of our population.

In the time since the 2011 NFB convention, ebay has hired an accessibility
engineer and has, according to a friend of mine, been working with NFB to
remediate its web accessibility problems. When I tried the ebay site this
past week, I noticed that it is much more usable by a screen reader user
than ever in the past. I am happy for ebay's efforts and hope this is a new
role for NFB, actually getting things done rather than just shaking down
those who violate web accessibility standards and guidelines.

While slamming Apple at their annual convention, they celebrated Google with
lots of presentation slots for their Android system. As I wrote above,
Android accessibility is poor at best but NFB probably got a fat
contribution from Google and, as any advocate knows, money talks,
accessibility walks.

Why does this community bite the hands that feed us while trying to coddle
those who treat us as a nuisance at best? I really do not know. I will
probably join ACB this year as, while they have their problems too, their
approach to advocacy makes much more sense than NFB. I will continue my
personal letter writing campaign to developers of web sites with poor
accessibility and continue to offer them my services as a tester when they
start making their improvements. I will continue to use mostly Apple
products and will continue to encourage my accessibility hacker friends at
Google and MS to try to catch up with Apple.

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