October 1, 2008, 12:00 AM

Apple and the National Federation of the Blind reach a consensus

Apple will make iTunes U, an area of the iTunes music store with content provided by colleges and universities, fully accessible to the blind by Dec. 31 and will contribute $250,000 to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.

Having settled its class action lawsuit with Target.com, the National Federation of the Blind is building on that momentum via access agreements with other online retailers.

In a new agreement with Apple Inc. and iTunes.com, No. 7 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, the federation, Apple and the Massachusetts attorney general’s office will work to make iTunes more accessible to the blind.

Under the agreement, Apple will make iTunes U, an area of the iTunes music store with online course content provided by colleges and universities, fully accessible to the blind by Dec. 31. The agreement also stipulates that Apple will contribute $250,000 to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind to assist in providing adaptive technology to blind residents of Massachusetts. “The blind must have equal access if we are to be equal participants in society,” says federation president Marc Maurer. “By making its extremely popular iTunes service fully accessible to the blind, Apple is setting an example that should be followed by the entire information technology industry.”

Over the next three years, Apple will continue to work with the Massachusetts attorney general and the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that other iTunes services remain accessible to the blind and that accessibility issues are resolved for blind shoppers that use computers with both Macintosh and Windows operating systems, says Maurer.

Apple is the latest major web retailer to announce an arrangement with the federation. In a settlement reached on Aug. 27 between Target Corp., No. 19 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and the federation, Target will establish a $6 million settlement fund from which litigants in the California class action lawsuit can make claims. The National Federation of the Blind also will certify Target.com through a non-visual accessibility web certification program once planned improvements are completed in early 2009. Target and the federation have agreed further to a three-year relationship during which the federation will perform accessibility testing of Target.com.

In 2007 RadioShack Corp., No. 235, announced it would follow guidelines designed to help blind computer users who use screen reader or magnification technology on their computers and who rely on a keyboard instead of a mouse to shop online. In 2007 Amazon.com signed a six-year agreement with the National Federation of the Blind. The arrangement calls for both parties to jointly develop and implement on Amazon.com better screen access software. The technology would vocalize or translate into Braille the visual information displayed on a computer screen by a web browser.

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