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.
The Monster of Mountain View has hoodwinked a number of universities into outsourcing their email and document storage to its datacenters. Tempted by the thought of having lower overhead and less maintenance to worry about, many administrators have accepted the offer without realizing the implications. And this is just one of the ramifications. Contrary to what Google says, Google Apps is not secure. Hackers have broken into corporate or institutional Google Apps accounts on a number of occasions. There was the well-publicized Twitter breach, and more recently, the HBGary Federal scandal. There have been others.
And, of course, there’s also consequences for user privacy. An academic institution that signs a pact with Google is basically surrendering its users’ privacy without their consent. Some institutions have, however, given students a choice of providers (meaning they can use a solution other than Google) and that is certainly appropriate. However, it appears there is no accessible alternative at New York and Northwestern Universities.