STOP SPREADIN’ THE NEWS: On Decreasing Mainstream App Access

Have you noticed a subtle shift, especially among mainstream news delivery services? Yes, the impending pay wall. These services, such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and even some local outfits, allow you to view an enticing tidbit from an article then say “to read more, sign in,” for (in the case of the former) $38 a month!

Now, as one who wishes he could write for a living, I do understand the need to be reimbursed for people’s services and hard work. I also know that advertising revenue is becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the pie, as people have become privy to and largely just ignore the annoying messages that pop up everywhere up to and including their Facebook accounts. But I remember when I first gained access to the Internet now 20 years ago, I was shocked by the fact that I could browse articles from the Charlotte Observer for free, giving me more access to news and happenings than I had ever known previously.

And therein lies my issue with these new pay walls. In order to complete my recent project at the job, I had to read an article on the Wall Street Journal’s website. Fortunately for me, they had a sale for July 4th in which one could sign up for just a dollar. So I did. I downloaded the app, which really opens up access as it lets you “follow” different authors and choose which kinds of articles you wish to be notified about. I get the notifications, but when I click on them all I hear is “null article,” “null article.” And even trying to press that link does nothing. I find this extremely disappointing.

And especially as we celebrate ten years of the iPhone having a text-to-speech option, VoiceOver, as Shelly Brisbin noted in her fascinating documentary. I know when that thing came out in 2007, I and my blind peers worried that it would quickly shut us out of the changing cell phone market. But with one fell swoop, that whole idea was turned on its head.

As we see though, having it truly stick is going to require that developers continue to be made aware of what this technology is and how it works. I can certainly understand smaller-scale companies not knowing about this, but the Wall Street Journal? I mean sure I can read most of the articles online, but I am still being denied a significant advantage by the app’s lack of VoiceOver functionality.

And if I am allowed to indulge, let’s move away from news and talk about travel. I specifically am taking umbrage with the Hilton Honors app. Again, there are other ways for me to gain most of the information on Hilton Hotels, but if you go through their app there are spectacular prices to be found. Their issue is the way dates are displayed. You have to move by headings from month to month, but it will only let you jump two months or so before losing focus and jumping way ahead or off the page entirely. I’m wondering why they can’t just use the standard calendar as almost every other app does.

So these are some of my worries. As the best stuff continues to move more into the apps and away from websites, it is inherent that people make at least a little effort to understand what standards need to be followed or as I’ve seen suggested by some, that a company like Apple mandate accessibility testing, if for no other reason but to let people know what works and what doesn’t. To do less is to (inadvertently) exclude a portion of the market that has waited a long time to gain even basic access in the first place.

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