PhotoThe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of the disabled by requiring public facilities to make provisions for people using wheelchairs and those who are vision- or hearing-impaired.

Reuters is reporting that the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office is investigating ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft to make sure they're complying with the law. The report says the attorney general's civil rights division contacted the companies last week to discuss whether everyone had equal access to the services.

The National Federation of the Blind of California sued Uber in 2014, charging discrimination because some drivers allegedly refused to transport service dogs.

Both Uber and Lyft were defendants in a Texas lawsuit last year when they were charged for failing to provide wheelchair-accessible rides for disabled passengers.

Taxis updating technology

Meanwhile, Taxis – engaged in a sometimes bitter competition with the ride-sharing services – are updating in-car technology for blind passengers. In cooperation with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Verifone is enhancing the accessibility of their in-taxi technology for blind passengers.

The technology enables passengers to pay their cab fare with a credit or debit card and enjoy curated media content during taxi rides. The upgrades should be completed by the end of the year, Verifone said.

Under the present system, vision-impaired passengers can tap the center of a terminal screen to launch an accessibility mode, which uses voice prompts to provide information about the fare and to guide the user through the payment process.

Adding audio information

The planned upgrade will add audio information about the cab's current location, as well as other improvements. The upgrade stems from NFB concerns presented to Verifone which stated that their interface wasn't the most user-friendly for the vision-impaired.

"We are committed to providing a great experience for all users of our technology,” said Amos Tamam, Senior Vice President of Taxi Systems for Verifone. “We are delighted to work with the National Federation of the Blind to make sure that our systems are usable and accessible to blind taxicab passengers."

Some apps might need some work

Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) state that making provisions for the vision-impaired in digital device apps is no less important than doing so in transportation. Yet when they conducted an academic review of 9 mobile health (mHealth) applications on the market in March 2014, they found none met all the criteria that would make them fully accessible to blind consumers.

The reviewed apps included applications that upload data from blood pressure and blood sugar monitoring devices. The research team said accessibility shortcomings ranged from improperly labeled buttons to confusing layouts that didn't work well with iPhone VoiceOver or Android TalkBack services that "read" information on the phone screen.

"We wanted to see if these health applications would be out-of-the-box accessible, and most really weren't," said lead author Lauren Milne, a UW computer science and engineering doctoral student. "They made a lot of amateur mistakes that people make when they build apps."

But the problem might be easily fixed. The researchers say that it would be easy for developers to make mainstream health sensors that are fully accessible to blind smartphone users. All they have to do is follow the guidelines already put in place by Apple and the U.S. government.

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