Apple has finally revealed what they have in store with the upcoming release of iOS 6. If you haven’t seen the video of today’s WWDC Keynote it’s available streaming from Apple- it’s a good presentation absolutely full of demonstrations of new products, iOS 6, and OSX Mountain Lion. One of the talking points was Apple’s new accessibility features: Guided Access, a way of limiting what inputs can be accessed (including deactivating the home button) and improvements to VoiceOver, Apple’s outstanding screen reader for users with impaired vision. Apple is also working in conjunction with manufacturers of hearing aids to create a line of Made for iPhone devices that can deliver better audio to users with hearing issues.
While these additions to iOS are welcome, Apple isn’t new to accommodating users with disabilities. Initially a touchscreen-based device like the iOS lineup wouldn’t seem like a very useful device for a user with limited sight, but even before the improvements and new features of iOS 6 there are some key features that make current devices fantastic resources.
All iOS devices have VoiceOver, a screen reader that reads on screen text to users. For those that can’t see the screen VoiceOver is their portal to the device; the user can use gesture controls to interact with items on the screen. For instance, touch the screen and VoiceOver will describe what you are touching. The feature is already a powerful tool, and will be even more so when integrated into Maps and other features of iOS 6. While VoiceOver provides support for the on-screen keyboard, the new Dictation feature and upcoming improvements to Siri makes interaction that much more intuitive for those with limited sight. VoiceOver is even compatible with the iPhone’s Camera app, as illustrated by an article in TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog).
While for most users incoming calls are easy to identify because of the on-screen caller ID and contact information that iOS displays, for the visually impaired these features don’t offer an advantage. Apple again has gone above and beyond by providing the ability to assign distinctive ring tones as an audible caller ID or a silent mode with different vibrational patterns for callers. Users can even create their own patterns to identify callers.
Beyond the features built into the operating system there are a host of iOS apps for those with limited vision. AppAdvice has a comprehensive list, from GPS to an app that identifies the denomination of paper money. Not all of the apps are specifically for those with limited vision but each provides something to make your daily life easier. Audible, billed as the “premier provider of digital audiobooks” is VoiceOver compliant giving users a choice of reading material beyond Apple’s built-in offerings. The Atlantic provides even more insight in a recently posted a story on two blind women who use the iPhone and a variety of apps in their daily lives.
I’m still relatively new to Apple’s access support in both OSX and iOS. For those with vision issues there are some great resources out there that can provide more in-depth information than my limited experience can. MacForTheBlind is a perfect starting point; the author does a fantastic job covering just about everything Apple and the site has a wealth of information. The Apple Support Community can often provide answers and insight as well.
I was very happy to read about the inclusion of accessibility tools Apple has developed into iOS (and the reviews of those using the accessibility features have been very positive). Accessibility features have been a part of OSX longer than I’ve been a Mac aficionado. While I haven’t had to face challenges like this personally, I have a longtime friend who has had to overcome the barriers of visually-centered computer use. He’s been using JAWS, a third party screen reader for his Windows-based PC, but the software is prohibitively expensive and prevents him from upgrading beyond Windows XP. I’ve spoken to him about reviewing the accessibility features of iOS and am looking forward to sharing his opinions on the iPhone, iPad, and apps with all of you.
See you soon, Spencer!