Apple push accessibility to the front

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

I have written about Apple and accessiblity on many occasions, e.g. here, giving them a red card quite often but praising them when they added features that improved accessiblity of any product. My overall impression was Apple tried but accessibility was not really in the DNA of development and certainly not of marketing.

The latest set of annnouncements strongly suggest that Apple has been listening (maybe even to me) and has acted. The announcements of Snow Leopard, the latest version of the Mac operating system, iPhone 3GS and Safari all highlight the improved accessibility features of these product.

The fact that the marketing department has got the accessibility message and is keen to promote it is a strong indication that accessiblity has got into the DNA.

I have just read the announcements and have not had a chance to see any of the new features in the flesh but just the lists are impressive.

On the iPhone:

  • Voice control: tell the phone to make a call or play a tune, you can even ask what tune is playing and it will tell you.
  • VoiceOver: touch the screen to hear a description of what is under your finger then double-tap, drag, or flick to control the iPhone.
  • Zoom: up to five times
  • White on black
  • Mono audio: both channels go to one earbud.
  • Speak Auto-text: reads out the letters as you type them on screen and read out suggested word completion or correction.
  • Giant fonts for email
  • Voice Memos: record memos or complete meetings whilst still using the iPhone to do other things.
  • User guide in Accessible HTML

My belief is that these features will make the iPhone a real option for people with vision impairments.

On the Mac with Snow Lepard

  • Now the trackpad is the screen: move your finger across the trackpad and it will tell you what is under that bit of the active window. Tap and flicking will enable you to control and navigate around the application.
  • More braille support: more braille displays are supported out of the box and for a teaching environment multiple braille displays can be connected to one machine.
  • Auto web spots: Safari recognises different sections of a web page such as multiple articles on a news page and a flick of the finger moves you from one to the next.
  • VoiceOver improvements: new tutorial, more customisation and faster keyboard navigation.

There are more detailed fetaures that I have not included.

It is clear that the new features are provided by underlying software that is shared between the Mac, iPhone and the iPod so Apple often gets a triple wammy from one development.

The final thing to say is that many of these functions will be used by people without any disability. For example hands free voice control is useful to drivers but will also be used by people in the street being able to call home withut having to take the iPhone out of your pocket has its advantages.

I am delighted with these new announcements and will write more about them when I have had a chance to see, hear or feel them for myself.