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Apple products have included accessibility functions for many years; the difference in the latest releases is that Apple is making accessibility a significant part of the marketing of the products.
In the recent Snow Leopard release of Mac OS X, accessibility is one of the bullets on the first page of the announcement.
The latest iPhone and iPod announcements have majored on the ability of these devices to talk to you using Apple’s VoiceOver technology; this opens these devices up to anyone with a vision impairment, turning them from ‘cannot use’ to ‘must have’ accessories.
However, the small function that made me convinced that Apple was really listening was the dedicated email address firstname.lastname@example.org. This address can be used either to query how to perform a task in an accessible way or to make suggestions as to functions that could be added or improved. I have used it for both and got useful responses to the former and recognition of the requirement for the latter.
I installed Snow Leopard the day after it was shipped. The big line items are impressive (details at http://www.apple.com/macosx/universal-access/) and do what they say:
- The trackpad is the screen
- More Braille support, greater collaboration
- Improved web browsing and auto web spots
- Faster keyboard navigation
- New VoiceOver tutorial
- and more
But, again, what impressed me are the smaller changes to existing functions that make life easier. For example, in Leopard I had problems adding new contacts in my address book only using the keyboard, as some functions were only available by using the mouse. In Snow Leopard I can now tab into the spin boxes that define the types of fields so for example I can specify that a number I am adding is a mobile rather than a work number without having to use the mouse. This small feature helps me and will also speed up the entry by power users.
During my first week with Snow Leopard I hit a small accessibility bug with the Digital Color Meter Utility; I contacted support and discussed the problem in detail with them. When the first update came out the bug had been fixed. I am not sure that it was my reporting of the issue that produced the fix but it does show that Apple will listen to accessibility bugs and fix them.
Accessibility is a continuing story and there are, no doubt, ways that Apple can further enhance the accessibility of its products. It is obvious that Apple is keen and committed to doing this so I would recommend that users contact Apple if they find an accessibility problem or have an idea for an enhancement. Apple will be listening and will respond over time.