Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

RNIB guide to Apple accessibility

The RNIB have put together a really useful guide to accessibility on Apple devices, aimed at blind and low-vision users. There’s lots of detail in there for Mac and iOS devices, with overviews of features like VoiceOver, zooming and type-ahead, as well as tips on things like how to alter contrast and invert screen colours.

You can download the guide by following this link. Only disappointing thing about this document is that it’s only available in RTF and Word formats. Would be nice if RNIB would put it online as an HTML guide.

Apple continuing to innovate for accessibility in iOS6

Apple announced the feature-set of the upcoming iOS release yesterday, and I’m always interested to see the new accessibility features. And like with everything else Apple do, they’re not standing still in this area at all:

iOS 6 comes with even more features to make it easier for people with vision, hearing, learning, and mobility disabilities to get the most from their iOS devices. Guided Access helps students with disabilities such as autism remain on task and focused on content. It allows a parent, teacher, or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. VoiceOver, the revolutionary screen reader for blind and low-vision users, is now integrated with Maps, AssistiveTouch, and Zoom. And Apple is working with top manufacturers to introduce Made for iPhone hearing aids that will deliver a power-efficient, high-quality digital audio experience.

It’s easy to be cynical when Apple make a song and dance about how empowering their technology and software can be, like in this video aired at WWDC yesterday — but the fact is, this kind of thoughtful and inclusive application of technology does improve people’s lives.

The blind shooting the blind

If you were ever in doubt about how empowering technology can be for people with disabilities:

I simply gawped when one blind woman pulled out an iPhone then snapped a perfect shot, guided by the built-in Camera app.

Eventually a common theme became apparent: Apple’s applications — Calendar, Messages, Mail, iPhoto, even Maps and most surprisingly Camera — are completely usable by blind people. These applications aren’t using any kind of secret API sauce. They’re using the same UIAccessibility framework you and I have access to.

The meat of this article si less inspiring though, as it discusses the failure of so many app developers to pu the powerful APIs at their fingertips, to good use for creating accessible apps.

This seems to be a common theme, and something which desperately needs to change. I love this little snippet from this post:

Here, then, lies the answer to how to tell whether some developer you’ve just met (or are interviewing) is serious about their craft in five seconds flat: borrow their device, and triple-click the home button. If you don’t hear “VoiceOver on”, or get prompted about VoiceOver, consider that −3 points on the Steve Test.

Inspiring videos edited by kid with cerebral palsy

A lovely little article from the Verge about the videos created by a young boy who has cerebral palsy:

This is Christopher Hills. He’s an Apple fan. He also has cerebral palsy, and as you’ll see in the first video below, he can’t control his muscles easily. The incredible thing about Christopher, though, is despite that, he edited these three videos himself. Not unlike Stephen Hawking, he uses a single button to manipulate his computer, which he presses with his head, connected to a device called a Discover Switch.

As well as being very inspiring and life-affirming, these videos also highlight the fact that with the appropriate assistive technology and software which is accessible, wonderful things can be created by people who are severely disabled. Remember, this is a kid who uses a single switch to work with a video editing application: technology proving to be truly empowering.

Biting the hand that feeds

Chris Hofstader writes about the seemingly mis-guided politics of the National Federation of the Blind — an advocacy group which is throwing it’s weight around with lawsuits in an effort to persuade large organisations to improve accessibility. One of their more recent targets has been Apple who, ironically, do more than any of their competitors:

Last July, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB)at its summer convention proposed a resolution “condemning and deploring” Apple for the sin of not requiring that everything sold in its app store be fully accessible. The NFB proposed a second resolution that said it was “frustrated” and “disappointed” with Apple’s not including accessibility requirements for its app store. The second resolution passed. While I agree that having such a requirement would be nice, Apple has done vastly more than its operating system rivals Google, Microsoft and all flavors of GNU/Linux to promote accessibility. Also, Google and Microsoft have their own app stores with no requirements for accessibility either.

Before I launch into the politics that seem to have led to the NFB resolution, I will provide a few examples that demonstrate Apple’s overwhelming lead in providing systems accessible to people with vision impairment. Since introducing VoiceOver, the utility people with print impairments use to hear the contents of the screen spoken or sent to a refreshable braille display, Apple has sold 100 million devices that are accessible to this community. Additionally, every product in an Apple retail store that has a user interface includes VoiceOver. A blind person can go to an Apple store and try out everything they sell except the iPod Classic which hasn’t had a software revision in a really long time. I can use any Macintosh, iPhone, iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, iPod Touch and more sold in the past few years without installing any extra software. Meanwhile, I would need to spend nearly $1000 extra to use Windows on a “standard” computer if I want to use the most popular screen access utility for that platform. Android from Google includes a screen access tool called “TalkBack” which is, in my educated opinion, years behind the out-of-the-box experience provided by Apple and the costly add-ons required by Windows.

This is one of the things which many people overlook with Apple’s operating system: the built-in accessibility features are years ahead of any other OS vendor, and are available out of the box. It’s a perfect example of the adaptive accessibility model I keep banging on about: a rich set of features, which are available to use by anybody, regardless of their ability. So I get quite disheartened when I read about Apple being slammed for poor accessibility.

The crux of the situation is best summed up by Chris’ comment:

While slamming Apple at their annual convention, they celebrated Google with lots of presentation slots for their Android system. As I wrote above, Android accessibility is poor at best but NFB probably got a fat contribution from Google and, as any advocate knows, money talks, accessibility walks.

The distribution of iBooks 2 content

Yesterday, Apple announced the launch of iBooks 2, and an audacious initiative to modernise the textbook industry. As part of the launch, they also announced the release of iBooks Author, a free tool for creating and publishing eBooks.

I’ve not had a chance to play with it myself yet, but it looks like a very slick, well-made and easy-to-use tool for creating interactive books — something which has been missing from the market for far too long.

I’ve seen a fair bit of negative talk on Twitter though, mainly about the terms of Apple’s SLA and how books created with iBooks Author can be distributed. The short story is that if you’re planning to sell your publication, you have to distribute it through Apple’s store — you’re forbidden from distributing through any other means. Seems to many like a dictatorial move from Apple, but David Smith has an interesting take on this:

The real story here today shouldn’t be that Apple has ‘audaciously’ claimed ownership of the books make with iBooks Author but that they have created an avenue for non-commercial distribution that would exclude thementirely. That is actually unprecedented.

If I create a textbook using iBooks Author and then decide to made it freely available to the world (à la Khan Academy) I can do that without any restriction. Simple click ‘Export’ within iBook Author and the resulting file can be distributed by any means I choose and then loaded in iBooks. The mind boggles at what things may come out of this.

All Apple is doing with this restriction is saying that if you directly profit from this free tool and platform that we have created, then we deserve our cut. Which seems entirely fair to me.

And John Gruber has followed up on this with an interesting point about the HTML5 foundation of this iBooks format:

Second, it’s about not wanting iBooks Author to serve as an authoring tool for competing bookstores like Amazon’s or Google’s. The output of iBooks Author is, as far as I can tell, HTML5 — pretty much ePub 3 with whatever nonstandard liberties Apple saw fit to take in order to achieve the results they wanted. It’s not a standard format in the sense of following a spec from a standards body like the W3C, but it’s just HTML5 rendered by WebKit — not a binary blob tied to iOS or Cocoa. It may not be easy, but I don’t think it would be that much work for anyone else with an ePub reader that’s based on WebKit to add support for these iBooks textbooks. Apple is saying, “Fuck that, unless you’re giving it away for free.”

Worth noting that Apple pitched their launch event at the education market, and they’re probably already a long way down the road with making deals with educational institutions (Apple has a track-record of quietly making individual, private deals in the education sector). Amazon et al have had a massive head-start in the ePublishing sector, but none of them have been audacious enough (or powerful enough) to make these kinds of bold moves into education.

Apple are doing a very clever thing here: they’re making efforts to put iPads into the hands of young adopters. Talk about brand exposure!