By now, many in the sight-impaired community have discovered the Apple iPhone for its awesome accessibility features to help not only the visually but also the hearing impaired. With this being the Blind Cook’s blog, I will focus on the accessibility features for the blind user.
I’ve mentioned many times before that Apple products (i.e. Macbooks, iMacs, iPads, iPhones, iPods and iPod Touches) all come with VoiceOver, a text-to-speech application that will virtually read aloud everything on the screen for the blind user. A nice feature of VoiceOver is its human-like speech; Alex, the name Apple has given its most realistic sounding screen reader voice, employs tonal shifts and inflections, even pausing to “breathe.” No more robotic, monotonous voices of yesteryear.
My husband recently attended the An Event Apart design conference for web developers, where he met a woman who works at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. (A shout-out to any new readers from FSDB; hello from Houston!) John learned that the man at Apple responsible for developing the VoiceOver application is blind himself. This comforted me because who would make for a better tester for technology accessibility than a blind person? I’ve often come this close to emailing Steve Jobs himself asking to become a tester of VoiceOver functionality. As a student, a writer, and a blogger, I depend on my computer and cell phone every day, and I want to see Apple’s products get better and better with their accessibility.
Before my iPhone 3GS, I had a non-data Nokia RIZR which I used for making simple phone calls. I could not even send and receive text messages because I could not see what was on my screen. I did not even know who was calling me unless I had set that person’s ringtone to something unique (which I only did for a few people who called often). I could only dial people on my “favorites” list by scrolling down the memorized number of lines; everyone else in my contacts list I had to use voice recognition commands which were not always accurate. This was frustrating to say the least, but unaware of anything better on the mobile market, I had accepted this as my cellular fate.
One day after my Nokia had broken, John was researching cell phones to find which would be most suitable for me. I was this close to buying a Blackberry but could not commit to the difficult, tiny keyboard. Then by chance, John found an online video that reviewed the iPhone and how it is blind-friendly. How he could’ve missed this being the Apple fanboy that he is is beyond me. But I was just glad he found it–better late than never. What he learned was that a blind user could navigate the touch screen by swipes back and forth; up and down; using one, two, or three fingers. The VoiceOver reads aloud whatever your thumb touches, and if you swipe with one finger to the right, the cursor moves to the next app icon on the screen, or, if you’re inside an app, to the next image or form field or text in the app. Swipe with one finger to the left takes you to the previous item. Applying the same principles of left or up for “previous” and right or down for “next,” swiping with three fingers is like the PageUp and PageDown functions. Swiping with two fingers will read everything on the screen. To select an icon, button or button, or to activate a form field, double-click with your finger. If you take your thumb and forefinger (or any two fingers, for that matter) and swipe in a circular motion on the touch screen as though you were turning a dial, it will select different levels for navigation. E.g. you can select to navigate by the line, by the word, by the character, etc. After selecting the level, one swipe with one finger back and forth will scroll the cursor to the previous and next line, word, or character. Those, my friends, are the basic iPhone (and iPad) VoiceOver commands.
When I first got the iPhone 3GS back in December 2009, the VoiceOver was great but after updates, it, it is even better. For example, now upon scrolling over a letter, after a pause, Alex will say the military alphabetic equivalent of that letter. This aids in lessening the confusion I once had between similar sounding letters like “M” and “N”, or “B” and “V.” Now I will hear “M…Mike” or “N…November,” and “B…Bravo” or “V…Victor.” Another improvement I noticed was now the “back” button to get to a previous screen when inside an app is more intuitive in that it actually says “back” after “hovering” over the button. (In the previous VoiceOver version, it would only read aloud the name of the button, so I wouldn’t know if it actually was a functioning button or not.)
The new iPhone 4GS is set to release in stores this September, and perhaps if you can wait long enough, rumor has it that iPhone 5 will come out next year. If you are sight-impaired and on the market for a phone, I highly recommend the iPhone. It is by far the superior cell phone for the sight-impaired.
Have an iProduct? Tell me what you think of it. Want an iProduct? Have questions about one? Leave a comment.