Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Apple gives iPhone accessibility for the blind and does it the right way

In case you missed the groundbreaking news this week, the Apple Corporation has pounded the table and slammed its fist down, announcing heretofore unimagined accessibility for blind people to the iPhone and its popular touchscreen display. I’ve ragged on Apple enough in previous postings about not including accessibility for the blind amongst the many features that it offered on this chic and trendy device, so I feel obligated to give my props to the home of the Mighty Mac for doing it right.

Not only does Apple include accessibility to the iPhone with the upgrade to the 3.0 operating system, but they do it for free. It is built-into the software. That means that there is no additional “accessibility charge,” a price blind people have been subjected to in the past to gain access to information that sighted folks get for the original price of a product. This fee has come in the form of screen readers and service maintenance agreements that hit wallets that are very often already strained. So, a tip of the hat to Apple for not only providing accessibility, but just making it part of doing business.

I have heard that somebody questioned whether the Nokia N82, which is the phone I and several of my friends are using, has become obsolete with the advent of an accessible iPhone. I don't buy that. I think the N82 is a greatly accessible phone, in my own experience the most accessible phone I’ve ever had, and its already bought and paid for. There are aspects of it that nothing on the market can touch, at least not yet, so it is not obsolete. However, it is expensive in itself, just under $300 at best pricing, and also requires an expensive, third party screen reader for nearly $300 to be accessible. With a screen reader, at best prices, one will spend close to $600 and up to $900 from vendors to get an N82 with a screen reader on it.

Now, along comes Apple offering an iPhone for $199 with a built in screen reader. What Apple has done here is put pressure on the market to, not only ante up, but to matche their raise.

As they say, only time will tell. Let’s see what happens. It is indeed an interesting time to be a blind person and experience the wonders of advancing technology.

With all that said, below I offer a roundup of some of the writings on the web about the iPhone’s accessibility.

Here’s the official Apple iPhone Accessibility page where they spell out the use of Voice Over:

Also, here’s the Apple guide on how to use different features on your iPhone.

Here’s the Serotek blog where Mike Calvo shares his thoughts on Apple doing it right. Also, make sure to read the first comment on that post

Here’s the Ranger Station’s Post announcing the news. Ranger 1138 is a knowledgeable and experienced “dude in the assistive technology industry” whose insight I truly appreciate and trust.

Here is the Fred’s Head article from the American Printing House for the Blind. It is drawing its information from Apple, but seems to add some personal thoughts as well. The writer of this blog is a savvy writer named Mike McCarty and I personally dig his thoughts on technology and seemingly endless resources of information related to blindness and low vision.

And, finally, here’s Darrell Shandrow’s Blind Access Journal post, where he’s collected a few people’s reactions—some in awe and others basically taking a "wait and see" stance, as it sounds like his first couple of commenters are as well.

Like I said, only time will tell what evolves from Apple’s investment in accessibility.

Update 06/11/09

Here’s one more post from Mark Taylor’s Candleshore blog. It is not the original work of the blogger, but contains commentary from one person on an email list. However, these are the thoughtful reflections of a person, whom Mark leaves unidentified, but pledges is “one of the most respected names in the field of assistive technology for the visually impaired.” The comments are a good starting point for a discussion of what the pros and cons are of the iPhone versus other tactile smart phones.


Anonymous said...

I can’t weight to get a look at apple's I phone. I wonder if it’s practical to tap and double tap. I have an N82 phone and it does every thing I want it to do what does the I phone have to offer to make me switch? My N82 phone scans, has GPS, internet, email, and it also plays my favorite music, oh and it also talks. The internet is slower, however I can weight for the N82’s internet. Why would I want to pay $200 or $400 for a talking I phone and then pay $50 more dollars per month for texting and 3g internet? Currently I pay $15 for the internet and $5 for 200 text messages. Now with the I phones prices the text and the internet are unlimited so what benefit does the I phone have for me and other users of the N82 phone?

Anonymous said...

The voice over for the Iphone does indeed look brilliant. But, as the mother of a 17 year old cerebral palsy iphone user who already uses a 3G iphone, it is a shame this feature was not included in the download upgrade.

If we could download this software it would mean my son could use his phone independantly for the first time and the would be truly amazing.