The iPhone is one of those devices that prompts its fans to declare “This phone changed my life!” Yes, the apps are great, and add an immense amount of convenience to everyday life. And the ease of use means just about anyone can pick one up and grasp the basics within minutes. But then there are those individuals who can say “The iPhone changed my life” without hyperbole or out of tech geek exuberance. No, these people talk about how transformative the iPhone is thanks to the accessibility features built into it. Dan has written about how voice recognition, especially using Siri, has helped him be productive without straining his wrists, and that is just one example.
But what would you say if I told you that I recently spoke with a woman who is visually impaired and uses her iPhone, with its touchscreen and limited buttons, constantly? It literally has opened doors to the world that, while perhaps not completely shut, were difficult to access prior to the device. Apple has put a great deal of work into the accessibility features of the iPhone, and the ways they open up smartphones to the visually impaired are truly astounding.
When I called Jane, she was excited to tell me about how she uses her iPhone. According to her, prior to the iPhone she had a regular cell phone to make calls, but a Blackberry-type device was out of the question. When it was time to replace her phone she gave the iPhone a try thanks to the VoiceOver features as well as Siri. It was an instant hit. With VoiceOver, Jane doesn’t need to be able to read the screen. She can tap an area and have the iPhone read to her what she touched, or tap it twice to activate an app, make a phone call, etc. Plus Siri can read her phone numbers and text messages, and she can dictate instructions to Siri with just the tap of the home button.
What really struck me as interesting was that Jane finds it easier to browse the web using VoiceOver and the iPhone than she does on a computer with accessibility software. As she explained it, a mobile site is cleaner-there’s less pictures and advertisements, so when she taps on an area she’s likely to hit a block of text that the iPhone can read back to her. Unfortunately, third-party apps are not generally compatible with all the accessibility features, but even the mobile version of sites like the New York Times work well with VoiceOver and mobile Safari. The real disappointment here is that she can’t play Words With Friends (Zynga, get on this!)
And of course, what really made my ebook-loving self happy was hearing that iBooks allows Jane to read ebooks more easily. She can reverse the background (white letters on a black background), blow up the font size, even change the font style to one that’s easy to see with limited vision. Basically, iBooks allows her to customize a book to precisely what is easiest for her to read. Apparently iBooks offers the most customization options, as apps like the Kindle topped out at a font size too small for her. Of course, she reads books on her iPad (yes, she bought an iPad as well as an iPhone!), because the larger screen lets her comfortably blow up the size and still make everything readable!
Jane does use a bluetooth keyboard with her iPad to make typing faster and easier, and that plays well with all the accessibility features of iOS. She still uses her PC for word documents and things like that, but in general she finds her iOS experience is much smoother and less clunky than the accessibility options on Windows. As she pointed out, Apple has found a niche, and served it incredibly well. Technology went from being out of reach to easy to use in a heartbeat, all because Apple took the time to make those features as simple as turn it on and go!
If, like me, you’re only vaguely familiar with the many accessibility options built into iOS, be sure to check out this section of Apple.com. They really go into detail about how it works, and the little touches are what make it both Apple-esque and impressive in the ways it can improve someone’s life!
This video goes back to the 3GS but does demonstrate some of VoiceOver’s impressive abilities:
Do you use accessibility features in iOS, or do you know someone who does? Share your experiences in the comments!