Saturday, October 26, 2013

Apple's Announcements Impact on Accessibility

This week Apple announced a variety of new hardware and software products at media event. While Apple executives didn't devote stage time to accessibility announcements as they have in years past, the announcements still impact accessibility and assistive technology.


Apple previewed OS X Mavericks at their World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June. This week Apple released the Mac operating system to the public and announced that it would be a free update. Like iOS 7, Mavericks includes some exciting accessibility improvements including enhanced dictation and Switch Control. Click to read more about each new feature.

The main focus of the event was updated iPads. Apple released a new full size iPad named iPad Air. The iPad Air is considerably thinner and lighter than the previous full size iPad. In addition to the slimmer design Apple included the new A7 processor which increases performance. The iPad mini was also updated to include a higher quality retina display and is now called the iPad mini with Retina display. Notably, the new iPads don't include Apple's new Touch ID finger print sensor that debut on the iPhone 5s.

Updated Apps

Apple updated their iLife and iWork software for both the Mac and iOS devices. The updates have some useful new features, but I have not found any new accessibility features in these updates. Notably, Apple's education focused iOS apps iBooks and iTunes U were not updated. I'm hopeful that these apps will be updated soon and include new features. In particular, I hope Apple adds improved text-to-speech integration for iBooks. In particular I hope a "read" or "speak" button will be added to allow continuous text-to-speech with highlighting for all books. Currently continuous text-to-speech with highlighting is not possible in iBooks. 

iOS 7.0.3

iOS 7.0.3 is a minor update to iOS 7 but the new release includes a few accessibility improvements. In iOS 7.0.3 the reduce motion accessibility setting decreases navigation animations. This is designed to limit motion sickness that some users reported after updating to iOS 7. iOS 7.0.3 also includes VoiceOver fixes for a sensitivity issue that was present in previous versions of iOS 7.

OS X Mavericks Includes Switch Control Similar To iOS 7

Apple's new and free Mac operating system called OS X Mavericks includes a new accessibility feature called Switch Control. Switch Control allows switch users to navigate and use their Macs. Switch Control allows switch users to interact and control their Macs. Switch users are users who are only able to activate a few large buttons and who don’t have the ability to interact with the complexities of a keyboard or mouse. For example, a quadriplegic may be able to activate switches mounted on their wheelchair with their head. Switches come in all different sizes and configurations but they give users who are unable to interact with the keyboard or mouse the ability to control their computers. It is exciting to see Apple continuing to improve OS X accessibility as well as iOS accessibility. Switch Control on the Mac is similar to other switch interfaces and very similar to Switch Control on iOS 7. Click here to read about Switch Control for iOS 7.

Watch the above video to learn more about Switch Control on OS X Mavericks. Click here to download OS X Mavericks.

Friday, October 25, 2013

OS X Mavericks Enhanced Dictation

Apple's newly released and free OS X Mavericks includes a cool new feature called enhanced dictation. Dictation allows users to speak to their computer and have their words converted to text. Dictation can be beneficial to poor spellers and people with dyslexia. The new feature allows users to dictate without an internet connection by downloading the speech recognition engine onto their Mac. In previous versions of OS X users could dictate to their Macs, but an internet connection was required. With the new enhanced dictation words also appear as you speak instead of having to wait for your words to appear. Watch the above video to learn more. Click here to download Mavericks from the Mac App Store.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Have You Ever Wondered How Text-To-Speech Voices Are Made?

The Verge has a cool video about how text-to-speech videos are produced. Given that so many assistive technologies rely on text-to-speech voices it is interesting to learn how they have been improved over the years to sound more realistic. One of the most well known applications of text-to-speech is Apple's Siri. The video features Nuance the makers of Dragon.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Timely Time Teller App Keeps You Timely

The Timely Time Teller app is a simple app for iOS that gives you repeating alerts at set intervals. When alerts are turned on Timely verbally tells you the time at set intervals. For example, Timely could alert you of the time every 15 minutes. I found this helpful when rushing to get ready for school in the morning, with Timely giving me updates on the time I don't have to worry loosing track of time. When the app says, "seven o'clock" I know I have to be eating breakfast if I don't want to be late. Similarly, I found the app very helpful when bike riding instead of stopping and taking my iPhone out of my pocket Timely tells me the time every 15 minutes. When the iPhone is on silent Timely will vibrate at set times. Unfortunately the vibrate feature isn't very useful because you can distinguish a Timely alert from a text message or email notification. It would be more helpful if the vibration was different from other notifications. In all Timely is extremely simple, but can be a helpful tool. It could be especially beneficial for people with executive function difficulties.

Click read more below to view screenshots of Timely in action. Click here to view Timely in the App Store.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Apple Announces October 22th Event Likely to Foucs on new iPads and More

Today Apple sent invitations to members of the media for an October 22th event. The event comes just weeks after the release of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. Rumors have suggested that the event will focus on an updated full sized iPad and an updated iPad mini. The full size iPad will likely feature a new design with smaller side bezels similar to the iPad mini's design. It is also possible that the new iPad models will include some of the new features found on Apple's latest iPhone possibly even the Touch ID finger print sensor. Of course all of this remains speculative until Apple officially confirms the details. If you are in the market for a new iPad it is difinitely recommended to wait and see what Apple will announce next Tuesday.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Amazon Improves Accessibility Features of Kindle Fire Tablets

Amazon's newly announced Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HDX include built in accessibility features. Historically, Amazon has been slow to make their Kindle products accessible. With the new accessible Kindle Fire and accessible Kindle app for iOS Amazon maybe turning a new page. That being said, Amazon still doesn't want to make their Kindle eReaders accessible and has requested an exemption from the FCC.

The new Android based Kindle Fire tablets includes accessibility features for the blind, low vision, hearing impaired, and mobility impairments. For the blind and visually impaired the Kindle Fire includes a screen reader that can describe what is taking place on screen. There is also Explore by Touch which allows users to use gestures to navigate items one-by-one. For low vision users the new Kindle Fire tablets include a screen magnifier which is activated by a triple tap on the screen. There are also large font size and high contrast options to benefit low vision users. For users with mobility challenges the Kindle Fire can be controlled with a Bluetooth keyboard. For dyslexic users the Kindle Fire includes Immersion Reading which synchronizes the text and audio version of a book. With Immersion Reading the text is highlighted as a professional reader speaks. It is important to note that to use Immersion Reading you must own both the Audible audio version and the Kindle ebook version which can be costly. While it is very exciting to see Amazon improving their accessibility features other tablets such as the iPad include more robust accessibility features.

The Kindle Fires also include a "Mayday" button that allows you to connect with technical support at anytime. The support person can then help walk you through using different functions of your tablet. This "Mayday" button could be useful especially for new tablet users.

The Kindle Fire is available in 7 and 8.9 inch form factors both sizes are available in HD or more powerful HDX variety. The cost ranges from $139 to $229 depending on the size and features. Click here to purchase from Amazon. Click read more below to view a video about Immersion Reading.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New in iOS 7: System Wide Large Type

Apple’s new mobile operating system is out for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. iOS 7 includes many useful features for all users regardless of ability. One feature that can benefit people with visual impairments is system wide large font. With this feature enabled a user can select a larger font size for use in all compatible apps; the only caveat being that app developers must build in support for this feature. Once widely implemented by app developers this feature will make it easy to have the perfect text size in all your apps. Instead of selecting a preferred font size in each app users will be able to choose a font size once for all their compatible apps.

To enable larger type go to settings > general > accessibility > larger type.