Accessible Devices – Apple IOS

Accessible settings on iPhone

Accessible settings on iPhone

In our modern and fast-paced world, technology has invaded our daily lives to influence the way we live and interact with people around us. Many companies have begun to realise the need to incorporate accessibility features into the devices they develop. These features not only make the devices easier to use, but provide opportunities for persons with disabilities to gain access to previously unreachable technology.

In this 5-part series on e-accessibility, Ivan Tan, Head e-Accessibility from the Infocomm Accessibility Centre, shares some of these accessibility features and the accessibility issues that persons with disabilities face every day. The series will also review the accessibility features of Android and Windows 8 operating systems in the coming weeks.

Mobile devices like tablets and smartphones have become common place in recent years. With the evolution of the digital lifestyle and the rise of social media, the online citizen’s world has expanded far beyond its traditional influence.

The ability to communicate, surf the internet, play a game, check the weather, share a photo or video, and have access to a library of close to a million apps on a device in the palm of your hand was unheard of just a decade ago. In fact, mobile technology truly began its radical transformation in 2007 when the first Apple iPhone was launched with Apple CEO Steve Jobs proclaiming that “the phone is not just a communication tool but a way of life”.

As technology progresses, Apple’s ability to engage persons with disabilities have made significant leaps as well. Accessibility features offered by the iPad and iPhone present opportunities for people with disabilities to not just access the devices’ controls, but to be active leaders in this exciting new world.

One of the most important accessibility features available on iOS devices is VoiceOver, a built-in gesture-based screen reader that not just reads out what you have selected, but places controls for navigation, text editing and settings at your fingertips. VoiceOver is essentially a screen reader for your iPhone.

After activating VoiceOver on your iPhone (or iPad), the iPhone will start to read out what is under your finger as you run it around the touchscreen. It can also inform you of the time, battery level, cellular network strength, and even let you know if the screen orientation has changed. Apple also released a video to demonstrate the power of VoiceOver to educate sighted users of the iPhone.

According to Mr Anisio Correia, VP for Programs at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), an iOS device “goes a long way to level the playing field for persons who are blind and visually impaired.”

Image of Anisio using VoiceOver on his iPhone

Visually-impaired user Anisio Correia demonstrating how he uses his iPhone with Voiceover (Image by Anisio Correia on the CVI Blog)

Visually-impaired since he was two, Anisio was initially sceptical about the iPhone’s accessibility for blind or visually-impaired persons when it was first released in 2007. The concern was how a flat touchscreen smartphone could be accessible without conventional tactile references like a keypad.

Fast forward to today, Anisio is an iPhone convert. He evangelises how the iPhone has now become the game changer for the visually-impaired. With the built-in accessibility features of the iPhone and the ability to enhance its capability using third-party apps and accessories, Anisio continues to use it as his lifeline to complete many daily tasks like recognising dollar bills using LookTel Money Reader or using AroundMe, a location description app that describes points of interest along his daily commute and showing him a whole new world that sighted people take for granted.

But what about the user who is unable to perform the gestures, swipes and taps that control the iOS device? Can the iPhone and iPad cater to persons with physical impairments just as well as it has for users who are visually-impaired? Apple addressed these concerns by introducing Assistive Touch to users who may find many of these gestures difficult to manage.

Screenshot of the Assistive Touch screen showing device controls as well as multi-touch gestures

Screenshot of the Assistive Touch screen showing device controls as well as multi-touch gestures

Assistive Touch is a feature of iOS that allows gestures to be replicated for those who may not be able to. With Assistive Touch, users can tap the onscreen controls using a finger, stylus or even a mouth or head pointer. Device actions such as volume controls, screen rotation and shake (which virtually ‘shakes’ the device without actually doing it) are great for users if their device is mounted on a wheelchair and the buttons are difficult to access. Custom gestures like swipe to unlock, a five-finger pinch or a four finger swipe can also be recorded into the iPhone to accomplish some tasks that may be difficult for users with limited dexterity. These gestures can then be assigned a name and accessed from the Assistive Touch menu. What this means is that users are able to accomplish many more tasks independently with the limited movements that they have.

Apple continues to work on improving their inclusive designs and accessibility features for the newer versions of iOS. Alternative voices, the ability to adjust the pitch and speed of VoiceOver as well as contextual Assistive Touch were some suggestions that had been mooted to the accessibility team at Apple. We look forward to these enhanced features in their future releases.