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Apple Announces iPhone Accessibility, Blind Community Cautiously Optimistic

June 8, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

At Monday’s WWDC conference, Apple announced the inclusion of VoiceOver on its new iPhone 3 GS, making a unique touch screen interface accessible to a cautiously optimistic blind user community for the first time.

“iPhone 3G S provides new accessibility features including VoiceOver, a screen reader that speaks what appears on the iPhone 3G S display, enabling visually impaired users to make calls, read email, browse web pages, play music and run applications,” said Apple representatives in a June 8 press release.

Loyal Apple fans in the blind community are ecstatic to have been granted access to the iPhone after waiting over two years.

“My God. I am in awe,” said Josh de Lioncourt, publisher of the popular Mac-cessibility Round Table Podcast on Twitter.

Shane Jackson, publisher of the BlindWorld Blog and Podcast said on Twitter “Jump up and down, folks. Jump really, really high! iPhone! Yes!”

“It’s the world’s first gesture-based screen reader, enabling you to enjoy the fun and simplicity of the iPhone even if you can’t see the screen,” said Apple representatives on the company’s iPhone Accessibility page. “Instead of memorizing hundreds of keyboard commands, or endlessly pressing tiny arrow keys to find what you’re looking for, with VoiceOver, you simply touch the screen to hear a description of the item under your finger, then gesture with a double-tap, drag, or flick to control the phone.”

Some blind technology users are uncertain about the practicality of making a native touch screen interface accessible, but they are reserving judgment as they wait to see the new iPhone in action. “I am very very concerned about the touch interface. That could be a deal breaker but will wait and see,” said Jeff Bishop, a blind database developer at a major university.

Categories: iPhone

4 opinions on “Apple Announces iPhone Accessibility, Blind Community Cautiously Optimistic

  1. on the surface, it sounds nice, but when applied to real world usage, voice command technology isn't as easy or a cure all as it first sounds. I'm a very happy Mobile Speak Pocket and Voice Command user and even with those two programs running on my quadband HTC TYTN PDA, there are many times where because of the situation I'm in, using Voice Command or MSP is impracticle. Either by ambient noise making it impossible to hear feedback, the same noise making it impossible for the program to understand what I'm saying or situations where it just isnt' appropriate to have a talking phone blathering on and on about battery life, caller information, text messages etc. in a private or quiet business setting. Not to mention, I don't thinkn I'd like for everyone to be able to hear my business. Whether it be who I'm calling, Whose calling me, what I'm browsing or whatever other tasks I'm performing on my device.

    The intention is good and of course go in the right direction, but I'd imagine that initially, the accessibility features on the IPhone will be more gimmicky for the average sighted person and incredibly frustrating for a visually impaired one.

    I think I'm going to stick with my boring old Windows Mobiel based PDA and MSP for now. I love my qwerty keyboard and the flexibility that MSP offers. Not to mention all the blue tooth and not being locked into a crazy sim card or contract either. I'm not ready to sacrifice functionality for flashiness just so I can brag about my brand new IPhone that may not be as accessible than my trusty PDA.

    All that said, It's encouraging to hear that Apple is taking a greater interest in making it's various products more accessible. Regardless of what the initial steps towards accessibility they make, they're at the very least steps in the right direction.

    Now, if only they'd fix that terrible iTunes 8.2 update that they just put out and makes iTunes pretty much impossible for Jaws user to navigate things would be really encouraging.

  2. As a mac user, I am pretty excitd about this news. I think Apple really is on the ball when it comes to accessibility. I agree with the other commentor that I'm cautiously optimistic because I'm not sure how well the interface is going to work with a touch screen, but it might work great, and then owning an accessible cell phone won't cost an outrageous amount, and it's an IPhone. I am looking forward to playing with one if nothing else.

  3. The good news is that new 3GS will add some accessibility, but bad news is that older iPhone 3G will not get all those new features.

    I understand that getting something like voiceover may require new hardware, bt, for example, new cool zoom feature which i was waiting for two years probably does not, and still will not be available on older devices.

    Guys, please make some buzz on it, maybe Apple will hear and include this feature for older devices. I posted a feedback on that on Apple's site, but don't know if it will help.

    So please, let people and Apple know and rethink their decision to limit new accessibility features to new iPhones.

  4. I AGREE WE NEED TO MAKE A STINK… about the iphone 3G not having the new features. An I disagree the TTS of Voiceover is probably just software. There's phones with a lot less processor power that have TTS… And why not zoom. Its just crazy. It just stupid… They make all the comprimises and tell us we got to shell $300 bucks for it, when a $100 3g will run it. Somebody hears of a petition let me know. laptop AT deckerconstruction.net

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