Mobile television provider MobiTV said it plans to incorporate VoiceOver accessibility in its iPhone app by September.
The company streams live and on-demand content from media companies including ABC, ESPN and Nickelodeon to smartphone users.
Blind sports fan Liam Erven said his interest in MobiTV’s iPhone app centers around their extensive coverage of sporting events such as the World Cup and pay-per-view UFC fights.
“Mainly for me there’s ESPN coverage. There’s a lot of stuff they do with sports,” Erven said. “I like to be able to get news and entertainment when I’m out and about and that’s the whole point with the iPhone is to have the world at your fingertips.”
Erven was surprised to find MobiTV’s iPhone app unusable with Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader that enables Braille and speech accessibility for blind users of the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone.
“I was really disappointed when I found out I couldn’t use it (MobiTV’s iPhone app) because I didn’t understand why small accessibility concessions couldn’t be made,” he said. “I know a lot of companies don’t understand that, hey, there’s this whole interface you can use to make things accessible.”
Ray DeRenzo, chief marketing officer with MobiTV, Inc., said the company understands and will be taking action in the near future on requests to add VoiceOver support.
“We’ve had other inquiries in the past and we’re very sensitive to the fact that we’re not serving a valued segment of the consumer base,” he said. “We published the MobiTV application on the iPhone in April of this year and it was just a matter of trying to get a product to market in an aggressive time frame so we could be able to present content like the World Cup through ESPN.”
DeRenzo said accessibility was always on the company’s roadmap.
“It was always our intent to use the VoiceOver capability on iPhone and we’re going to do that in a subsequent release of the application,” DeRenzo said. “It’s not available presently. We’re going to be doing a release on July 15. It will not be available in that release. In the next release, which is probably within 60 days following the July time frame, we’re going to be enabling VoiceOver capability.”
DeRenzo said MobiTV would like to make its apps for other smartphone platforms, including Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, available to blind users as their operating systems become accessible.
“We’re going to try to make our products more accessible as device manufacturers enable VoiceOver-like capabilities in their operating systems,” DeRenzo said. “This is the way we’re hoping the industry evolves where each of the device manufacturers and their operating systems have a voice enablement capability that becomes part of the software development kit we can utilize. That’s certainly the case with devices like the iPhone on iOS.”
Erven said making apps like MobiTV accessible could start to bridge the gap between blind users and traditional cable or satellite providers that don’t accommodate customers with disabilities in the set top boxes they use to deliver content.
“The on-demand stuff is nice and that’s one thing you can’t get access to right now on a traditional cable system without a lot of sighted assistance,” Erven said. “More and more companies are going with this entertainment over IP platform. I thought it was really important that these companies know that, hey, look, we’re out here and we use this technology, too.”
Apple provides a free accessibility programming guide to all developers who are willing to make their applications accessible to blind customers.