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Monday, June 08, 2009

True Accessibility for the Blind and Visually Impaired comes to the iPhone

The following information comes from Apple.

The same VoiceOver screen reader made popular on the Mac is now a standard feature on the iPhone 3G S. 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.

What makes VoiceOver on iPhone truly remarkable is that you control it using simple gestures that let you physically interact with items on screen. It’s easy to learn and fun to use. 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.

VoiceOver delivers an experience unlike any screen reader you’ve ever used before. Traditional screen readers describe individual elements on the screen, but struggle to communicate where each element is located or provide information about adjoining objects. This contextual information is very important but typically filtered out by other screen readers. For example, “off-screen” models used by traditional screen readers to represent applications and web pages intentionally strip away contextual information and describe web pages as a list or menu of items. But with VoiceOver on iPhone 3G S, you’ll experience something entirely new.

Because VoiceOver works with iPhone’s touchscreen, you interact directly with objects on the screen and can naturally understand their location and context. So, when you touch the upper-left corner of the screen, you’ll hear what’s in the upper left corner of a web page, and as you drag your finger around the screen, you’ll learn what’s nearby, providing an amazing new sense of context and relationship between the items you hear. For many, VoiceOver on iPhone will provide, perhaps for the first time, a true sense of how things appear on screen, not just descriptions of what they are.

You’ll hear descriptions of every item on the screen, including status information such as battery level, Wi-Fi and cellular network signal levels, the cellular network provider, and time of day. It even lets you know when the display changes to landscape or portrait orientation, and when the screen is locked or unlocked.

The speaking rate is adjustable so you can set it to a speed that best suits your listening ability. VoiceOver uses distinctive sound effects to alert you when an application opens, when the screen is updated, when a message dialog appears, and more. And, when Voiceover is talking, the volume of background sounds and music are automatically lowered, “ducking” under the voice, so you can clearly hear what VoiceOver is telling you.

VoiceOver includes built-in voices that speak 21 languages including Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (China), Chinese (Taiwan), Dutch, English (US), English (UK), Finnish, French (Canada), French (France), German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Russian, Spanish (Mexico), Spanish (Spain), and Swedish.

VoiceOver is built right into the iPhone 3G S. There’s nothing extra to purchase or install. All you need is the iPhone 3G S, iTunes 8.2 or later, and a Mac or PC. You can activate your iPhone and enable VoiceOver without sighted assistance using iTunes with a compatible screen reader like VoiceOver included in Mac OS X and GW-Micro Window-Eyes® for Windows XP and Windows Vista (sold separately). When you activate iPhone using iTunes, you can enable VoiceOver on the iPhone to start using it right away. Sighted users can also enable VoiceOver for you directly on iPhone using the Accessibility menu in the Settings application.

With VoiceOver enabled, you’ll use a different, but simple set of gestures to control the iPhone. For example, instead of tapping to click a button or select an item, you tap to hear a description of the item you touch and double-tap to click or select it.

When an item on the screen is selected, a black rectangle called the VoiceOver cursor appears around it. The VoiceOver cursor is displayed for the benefit of sighted users with whom you may be sharing your phone. When you prefer privacy, VoiceOver includes a screen curtain that turns off the display so no one can read it without your knowledge.

In addition to touching and dragging around the screen, you can also flick left and right to move the VoiceOver cursor precisely to the next or previous item on the screen—no matter how big or small it is. By flicking, you have precise control of what you hear even when it might otherwise be difficult to place your finger on it.

When you’re typing text, such as an email message or a note, VoiceOver echoes each character on the keyboard as you touch it, and again to confirm when you enter it. You can also have VoiceOver speak each completed word instead of and in addition to individual characters as you type them. A flick up or down while typing moves the insertion point cursor left and right within the text so you can edit a word just as easily and precisely as typing a new word.

To help you type more quickly and accurately, iPhone features word prediction and suggests the correct spelling when you type a word incorrectly. With Speak Auto-text enabled, you’ll hear a sound effect and the suggested word spoken automatically. You can just keep typing to ignore it, or press the space key to have iPhone type it for you.

VoiceOver works with all of the built-in applications that come with iPhone 3G S, such as Phone, iPod, iTunes, Mail, Safari, and Maps. So, you can place and receive calls, surf the web, text and email your friends, check your stocks and the weather, and much, much more. Apple is also working with iPhone software developers so they can make their applications VoiceOver compatible.

In addition to gestures, you can use your voice to play music and make a phone call. Just press and hold the home button, listen for the audio prompt, and speak the name of the artist, album, or playlist you want to hear. You can pause, play, change tracks, even shuffle your music.

When you want to make a call, speak the name or telephone number of the person you want to call. iPhone 3G S understands 21 different languages.

While many iPhone applications let you zoom in and out specific elements such as images in Mail, or webpage columns in Safari, Zoom lets you magnify the entire screen of any application you’re using to help you see what’s on the display. Zoom can be enabled on iPhone 3G S using iTunes when you’re setting up the iPhone, for yourself or someone else, or later, using the Accessibility menu in the Settings application on the iPhone.

Zoom works everywhere, including the Home, Unlock, and Spotlight screens, even with applications you purchase from the App store.

For those who need or prefer higher contrast, iPhone 3G S provides an option to change the display to White On Black. This reverse video affect works in all applications including the Home, Unlock, and Spotlight screens and can be used with Zoom and VoiceOver.

iPhone includes a few, easily discernible physical buttons used to control the phone: the Sleep/Wake button, located on the top edge; the Ring/Silent switch and volume-control buttons, located on the upper-left edge; and the Home button, centered below the display.

Click this link to purchase the iPhone 3G S from the Apple Store.

There are at least two mailing lists for blind users of the iPhone to share experience, learning and frustration. Click this link to send a blank message to join aiphone: aiphone-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or click this link to send a blank message to join viphone: viphone-subscribe@googlegroups.com.

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