iPad Accessibility

I’ve just had a very quick look at the Apple’s latest and much awaited offering – the iPad. I say, a “quick look”, because I haven’t yet been able to wrestle it from the grasp of its new owner. However, I did manage to request a demo of the accessibility features.

How can something so visual, which relies on accurate touch, be made accessible? The form factor has a lot to do with it. The iPad is much larger than the iPod Touch and iPhone (not quite a sheet of A4) so Apple has more room to play with, which helps. The extra real estate means icons for the apps can be selected with even the largest or most arthritic of fingers unlike the iPod Touch or iPhone, which require almost pianistic dexterity.

There are accessibility settings for text-to-speech and magnification, although you’d probably need someone to set the settings on first use. This changes the gestures required to use the device, e.g. for magnification a three-finger swipe will increase the size, etc. But for me, the way the device works for visually impaired people really caught my attention. By selecting the Voice Over (text-to-speech) setting, every time the user touches the screen anywhere, a box highlights the text and the name of the app is read out. The required app can be selected by tapping. This means that visually impaired users can still navigate and select the various apps on what looks like a completely visual interface.

The iPad comes with a free e-book – Winnie the Pooh – and I was intrigued to see how this would be handled. The book has images and I was pleasantly surprised to hear them described. The descriptions were far more descriptive than alt text. The image of Pooh sitting outside his house was charmingly described, even down to the “childish writing” of the sign saying “Mr Sanders”. OK – I guess it’s down to the publishers of e-books to ensure that their books are accessible (and also to the app developers), but it does show what can be done.

These comments have only been made on the briefest of looks at the iPad and there will no doubt be some accessibility “gotchas”, but I think the size of the device has made a huge difference to the way in which accessibility can be handled.

So now, I’m going to see if I can distract the iPad’s new owner so I can have another quick look, but unless It’s by something equally as innovative, I don’t think I’ll have much of a chance!

Could on-screen narration be discriminatory?

Cathy Moore has an interesting blog post entitled “Should we narrate on-screen text?, where she suggests that automatic narration of on-screen text can actually be detrimental to learners. She states that learners generally read more quickly than the narration is read – screen reader users can “read” text very quickly -and that learners are then forced to move at the pace of the narration.

Although some learners may find on-screen narration useful such as young children, learners who are learning the language of the learning resource, and learners with low literacy skills or cognitive difficulties, on-screen narration should not be included just to try and fulfil obligations towards students with disabilities. Automatically including on-screen narration just to fulfil SENDA (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act) obligations, could actually discriminate against students who do not need on-screen narration.

Therefore, the provision of on-screen narration should be considered very carefully and, if it is considered necessary, offered as an alternative or option, but the original resource (or an alternative) should still be accessible to screen reader and other technology users.