Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices are “revolutionary” and “game-changing” in offering built-in accessibility functions for people with disabilities, delegates heard at this year’s E-Access ’10 conference in London.
Kiran Kaja of the RNIB Digital Accessibility Team told a mobile phone workshop that while accessibility applications are available for other smartphones – such as the ‘Eyes Free Shell’ for Google’s Android phone – the iPhone 3GS is a “game-changer” because its accessibility features are built in across all its functions.
Using the standard touch-screen you can move your fingers along and the phone reads what is underneath them; and if you swipe down with two fingers it reads from that point to the end, Kaja said. A double-tap with three fingers will magnify the screen.
“A lot of people say they can’t use a touch-screen, but when I show them this it really changes their perspectives,” he said. “People have started asking why they should pay extra money for accessibility on mainstream devices. So slowly we are seeing changing expectations. When Symbian [an operating system for mobile phones] was released in 2000, it was two or three years before assistive technology was developed for it, so phones could be out of date before assistive technology appears. With the iPhone, I could use it the same day as my sighted friends.”
Accessibility features that are built in by the manufacturer are also more stable than added extras like screen-readers running on top of an operating system, Kaja said.
Apple’s new ‘iPad’ table computer – which functions much like a huge iPhone – was also singled out for praise by Robin Spinks, Principal Manager, Digital Accessibility at RNIB.
The iPad’s size meant it was a “revolutionary” improvement for partially-sighted users, who could use it at a normal distance like a more visible smartphone, with applications and the keyboard feature all viewed larger, Spinks said.
Used as an electronic book reader, the iPad can also magnify text, and it featured the same built-in access functions as the iPhone 3GS such as the double-tap with three fingers to magnify the screen, he said. “One of the advantages of Apple’s much-criticised “walled garden” approach is that is can build in accessibility to all functions.”
Further accessibility features are likely to be added to smartphones in future that make use of the built-in gyroscopes and accelerometers found in most modern phones, said Kiran Kaja. “They are mainly used by games developers now , but could also have uses for people with disabilities,” he said. Early examples include the free ‘Dasher’ app which allows the user to tilt and move the phone with one hand to select items, a feature of use to many people with impaired mobility:
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