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Inside Accessibility: Apple advances iOS 8 & OS X Yosemite as Android users left frustrated

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Apple is enhancing its accessibility features in both iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, widening its lead over Google's Android in accommodating the needs of users with disabilities.

Accessiblity


Yesterday, Christina Farr of Reuters reported that the National Federation of the Blind was debating how it could most effectively get Apple to force millions of third party developers' apps to correctly and consistently use the company's accessibility frameworks to ensure that all apps are easy for disabled people to use.

Reuters gets Apple accessibility wrongers



Farr's report was as full of errors and omissions as the accessibility of the problematic third party apps (including Linked In) that she was writing about.

Despite noting that Apple is "the company at the center of the app world," Farr wrote that "Apple hasn't been a steady champion" in accessibility, citing the NFB as having filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Apple, demanding closed captions and other accessibility features in iTunes.

The NFB didn't actually file a lawsuit however, a fact Farr later corrected in her article. Instead, the group sent Apple a demand letter seeking broader support for captions in iTunes content. There were two reasons why the group targeted Apple: first, its clout in media related to iTunes, but secondly was Apple's long history in pioneering advanced accessibility features.

Apple was one of the first consumer tech companies to recognize usability by people with disabilities as a necessary feature, dating back into the ancient history of the Apple II and original Macintosh. Apple set the standards in accessibility that other companies later followed.

Over ten years ago in 2004, Apple introduced a Spoken Interface Preview for OS X Panther, building upon on accessibility APIs introduced to developers at the previous years' WWDC.

The feature set was released as VoiceOver for OS X Tiger the next year, incorporating the first mainstream screen reader built into a desktop computing platform, supplying advanced software that previously users cost hundreds of dollars to install and maintain.

In March 2009, Apple introduced the third generation iPod Shuffle with a similar VoiceOver feature serving as an audible user interface for all users, not just those with visual impairments. Later that year, Apple also added VoiceOver to iOS 3 at the release of iPhone 3GS, making the new power of the smartphone accessible to blind users.

iOS VoiceOver


Today, as was the case for iTunes in 2008, the NFB is targeting Apple's App Store because first, that's where the desirable content is, and second, Apple continues to be the company pioneering advanced accessibility.

Reuters erases the context of Tim Cook's thoughts on accessibility



As if channeling Greenpeace on the environment or the New York Times iEconomy on working conditions in China, Reuters turned the story upside-down to portray Apple as indifferent to the needs of disabled users."We design our products to surprise and delight everyone who uses them, and we never, ever analyze the return on investment. We do it because it is just and right, and that is what respect for human dignity requires, and its a part of Apple I'm especially proud of" - Tim Cook

Farr cited a speech made by Apple's chief executive Tim Cook at Auburn University last year, where he "described people with disabilities 'in a struggle to have their human dignity acknowledged.'"

Her direct quote of Cook added, "they're frequently left in the shadows of technological advancements that are a source of empowerment and attainment for others [...]" Bizarrely, however, she cut the quote mid-sentence, leaving out Cook's actual message on the subject.

Cook actually continued, "... but Apple's engineers push back against this unacceptable reality, they go to extraordinary lengths to make our products accessible to people with various disabilities from blindness and deafness to various muscular disorders.

"I receive hundreds of e-mails from customers every day, and I read them all. Last week I received one from a single mom with a three year old autistic son who was completely non-verbal, and after receiving an iPad, for the first time in his life, he had found his voice. I receive scores of these incredible stories from around the world and I never tire of reading them.

"We design our products to surprise and delight everyone who uses them, and we never, ever analyze the return on investment. We do it because it is just and right, and that is what respect for human dignity requires, and its a part of Apple I'm especially proud of."

Farr's report for Reuters simply stated that "the company declined to comment on its accessibility strategy or whether developers should be required to make apps accessible."

Apple has a quite evident "accessibility strategy"



Rather than having nothing to say on the subject, Apple has devoted an entire section of its public website to accessibility, headlined with "we've done everything possible to make anything possible."



The site notes, under the subheading "Accessible to the core," "Our accessibility features work the same way across Apple products and apps. And since they come standard in iOS and OS X, these technologies transform Apple devices into affordable assistive devices."

Beyond making its devices work for people with vision and hearing impairments with technologies such as VoiceOver and FaceTime, Apple also addresses physical and motor skills with Assistive Touch, and learning and literacy with iOS Guided Access, which "helps those with attention deficits or other cognitive disabilities stay focused on a single app."

In addition to making its own devices and apps broadly accessible, Apple documents for developers how to make their own apps work with the company's platform accessibility technologies, and addresses the subject in its WWDC sessions.

New in iOS 8 & OS X Yosemite



On top of existing iOS accessibility features, iOS 8 will add the advanced Alex voice from the Mac to iOS VoiceOver, Speak Selection and the new Speak Screen feature, which reads what's displayed on the screen when invoked by a gesture or by asking Siri.

iOS 8 Guided Access


Guided Access, which was originally introduced in iOS 6 to help parents and teachers to focus a child on a single app to provide an uninterrupted learning experience, is embellished in iOS 8 with Time Limits (above), which guides a child through transitions to prepare them to move on to the next activity in a scheduled series. To leave Guided Access mode, a parent can authenticate with Touch ID.

iOS 8 also adds an improved Zoom feature (below) that lets a user can change which part of the screen is magnified via dragging the edge of the window, with options to adjust zoom level. A new systemwide Braille keyboard in iOS 8 supports Braille chords in 6 dot Braille, which are then translated into text.

iOS 8 Zoom


Finally, iOS 8 adds multi-device support for Made for iPhone hearing aids, allowing users to pair with multiple iOS devices so they can switch between them as needed.

For OS X, Apple is building upon its existing platform accessibility features by introducing a new Accessibility API for developers that makes it easier to create accessible apps by doing most of the heavy lifting for them. AppKit now infers attributes and fills in attributes automatically, and facilitates VoiceOver support for custom controls.

The new API is both binary and source compatible with Apple's previous tools, enabling applications that already target accessibility to continue to work. Apple is also supplying a new Accessibility Inspector for developers to review the accessibility definitions in their user interface elements.

Android "years behind" iOS in accessibility



Comparing the accessibility in iOS to Android in 2010, blogger Jamie Teh wrote, "I find it extremely frustrating that Android accessibility is in such a poor state. It seems that Google learnt nothing from the accessibility lessons of the past. This mess could have been avoided if the accessibility framework had been carefully designed, rather than the half-done job we have now. Good, thorough design is one of the reasons that iPhone accessibility is so brilliant and 'just works'."

Three years later, blind accessibility blogger Marco addressed what had changed in Android. Android 4.0 finally introduced TalkBack a screen reader to Android in 2011, "more than two years after Apple came out with VoiceOver, and with a model that still left a lot to be desired," he wrote.

Android's accessibility isn't consistent across the platform. Marco noted that on an "HTC One, for example, a TalkBack user cannot even use the dial pad to enter a phone number." But even on a Google Nexus 4 running Google apps, Marco observed "some of the stock apps like Calendar don't work that well with TalkBack, or at least not if one is used to the excellent support of Calendar in iOS."

Where accessibility meets international support, Marco found that Google's stock keyboard supports accessibility, but not international characters, while alternative third party keyboards on Android that do support other languages frequently offer no accessibility."The [Apple] Maps application in iOS 6 is a magnificent piece of software in accessibility terms. I've never had such accessible maps at my finger tips. The [Google] Maps app on Android only offers limited navigation capabilities. Maps themselves aren't accessible at all."

"Text editing is another problem that lags behind terribly in Android if you do not use an external keyboard," he added. "On iOS, one can control the cursor, do text selection, do editing functions such as cut, copy and paste. On Android, there are gestures to move by character, word, or paragraph, but there is no way to select text or bring up the editing functions of a text field in a controlled fashion."

In mapping, Marco notes, "The [Apple] Maps application in iOS 6 is a magnificent piece of software in accessibility terms. I've never had such accessible maps at my finger tips," while "the Maps app on Android only offers limited navigation capabilities. [Google] Maps themselves aren't accessible at all."

He details further night and day differences between iOS and Android in ebooks, in Braille support, in navigating scrolling lists and date pickers, in using the camera and photos, and in other applications, concluding that switching from an iPhone to a Nexus 4 "would be like stepping back a few years in accessibility," and noting "the experiment, tailored towards my usage patterns at this point in time, has failed."

A similar experiment detailed by accessibility blogger Chris Hofstader earlier this year involved a Nexus 7 tablet.

"Google insults the community of people with print impairments by claiming that this device is accessible," he stated. "The accessibility is, at best, a functional prototype of something better to come in the future but Google seems to believe that this is an adequate solution."

He concluded, "In comparison to an iOS 7 device, with zero out-of-the-box accessibility failures and only a few accessibility bugs, a Nexus 7 comes shipped with zero built-in apps that do not contain between one and many accessibility failures. The accessibility issues on Android, therefore, are not just bugs but a systemic problem at Google."

Reuters only mention of Android came in a paragraph noting, "advocates of the disabled want the problem solved by the company at the center of the app world -- Apple. Rival Google Inc, whose Android operating system drives more phones than Apple, is also under pressure, but as the creator of the modern smartphone and a long-time champion for the blind, Apple is feeling the most heat."
post #2 of 18
"There is no honour in journalism."

Seems Reuters is one among many 'news' creators committed to proving the truth of this.

A.
post #3 of 18
Would we create health concerns if we held our breath until Reuters publishes a correction?
post #4 of 18
Holy flying carp Batman. That reporter got handed her ass!
post #5 of 18
I love the accessibility features of both my macs and my idevices.

I think the confrontational approach taken by NFB is misguided, to say the least. But I guess that's the mindset of some advocates -- every interaction has to be a battle.
post #6 of 18
The elephant in the room is WHY did Rueters allow this piece.
post #7 of 18

What confrontational approach?  They haven't sued anyone yet.

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post #8 of 18

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Apple dominates other platforms when it comes to accessibility for the blind.  It's not even close.  Kudos to them for taking the time to make technology accessible for such a small percentage of the market.

post #9 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by DroidFTW View Post

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Apple dominates other platforms when it comes to accessibility for the blind.  It's not even close.  Kudos to them for taking the time to make technology accessible for such a small percentage of the market.

Especially considering it's a tough and tedious task. I've been involved in adding accessibility to an Internet scheduling app (as co-founder and VP Product Development at TimeTrade.com). I have to say, we would not have done it, as a small startup company we would not have been able to afford to do it, if not for the fact we had a big government-related contract for which it was required and which would cover the costs. Kudos to Apple for being one of the leaders, if not the leader in accessibility for over 30 years.
I have enough money to last the rest of my life. Unless I buy something. - Jackie Mason
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I have enough money to last the rest of my life. Unless I buy something. - Jackie Mason
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post #10 of 18
That's the saddest thing about this world. You try to do good, and that just makes you a target for other, self appointed champions of "good". You can *never* do enough for people like that. Apple could release a phone that *cures* blindness, and there would still be complaining.
post #11 of 18
Disgusting, despicable, lazy, dishonest, self-serving, and destructive reporting, which does not meet the core requirement of "journalism"- educating people. The research done for articles like this is utterly pathetic and reprehensible, not even going so far as to attain basic facts that have been around for years- instead, the goal of the piece is to "score points" or something against Apple, through dishonesty.

When it comes to accessibility, Apple is in another Galaxy compared to everyone else- and it's definitely not a very "sexy" or marketable aspect of software, since the vast majority of people do not use these features. It just takes a shit-ton of hard work, for little return, because Apple actually does believe in this stuff, and making their devices accessible- unlike this author, who doesnt give enough of a shit to do a few minutes of research.
post #12 of 18

I think the new Accessibility API, announced in WWDC 2014, will be of help to OS X developers, and encourage better accessibility support and features in OS X applications.

 

As for the AFB, I can't speak to their positions, since I am a low-vision person, and not totally blind. The point I want to make here…is that there is a range of different types of disabilities, and variation of opinions among disabled people on various topics…just like that of the public at large. There are misinformed disabled people, and organizations, and also very well informed disabled people, and organizations. You have to put in the effort to sort through good and bad information sources.

 

I am a heavy user of accessibility features in both OS X and iOS. Some pioneering work has been done by Apple: the introduction of an imbedded OS screen reader called VoiceOver in Tiger, the same in iOS along with iPhone 3GS, and the 'Made for  iPhone' announcement for hearing aids during WWDC 2013. The latter is still a work in progress among hearing aid vendors.

 

But I also appreciate quality software and hardware. The heavy emphasis on 'best products' and industrial design by Apple are big selling points for me as well.

Nullis in verba -- "on the word of no one"

 

 

 

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Nullis in verba -- "on the word of no one"

 

 

 

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post #13 of 18

The top brass at so many news media outlets seem to either be unaware that their tech writers are trading the company reputation for any semblance of journalistic integrity (or even effort for that matter) for clicks - or else they buy into the notion that clicks are paramount and that the goose that lays the golden eggs is expendable.

 

This reporter seems either inept at research (googling 'apple accessibility' would've gotten her much of the info this article draws on since apple.com/accessibility is the top non-sponsored result; falling off a log would literally have taken more effort) or made a conscious decision to paint Apple in the opposite light from reality.

post #14 of 18

"Yesterday, Christina Farr of Reuters reported that the National Federation of the Blind was debating how it could most effectively get Apple to force millions of third party developers' apps to correctly and consistently use the company's accessibility frameworks to ensure that all apps are easy for disabled people to use."

 

My wife works in the field of helping people with disabilities. Before the iPad came along the hardware and software was heavy, clumsy, and expensive. It wasn't as portable and effective. The iPad has changed the lives of countless families who couldn't afford the tools needed to help their loved ones. It's only because of the hard work of Apple and dedicated developers that this has happened.

 

Christina Farr can go crawl back under the slimy rock from whence she came and stop writing such drool. Even more, Reuters and the like will keep publishing this stuff for the headlines to get the hits and the advertising bucks. 

post #15 of 18
Reading this reminds me how proud I am to support Apple. I refuse to believe Tim C. is merely spouting off automated drivel to appease a crowd. You can't tell me he doesn't believe to the very core in doing what is right first (rather than chasing a profit). It's obvious it defines his character.

It goes without saying........nevertheless, nice work Daniel.
post #16 of 18

I'm surprised you didn't mention Stevie Wonder's comments about iOS accessibility in 2011, which is when I first became aware of how good the accessibility features are for the blind:

 

"I want you all to give a hand to someone that you know whose health is very bad at this time," Stevie Wonder said. "His company took the challenge in making his technology accessible to everyone. In the spirit of caring and moving the world forward, Steve Jobs."

He added, "because there's nothing on the iPhone or iPad that you can do that I can't do. As a matter of fact, i can be talking to you, you can be looking at me, and I can be doing whatever I need to do and you don't even know what I'm doing!"

 

The author of this piece is someone you know well! 


Edited by NormM - 7/10/14 at 6:45pm
post #17 of 18
Shame Christina Farr just set her career back to the cub reporter/copy girl level.

Worst thing is, it was probably the Reuters editors that put her up to this or butchered her story, or both.

If you look at her profile on About.Me, she doesn't seem like such a lowlife.

Edit: Took out the Valleywag reference. Venture Beat and Business Insider have had her bylines. Since Jim Dalrymple didn't even mention her name, instead only blaming Reuters, I'm inclined to guess that it was Reuters that cut up her story. But either way, someone did a hatchet job that will not be forgotten.
Edited by Flaneur - 7/11/14 at 11:26am
post #18 of 18
Any article posted on the web should 1st be deemed as crap until proven useful. It's that simple. And if Apple's part of the story; then it should be basically tossed out; because they are so many biased web geeks, and so many paid bloggers (ad $ included, hint), who's real interest is to bad mouth as Apple as in order to seek a level playing field and keep thier economic status in lieu of the pending threat should Apple succeed.
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