By: Peter Abrahams, Practice Leader - Accessibility and Usability, Bloor Research
Published: 10th October 2012
Copyright Bloor Research © 2012
With iPhone 5 and iOS 6 Apple has delivered hundreds of new or improved features, some of them are designed to provide improved accessibility whilst others have an impact on accessibility. I am impressed by Apple's continuing emphasis on accessibility but feel that some details need improving or fixing.
This article brings together the features that have caught my attention and my comments on them.
There is one completely new accessibility feature called Guided Access. Guided Access helps students with disabilities such as autism remain on task and focused on content. It enables a parent, teacher or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. I believe that it will help this group of users; but I think it will be used by a much wider audience. For example, it will enable parents to open up individual games or educational apps to their young children without being concerned that the child might access other apps on the machine. It could also be used in shops to allow customers to try out an individual app, or in a museum the machine could just run an app related to the museum.
To exit from the app the user has to press the home key three times and then enter a passcode. In the first release there is a small bug that means that occasionally the exit process does not work. In this case the user has to reboot the machine by pressing the home and on/off button.
Assistive Touch was introduced in iOS 5 to support users who cannot operate physical buttons, for example being unable to push the home button or mute button, or unable to perform complex gestures such as two finger swipe or pinch. When Assistive Touch is enabled a small grey transparent button appears on the screen; touching this with one finger, or a stylus, opens up a menu. The menu includes a home button and touching this has the same effect as pressing the physical home button. IOS 6 has extended the functions available including a Siri button (equivalent to holding the home button), a multitask button (equivalent to double clicking the home button), a screen-shot button (equivalent to pressing the home and on/off button together and then releasing them).
Assistive Touch is a useful feature but I feel that the detailed implementation could be improved; changes I would suggest are:
The iPhone 5 hardware has some features that improve accessibility.
The new Lightning Connector can be plugged in either way up making it more accessible for people with limited hand movement or limited vision.
The screen is bigger; in landscape mode this means that the screen is wider and this has two benefits: text (especially in Safari) is bigger (almost twice the size of portrait) and easier to read; in landscape mode the on-screen keyboard keys are bigger and more widely spaced making it easier to type. I switch from portrait to landscape frequently depending on what I am doing and which apps I am using. It is a shame that not all apps will work in landscape mode so I do not always have the option. In particular it would be helpful if the home page worked in landscape mode. I can easily switch from one mode to the other but this is not possible for people who have the device secured to a wheelchair or desk.
The new headphones are designed to be a better fit and create a better sound and this should help people with minor hearing impairments.
Apple is working with top manufacturers to introduce 'Made for iPhone' hearing aids that will deliver a power-efficient, high-quality digital audio experience.
Siri is the facility that lets you talk to the phone to ask it questions, dictate or control it. In iOS 6 you can use it to:
These are all conveniences to me but for someone with a vision impairment or limited hand dexterity Siri could be a significant help.
In iOS 5 you could have either Assistive Touch, or Zoom, or VoiceOver working but not a combination; iOS 6 allows any combination and this could be important for a person whose sight is deteriorating and has been using Zoom but is starting to use VoiceOver.
Overall iOS 6 and iPhone 5 provide an impressive set of accessibility features and I hope my comments will lead to some small fixes and improvements in future upgrades.
Posted: 10th October 2012 | By Quinn Haberl :
I am a blind iPhone user. I completely agree with everything you have said above. The one thing that impresses me the most about the iPhone, Running iOS six, Is that Apple has started to improve the maps app as far as accessibility. For example if I am sitting on the bus with my iPhone, and I want to know what stop I am at, The iPhone can pretty much Telmew names of the cross streets as you go by then. This definitely needs some improvement but it's a step in the right direction.
Posted: 13th October 2012 | By manny :
My wife is legally blind and suggests that the iPhone 5 is the best phone available in the market with accessible features for her limited sight. She currently has an HTC evo 4g. I've green researching if there is anything new that had come up.
Posted: 4th December 2012 | By Wendy fairclough :
I have Cererbral Palsy, this is my disability I would love one of your iphones. But the only parts of my body I can use is my right foot and a suck and blo straw drive my electric wheelchair. I have to get help from from more carers to put my headset dail the number then come back and take it away. I hope that you can help me.
Posted: 6th December 2012 | By Peter Abrahams (Author):
I am sure there is a way to enable you to use an iphone but you will need to find the best way for you to use and which extra switches you may need. I would recommend that you contact Apple direct, you can do this by contacting a local store. To find a local store go to http://www.apple.com/uk/retail/. Ring them up explain what help you need and arrange to have a meeting with one of their Geniuses (I have found them very helpful). If you can not get to a store contact Apple via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some things that may help you include: A wheelchair mount for the iphone (Google for it). Use Siri the voice recognition system (you can arrange it so that it will recognise commands such as 'phone alice at the office' or 'set up a meeting tomorrow at twelve with Joe'). Switch access that you can use with your foot. Hope this helps and please let us know how you get on.
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