ShellyBlog Shelly Brisbin's life consists of several long tails. She writes about them here.

May 27, 2014

My book, iOS Access for All, is available now!

I’m thrilled to announce the availability of my book, iOS Access for All: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accessibility on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. The book guides readers through all accessibility features available on Apple’s mobile devices. Whether you’re just getting started with iOS, or want to learn more about apps and accessibility tools you already use, iOS Access for All has all the bases covered. With information of interest to users who are blind, low-vision, hearing-impaired, or have cognitive or motor disabilities, the book is the most extensive iOS accessibility resource available.

I’ve spent more than 25 years writing about technology, with a particular focus on Apple products. I’m also a visually-impaired iPhone user. My full bio is here.

Here’s the Table of Contents for iOS Access for All.

Part 1: Getting Started

Chapter 1: Accessibility the Apple Way

  • Apple Revolutionizes Mobile Access
  • Today’s iDevices, and iOS
  • The Apple Ecosystem
  • Meet iOS Accessibility Features

Chapter 2: Orientation and Quickstart

  • iDevices 101
  • Parts of iOS
  • Choose How to Set Up iOS
  • Accessibility Quickstart
  • Ready to Dive Deeper?

Part 2: The Wide World of iOS Access

Chapter 3: VoiceOver

  • Activate VoiceOver
  • Learn iOS and VoiceOver
  • Do More with the Rotor
  • Text and the Virtual Keyboard
  • Dictate Text with Siri
  • Enter Text with Handwriting Gestures
  • Use a Wireless Keyboard
  • Use a Refreshable Braille Display
  • Manage and Navigate Your Device

Chapter 4: Low-Vision Access

  • iOS’ Low-Vision Challenges
  • Screen Magnification
  • Enlarge and Enhance Text
  • Color and Contrast
  • Speech As a Low-Vision Tool
  • Quickly Enable Low-Vision Features
  • Mainstream Features with Low-Vision Uses
  • The iOS Camera: Low-Vision Super Weapon

Chapter 5: Siri and Voice Input

  • Set Up Siri
  • Siri Commands
  • Dictation
  • Voice Control
  • Voice Input Alternatives

Chapter 6: Tools for Hearing Impaired Users

  • Convert Alerts to a Flash or Vibration
  • Control Audio Output from Calls and Apps
  • Hearing Aid Support
  • Use a Hearing Aid
  • TTY Support
  • Closed Caption Support
  • More Communication with iOS

Chapter 7: Physical and Learning Access

  • Guided Access
  • Switch Control
  • AssistiveTouch

Part 3: All About Apps

Chapter 8: Access to Apple Apps

  • Safari
  • Mail
  • Sidebar: Delete, Move, and Share within Apps
  • Calendar
  • Phone
  • Messages
  • FaceTime
  • Contacts
  • Maps
  • Camera and Photos
  • Music
  • Videos
  • App Store/iTunes Store
  • The Rest of the Included Apps
  • But Wait, There’s More (Apps)

Chapter 9: The Best of Accessible Apps

  • An Accessible App Primer
  • Navigation and Travel
  • Productivity
  • Reading, News, and Information
  • Communication & Social Networking
  • Education
  • Lifestyle
  • Accessibility Tools
  • Learn More About Apps

Appendices

Appendix A: VoiceOver Gestures

Appendix B: VoiceOver Keyboard Commands

Appendix C: Braille Commands

You can buy the book for US$20 at the iOS Access for All Web site.

You can buy the ePub (Apple iBooks-friendly) version for $20 at the book’s Web site.

September 21, 2013

Books, iOS 7, and Podcasting

Filed under: Announcements,General Store,Podcast Appearances — Tags: , , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 12:49 PM

I have been busy working on my book, iOS Access for All: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accessibility for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Apple has decided to make my life interesting by releasing a new version of iOS. You may have heard about this. I have spent this week committing my thoughts about the new release into words, both written and spoken. You can read my reaction to the new OS, and its implications for accessibility, and you can listen to the Maccessibility Roundtable #44, where I join in a discussion of similar topics.

May 18, 2013

Social Links and Crowd-Sourcing in iOS Access for All

Filed under: Access and Disability,Announcements — Tags: , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 2:11 PM

I continue to work feverishly on my book, iOS Access for All. The writing is going well, but there is always more to say than I had thought. All of my initial page counts were low. As I work toward finishing the VoiceOver chapter, I’m looking ahead to the chapters about iOS apps. One will feature all of the Apple-supplied apps, and address their accessibility features and limitations. The second app chapter covers the best tools in all major categories, with an eye on accessibility. So, I will be writing about both the best reading app that happens to have great accessibility, and the best scanner app that can identify the currency in your wallet.

From the beginning, I’ve told people that this book would be interactive. I can review apps all day long, but what I write won’t serve everyone as well as a chapter that comes about with the input of folks in the accessibility community. I’m opening up several social media channels for the book. I will be starting discussions about the apps people like, and why, along with those apps folks think should be avoided. Of course, these social media channels will be promotional tools for the book, too. If you sign up to follow and participate, you will know before anyone when I’ve pressed that Upload button, and when those online stores send the “Approved” email, letting me know the book is available for sale. But honestly, the discussion will be the most fun, and the most useful both to me, and potential readers.

Join the iOS Access for All community:

Of course, I will continue to post about the book on my own pages and feeds, but probably not in as much detail. You’re welcome!

Have I mentioned how excited I am to be working on this project?

May 2, 2013

Kindle Accessibility: So What?

Filed under: Access and Disability,General Store,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 7:31 AM

Amazon announced yesterday that its Kindle app for iOS had been updated to provide “more accessibility.” In fact, the update (with the inauspicious version number, 3.7) turns a largely inaccessible app into one that VoiceOver screen reader users can rely upon to read, navigate, and manage the contents of a Kindle library. And they did a great job, not merely making the app usable, but opening all Kindle iOS features up to VO.

The fact that blind people have Kindle libraries, given the limited native accessibility of Amazon’s hardware and mobile apps, is testament to the company’s dominant place in book-selling. So, too, are the aggressive efforts made by advocacy organizations for blind users, who have been lobbying Amazon to make this happen for some time. Sure, iOS users have been able to access iBooks since its inception, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook app was born speaking VoiceOver. But Amazon and Kindle retain big dog status, and those of us who have been nursing mistrust of the company must now work out for ourselves whether the proper reaction is joy and gratitude, or a harumphy “it’s about time.”

And despite the world-weary cynicism you might take from the previous paragraph, you should know that the accessible Kindle app is truly a thrilling thing. I have Kindle on my iOS devices, and quickly downloaded the update. When I opened the app with VoiceOver on, I anticipated something great. When I ran my finger across the screen and heard the iPad read book titles and the Kindle menu options (without the “btw” suffix that often indicates marginal accessibility), I was excited. And when I double-tapped to open a book, then did a two-finger swipe to tell VoiceOver to read a page, I became positively giddy.

Accessibility can be like that. You feel as if you have been given the keys to the locked room you’ve always wondered about. To use a closer metaphor, it’s like putting on your first pair of glasses, and suddenly being able to see the blackboard in school. Though I can and have read Kindle books with my eyes, and can and have used VoiceOver to read iBooks and Nook books, I have a strong urge to find a cozy corner, do a two-finger swipe, and luxuriate in the spoken/written word, brought to me by the accessible Kindle app, which gives me access to a library far larger than the one Apple offers.

Putting my news analyst hat back on for a moment, it’s worth reminding those of you who don’t follow this stuff that Amazon’s own hardware is not yet fully accessible, nor is the Kindle Android app. I take this as evidence of the power of those who fought for Kindle accessibility. You see, the people who use screen readers have invested their mobile device dollars in iOS, not Kindles, and not Android phones. Amazon got its priorities right, even if it took them far longer to make this move than many of us would have liked.

February 26, 2013

Apple Versus Samsung, My Take

Here is a story I wrote for Stabley Times about the latest Samsung lawsuit against Apple. This one is all about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, the accessibility of iOS.

June 9, 2009

iPhone 3G S Accessibility: What To Expect

I’ll get right to the point: the iPhone 3G S includes several features that should make Apple’s smartphone accessible to many blind and visually impaired people for the first time.

And rejoicing was heard in the land?

We’ll see what we’ll see.

The new phone, debuted at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, and due for release on June 19, includes a version of Apple’s VoicOver, the screen reader built into Mac OS X. Since we learned at its launch two years ago that the iPhone is an OS X device, lots of accessibility advocates, including me, have suggested that lighting up VoiceOver features in the phone was obviously doable. Now it’s happened.

Since I haven’t seen the phone, I can only report what Apple has told us about 3G S accessibility, and pose some questions. After two years of resisting both the phone’s monthly cost, and lack of accessibility, I’m pretty eager to get one.

First off, let’s get our definitions straight. The iPhone 3G S will become available almost simultaneously with iPhone 3.0, a software release that works on both the new phone and existing iPhones and iPod Touch devices. VoiceOver, and another new feature with accessibility implications, Voice Control, require the iPhone 3G S. Though I haven’t confirmed this with Apple, I’m making an educated guess that the new features require the faster processor in the iPhone 3G S. iPhone 3.0, a free update for existing iPhone owners, and $9.95 for iPod Touch, does not appear to include specific accessibility enhancements. Apple has not announced any new iPod Touch hardware, so you’ll need to buy a phone to get VoiceOver and Voice Control.

Apple’s iPhone vision accessibility page touts VoiceOver as the same screen reader available on its Mac OS X computers. The accessibility toolbox also includes a couple of other options that are familiar to OS X users; zoom and white on black.

Apple uses the term “gesture” to refer to the many ways in which you tap, double-tap, drag, or pinch to use the touch screen. This nomenclature may not be familiar to blind users, for whom a tactile keyboard is the usual means of interacting with a screen reader. With VoiceOver turned on, the iPhone, whose glass screen is completely devoid of tactile reference points, other than a button at the bottom, will speak the names of items over which a finger passes. Open the item with a double-tap, or use other gestures to manipulate it. Another detail for the uninitiated visually impaired user; the iPhone’s home screen does not contain the usual vertical menu of functions, but a grid with square icons representing your applications. Apple’s description touts contextual information provided in VoiceOver, and the freeform ability to interact with the screen reader. In a computer environment, screen readers deliver information in a specific order, as set out by navigation commands and arrow keys. On the iPhone, you can drag your finger to another part of the screen, getting audio feedback as you go. Speech rates and voices are customaizable. The device will even duck other audio, such as iTunes music, when VoiceOver is speaking

Like the innovative pinch gesture that makes it possible to zoom into and out of Web pages on an iPhone, the rotor, new in iPhone 3G S, appears to be an ingenious navigation aid that will make moving around, and keeping your place a lot easier for VoiceOver users. From Apple’s accessibility page: “Turning the rotor— by rotating two fingers on the screen as if you were turning an actual dial — changes the way VoiceOver moves through a document based on a setting you choose.For example, a flick up or down might move through text word by word. But when you choose the “character” setting, each time you flick up or down VoiceOver will move through the text character by character — perfect when you’re proofreading or editing text.”

The iPhone uses a virtual QWERTY keyboard. VoiceOver will speak text as you type it; letter by letter, or as you complete a word. It’s unclear to me how the software assists a blind user in finding virtual keys in the first place. That’s among the first features I’ll be testing.

VoiceOver speaks 21 languages, and Apple says you can activate it without sighted assistance, along with your iPhone.

Let me mention a few non-VoiceOver accessibility upgrades. I make extensive use of what Apple calls “white on black” in Mac OS X. I call it “reverse video”, but that seemed to confuse some of my Twitter followers yesterday. This feature inverts your screen, so that text is light and the video background is dark. This essential (to me) feature is part of iPhone 3G S, along with more flexibility in controlling font sizes, and zoom that is available outside Safari. On a Mac, reverse video can be toggled on and off with a keyboard shortcut (control-option-command-8, if you want to see what it looks like). I hope the iPhone also provides a quick toggle.

There is one major caveat about VoiceOver, and accessibility in general. While Apple has made these tools available, and implemented them in applications it ships with the iPhone, there is no guarantee that app developers will fully support accessibility. An app could, for example, be completely invisible to VoiceOver, or choose not to allow you to adjust its font size. In most cases, small developers will make these choices either because they simply don’t realize that they have visually impaired customers, or because they believe that the time required to implement accessibility is prohibitive. It’s going to be up to iPhone users and potential iPhone users to educate developers. I’m hoping to talk to a few, and learn how much work it is to implement Apple’s new goodies. While advocacy is important, it’s also a good idea to understand what challenges a developer faces in making an app accessible. I’ll let you know what I learn, though it’s safe to say that since the iPhone 3G S has just been announced, learning the ins and outs will take a little while. I intend to be persistent, but patient. And rest assured that each and every app reviewed on my App Store Pundit podcast will be evaluated based on its accessibility.

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