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

November 15, 2016

My Podcast Smorgasbord

Filed under: Podcast Appearances — Tags: , , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 9:11 AM

In the course of promoting my book, iOS Access for All, I’ve been invited onto several podcasts. For the most part, these are new opportunities for me, though a few invites came from old friends. I’ll link you to all the shows, but I want to give you reasons to listen to specific ones, since they’re so different. Also, if you just can’t get enough of my yammering, subscribe to the All Shelly, All The Time podcast feed, to hear shows I make, co-host, or visit.

Here’s what I did last week:

  • Mac OS Ken: You should know first off that Ken Ray is one of my favorite people, and I love any excuse to talk with him. This episode is one of the best conversations I’ve ever had on a podcast . We talk about the state of the Mac, my goofy love of the iPod Touch, Apple’s approach to promoting its accessibility offerings, and much more. If you only have time for one of these, make it Ken’s show.
  • Chit Chat Across the Pond: Allison Sheridan didn’t ask me on to flog the book. What she said was “Come on the show to talk about anything you like.” Well that’s a juicy invite, eh? I wanted to talk about my self-publishing journey; picking a subject, summoning the guts to launch a ginormous project, and choosing (and discarding) tools, along the way.
  • Daily Tech News Show: I have admired Tom Merritt since he co-hosted Buzz Out Loud, back in the mid aughts. His current show is fast-paced, wide-ranging, and just plain fun to do. Tom challenges you to step up your game, and his questions, and ability to take in new information are splendid.
  • The Tech Doctor: Robert Carter and Allison Hartley have been kind enough to have me on the show before. They know, as I do, that many in their audience are familiar with my book. Their questions this time around were big picture, and that makes the interview more interesting.
  • Mac Power Users: David Sparks and Katie Floyd share my love of outlines and other structural guidelines. You’ll hear the results in a 1.5 hour conversation about Apple accessibility. I feel as though I was able to describe the breadth of available tools to an audience that understands Apple’s leadership, but doesn’t really know how it all works.
  • MacVoices: Chuck Joiner always has room for me on his show, and I appreciate it. Like the Tech Doctors, he gets that a repeat appearance could be boring, so he finds a way to change things up for each visit

Thanks to Ken, Allison, Tom, Robert, Allison, Katie, David, and Chuck for giving me a platform to talk about all the things. And if you’re still reading, it’s worth noting that I released two shows of my own last week; The Parallel, and Hollywood on the Radio. Finally, Maccessibility Roundtable held its bi-weekly meeting, so do check us out.

April 16, 2015

Apple Watch Demos, and the Irony of Low-Vision

Filed under: Access and Disability,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 8:10 AM

I wrote last week about Apple Watch accessibility, mostly pointing to the first hands-on articles written by VoiceOver users. Many of our questions have now been addressed. VO is part of the watch, and so are some low-vision features, including zoom and grayscale. But during the long few weeks between watch pre-orders and watch unboxings, uncertainty obviously remains. In the larger context, that’s the point of the in-store try-on program, right? You use some combination of wrist, fingers, ears, and eyes to assure yourself that this new gadget is a thing you want, and will actually be able to use.

Last week’s first look stories told me much of what I wanted to know. But as a low-vision user whose primary interaction with screens happens through my eyes, two decidedly visual resources gave me even more clarity. Apple’s updated watch accessibility page, which I linked last week, includes great big screenshots for many watch features and apps. I mean, really big screenshots! From them, I learned that many screens use light text on a dark background; my preferred color scheme. This was welcome news, since there is apparently no Invert Colors option. Last night, I happened to see David Sparks’ Periscope broadcast of his visit to an Apple Store. His camera focused on a working Apple Watch (not the demo loop videos provided to try-on customers.) David and his companion scrolled through various screens, even responding to the questions of chat viewers, who wanted to see this or that app in action. Again, I got to see a lot of screens with easy-to-read text, along with the gestures used to manipulate their contents.

If I could leave just one mark on the tech world, it would be a giant mashup of access-focused and mainstream-focused product coverage. There’s so much we can learn from one another. 

April 10, 2015

Watching the Accessible Watch Coverage

Filed under: Access and Disability,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 11:29 AM

I snarked on Wednesday about the number of Apple Watch reviews, and the seemingly larger number of Apple Watch review roundups. A day or so after the big-picture coverage, we got a couple of write-ups that focused on Apple Watch accessibility. Which was terrific, and answered questions many potential watch buyers had been asking since September, and which Apple had only begun to address on its site within the past few days. (By the way, the Apple page continues to gain info and good screen shots, so keep an eye on it.)

AppleVis contributor David Woodbridge, and Steven Aquino, writing for iMore, each described their hands-on experience with the watch, compared its accessibility to iOS, and listed a number of accessibility-oriented features and options. David’s piece gives an in-depth, nuts-and bolts look at the Watch experience of a blind user, while Steven adds the perspective of someone with both visual and motor disabilities. He also attempts to place the watch in the context of how gadgets can improve people’s lives.

Both articles were great, and I’m pleased that Apple saw fit to give these writers early access to the watch. The detailed discussion of what is and isn’t accessible, and how the interface differs from iOS will make pre-ordering decisions easier for a lot of people. But as I followed the story of Apple Watch accessibility on Twitter, and in my RSS reader, I couldn’t help but notice that one of these two articles received a good deal of attention and linkage from the mainstream Apple press, while the other scored love and traffic inside the accessibility community. Even when the topic is access, it seems, there’s a weird divide between segments of this corner of the tech world.

 

July 15, 2014

Mainstream Cheerleaders Defend Apple Accessibility

Filed under: Access and Disability,General Store — Tags: , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 1:24 PM

Last week’s kerfuffle about the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) resolution asking Apple to make a more vigorous effort to ensure the accessibility of third-party apps accomplished several things: it got lots of mainstream attention for the NFB, and united the Apple-centric press in righteous indignation over perceived defamation of the Cupertino company. What it didn’t do, in mainstream journalism, at least, was facilitate a discussion of what the NFB resolution seeks, or whether it’s reasonable. The controversy has also not demonstrated that the Apple defenders in the press actually know much about the relationship between accessibility support in the OS, and the need for implementation by app developers.

So here’s what happened. NFB members passed a resolution (Word doc) asking Apple to strongly encourage, if not require, that app developers make their software accessible, as a condition of availability in the App Store. And by that, the resolution means that developers should take advantage of accessibility hooks provided in Apple operating systems, so that interfaces and content can be read by the VoiceOver screen reader, or viewed by people with low vision. The “whereas” portion of the NFB resolution actually does a thorough job of describing how apps are rendered inaccessible, how blind consumers often inadvertently purchase inaccessible apps, and how updates sometimes break pre-existing access support. The resolution suggests that since Apple already exercises a lot of control over what gets into the App Store, adding an accessibility requirement is consistent with the company’s highly-regulated approach to app approval.

Next came the Reuters article, which stated (incorrectly) that NFB had sued Apple over accessibility in the past. The author then took a famous Tim Cook quote about Apple’s reasons for championing accessibility out of context. Finally, several leading Apple-focused writers rose as one to defend Cook’s good name, eviscerating the Reuters piece, and praising Apple’s commitment to accessibility in the distant past, in the now, and for all time to come. (And Google sucks, by the way.) This Fortune article does a nice job of fleshing out the story, and linking to more Mac press responses. 

Here’s the thing: lots of folks in the Apple-centric press have a regrettable tendency to cheerlead. Call it advocacy journalism, homerism, or reality distortion field, but it’s a fact of the way many who cover Apple’s every move ply their trade. Whether Fortune’s assertion that they responded at the behest of Apple PR is true or not, the discussion certainly wasn’t very substantive; beginning with the erros in the Reuters article, and winding up with unreserved praise for Apple’s leadership in accessibility, and their altruistic commitment to it. 

A few things were missing:

  • No mainstream article I could find included the opinions of people who use Apple’s accessibility tools, whether affiliated with NFB or not. Newsflash: blind folks are not united on this issue, and they know about what makes an app accessible, and whether and when it’s reasonable to take Apple and developers to task. Marco Arment makes a detailed case for including accessibility support in the app review process.
  • Apple writers were extremely concerned about getting Tim Cook’s words down completely and correctly, but none bothered to link to the resolution that started this beef, never mind exploring what motivated it, or whether what the resolution asks for is reasonable or possible. For their reference, Jonathan Mosen’s response attempts to explain the issue by taking a historical view of tech accessibility, and Apple’s role in its evolution.
  • This isn’t an Apple versus Google story, no matter how much some would like it to be. And if that’s really the story a journalist wants to write, it would be important to address the degree to which Apple controls what goes on in the App Store, and how that makes enforcing access requirements on app developers much more possible in the iOS world than on the Android platform. 

Even in the accessibility community, the Tim Cook quote about why Apple makes its products accessible is held up as a reason to venerate the company. But as proven by the manner of the MacPress response to this little dustup, it’s much easier to cut and paste pretty words from the CEO than it is to take on the challenges and successes of accessibility on a substantive level. Whether you’re a fan of the NFB resolution, or think it goes too far, its real value is as a conversation-churner. Apple understands that conversation is happening, probably far better than most of its journalistic cheerleaders do.

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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