Posts Tagged ‘iPhone’

I expect more from Technology because of Jobs

October 6, 2011

Words are never enough to express
such a loss
and I have never been good at writing anyway. But I feel compelled
to say a few things about how Steve Jobs has profoundly altered my
expectations when it comes to technology especially as a blind person.

 

I started using a mobile phone in late 2000. It was a Nokia 3310. I was 19 at that time
and living in India. The phone was a gift from my uncle in Singapore. All I could
do with it is send and receive calls. I had to remember telephone numbers of
course because I couldn’t use the phone book. Text messages, reminders and
everything else was equally unusable. But surprisingly, I didn’t mind it in the
least. I had a device that I could use to contact friends and family any time and
any where I wanted. For a while, I felt like I had the greatest thing in the
world.

 

In 2011 however, I at least own four different so called
smart phones and as a blind person, I can use most of their excellent features
and functionality. The real game changer for me is undoubtedly the iPhone with
its built-in accessibility features. In spite of all its limitations and Apple’s
walled garden approach, iPhone has drastically improved my access to
information and to that, I am eternally grateful to Steve Jobs.

 

I grew up in a south Indian city called Hyderabad which had no
real infrastructure to support persons with blindness or any other disabilities
for that matter. Access to information and books in alternative formats was
unheard of for most of my younger years. I read my first proper braille book
when I was sixteen thanks to RNIB’s National Library for the Blind in the UK. As
a result, I started devouring information when my parents bought me a computer,
a flatbed scanner and Kurzweil 1000
software. I believed for a long time that I couldn’t live without my computer
for any length of time. But the iPhone changed all this. I can do almost
everything on the iPhone now including listening to books. I am still catching
up on all the reading I missed when I was young. Survival would be tough
without the iPhone.

 

I don’t believe Apple’s motives behind including built-in
accessibility features in their products are entirely altruistic. I am sure
legal considerations were a significant factor in setting the accessibility initiative
at Apple in motion. Does anyone remember the VPAT for the 1st
generation iPhone? It implied that blind people could use the device with
exceptions.

 

But the reasons are immaterial. Once Apple decided to build
in accessibility, all of us benefited from Steve Jobs’ vision of doing things
right. I have no doubt that he was directly and/or indirectly responsible for
the high level of accessibility we see in iOS devices these days. It wouldn’t
have been possible without continued support from top management. Stevie
Wonder was entirely right to thank Jobs
for this.

 

Unfortunately, increased accessibility in iOS devices has greatly
raised my expectations. It is hard to digest the fact that other smartphone and
tablet devices and platforms offer very little by way of accessibility. If it
weren’t for the iPhone, I would have been happy to wait for a 3rd
party company to develop assistive technology software for one or two of these
devices. Instead, I now expect that other smartphones and tablets also provide
these accessibility features by default.

 

Although I am frequently disappointed by lack of such
features, I am thankful to Steve Jobs for opening my eyes (figuratively
speaking of course) to the fact that I can definitely expect more from
technology. Thank you Steve for treating persons with disabilities fairly. I sincerely
pray that Apple continues your legacy. Rest in peace.

 

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Can tablets replace traditional notetakers?

August 25, 2011

Thanks to my employer, I recently began using an iPad 2 for testing. Although I have been using the iPhone for over an year, I should admit that I am not entirely comfortable entering large amounts of text on a touchscreen. while it can certainly be accomplished, it does require a significantly higher level of effort for a blind person using VoiceOver. I am sure some of you will disagree.

So, I invested in a 69 pounds keyboard case for iPad2 manufactured by Kensington. This is a leather folio style keyboard case that turns the iPad 2 into a netbook like device and makes entering text much easier. Although there are downsides to this combination, I am extremely happy with the solution. Further, I also think this combination has the potential to be a replacement for very expensive dedicated notetakers for blind people.

Why not a Netbook instead of this combination?

A very valid question raised by some. Firstly, iOS with its built-in accessibility features is a far more superior experience on a small device like this. It doesn’t take me more than 4-5 seconds to wake up the device and start using it. Pressing any key on the keyboard brings the iPad out of standby. Contrast this with boot time for Windows 7. Even if Windows is set to standby instead of shutdown, I find that assistive technology, particularly Jaws does not function efficiently after Windows resumes from standby. Often, I have to shutdown Jaws and launch it again for it to work properly. I believe screen readers without mirror drivers like NVDA may be immune to this.

Secondly, the battery on iPad lasts for about 10-11 hours of continuous use. I did not notice any significant reduction in spite of using the keyboard which connects to the iPad via bluetooth. This is significantly longer than most net books although there are some netbooks which claim to offer similar battery backup times.

Thirdly, I get access to all the apps and content on iOS that made iPhone and iPad such popular devices.

Finally, there is something to be said for using a mainstream device with built-in accessibility features!

About the keyboard case

As I said earlier, the case is manufactured by Kensington and is called the 2nd Generation leather folio keyboard case for iPad 2. It is like a hardcover book and when opened like a book, the keyboard is on the left and the slot for sliding in the iPad is on the right. There are velcro straps to hold the iPad securely. When using with the keyboard, the iPad is invariably in landscape mode. The keyboard is not full-sized but is more like what you will find on any netbook. But the keys are widely spaced and the key travel is quite good. There is a rubber membrane on the keyboard making it spill proof. there is a physical on/off toggle switch. Since the keyboard connects via Bluetooth, there is a tactilely discernible paring button. Holding this button down for a few seconds puts the keyboard in pairing mode. The iPad recognises the keyboard and when connecting, asks you to enter a 4 digit pin. the process is all very simple.

The keyboard has a rechargeable battery which lasts for a long time. There is a mini USB port for charging it. I have had the keyboard for close to a month now and it is still running on the initial charge.

However, There is one downside to this case. The base of the iPad rests above the keyboard in a roughly 45 degree angle and other than a few bumpy lines, there is no real support to hold the side with the iPad in that position. It always feels as if the iPad will slide on to the keyboard especially when travelling in a car. But so far it seems to hold up fine. Undoubtedly, there are other keyboard cases without this minor inconvenience. But this sounded like a good deal for the price.

A number of users also prefer to use the Apple Wireless keyboard with iPads and iPhones. But the Apple keyboard is a bit too big for my liking. Also, I prefer to keep the keyboard and iPad combination together in one piece.

Do I still use the touch screen?

Certainly! Most times, it is faster to activate certain items on the touch screen especially in those apps I regularly use. Navigating via the keyboard is just another alternative.

So can this combination b an alternative to notetakers?

Hard to say at the moment. But an iPad with a keyboard or a keyboard case combo certainly has the potential to replace dedicated notetakers for blind users.

Firstly, this combination is much cheaper. A dedicated notetaker even without a braille display can cost upwards of 2000 pounds. Where as the cheapest iPad with 16GB memory and wifi costs 379 pounds. Add another 60-70 pounds for keyboard or keyboard case. The entire solution costs less than 500 pounds.

Further, iPad does have the latest in terms of technology, a good quality web browser, WiFi and/or 3G connectivity, access to email and social networking apps and so on. There are even apps to read DAISY books. Additionally, iBooks provides access to a large number of eBooks as well.

Of course there are limitations. One of the main advantages of dedicated notetakers is the fact that the software on those devices has been optimised for blind users. One of the drawbacks of iPad right now is the lack of fully accessible word processing and spreadsheet apps. Both Pages and Numbers (both from Apple) are not fully accessible. Although there are other apps such as plain text and evernote, they do not provide access to text formatting information among other things. So, while I can take notes and write long documents, I cannot format them properly. Of course, even if these apps did provide this information, the iOS Accessibility API and VoiceOver in particular need to be enhanced to be able to parse the information and provide it to users. further, there are inherent limitations in iOS such as lack of native support for zip archives and the fact that I cannot save my email attachments drives me crazy. I have to rely heavily on cloud storage services such as Dropbox.

However, I am very optimistic that at least some of the accessibility limitations of iOS will be addressed in the future. If indeed this happens, the need for dedicated notetaker devices may decrease. Perhaps, this is already happening to some extent. Do remember that FreedomScientific hasn’t updated Pacmate Omni for a really long time.

I look forward to the day when blind people can make the best use of mainstream technology on par with their sighted counterparts.

What about braille?

I have a Braille Connect 40 bluetooth portable braille display which I mainly use with my computer. However, I can connect this to my iPhone or iPad and operate them completely from the braille display. I can’t think of any cheaper solution. Refreshable braille sadly continues to be expensive technology.

P.S: Most of this blog post has been created on the iPad using a free WordPress app.


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