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Apple blind to iPhone accessibility?

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Vaughan | 12:53 UK time, Wednesday, 17 January 2007

I'm a bit of an Apple geek on the quiet, so when their sleek and shiny new iPhone was announced last week to whoops of delight, I'm afraid that I rather joined in the chorus of "I want one! Gimme one!" I'm ashamed to say that almost the last thing on my mind was how accessible it might be to blind and visually impaired users, considering that its operation relies almost entirely on touch-screen technology.

Fortunately, there are people out there in webland who are rather more clued-up about such things, as weblog currybetdotnet discussed yesterday. He points to a post on The Unofficial Apple Weblog which certainly doesn't mince its words as it asks: Does the iPhone shaft the blind?

But it's the comments after the entry that prove really shocking. Apple fans are known for their almost religious dedication to the brand, and some of them simply can't see the point in 'needlessly worrying' about blind and visually impaired phone users. Responses include:

• "I don't know if there is a tactful way to say this, but, is it really Apple's responsibility to make sure of this? I mean c'mon. Starving children in Africa won't be able to use it either."
• "Why would the blind want this phone as 90% of its function is visual?"
• "I don't mean to be an ass, but who cares?"
• "I can't imagine how people with significant visual impairment could use the iPhone. I also am very glad Apple didn't let that stop them from making the best phone interface they could for the rest of us."
• "Dang! You're right! And people without fingers won't be able to use it either! Apple should just cancel the whole project ... If there's such a huge and desperate need for cutting edge phones for the blind, then someone can fill it and make a living doing so."
• "Is Apple expected to make a touch screen that somehow implements Braille? Why stop at blind people? What about deaf people? Surely Apple was insensitive and forgot about them when deciding to make a PHONE or a device that has sound?"
• "What about Stephen Hawking?! Did those insensitive swine at Apple ever consider Stephen Hawking? How on Earth will he ever use an iPhone? Never, that's how!

Beware, before you check out the entire thread of comments, that some of the opinions get a bit heated and that, consequently, some of the language gets a little, erm, colourful to say the least.


  • 1.
  • At 07:32 PM on 18 Jan 2007, Simon Judge wrote:


Wait till they try using it whilst doing something else (driving, walking, cooking, generally living) and then let them see how cool and useful they think it is.

An excellent example of the barriers that usability/accessibility have to overcome. Accessibility is a part of Usability and Usability applies to everyone.


Fortunately the community at TUAW at least partially policed itself.  If you read all 60+ comments, the ratio of ass to civil runs about 7:5.  As I pointed out there, cell phones, unlike MP3 players, make use of a precious public resource, the limited EM spectrum.  As such, American manufacturers are required by law to “provide at least one mode that does not require user vision” when “readily achievable”.

Ignorant comments by ignorant people!

Well, what do you expect in todays society???

i think that the iphone will be good, but the idear of it is that it is not made for blind people is it wat is the point in trying to bring that into conzo, the iphone is very gd technolgy and is very ahead of its tiem it the first phone of its kind so look out for problems when they first cum out, other wise hav fun and i think it mtie be a bit ahard trying tog et hold of them


  • 5.
  • At 08:52 AM on 19 Apr 2007, Matty wrote:

I agree, harsh coments but today's society is like that, me me me and sod everyone else. I am sure the wizz kids at Apple could hve come up with an add up on or upgrade to make the phone more accessible for people. I am partually sighted myself (not blind) and do you know so far no manufacturer has made a phone that you can completey customize (font size, colour scheme etc) like you can with say Mac OS or Windows.

Come on Apple pull your finger out and add an exta feature to allow whatever size text people want, that is a start hey.


  • 6.
  • At 01:40 AM on 17 May 2007, Joseph THomson wrote:

"Come on Apple pull your finger out and add an exta feature to allow whatever size text people want, that is a start hey."

Why do people complain when nobody outside apple has even TOUCHED one yet - let alone looked at the features. Besides its not like blind people don't have alternatives - like ANY OTHER MOBILE PHONE!

  • 7.
  • At 10:41 PM on 04 Jul 2007, Amelia wrote:

THANK YOU! I am partially sighted and just had a big debate about the iphone with a friend. She made the point that Apple is thinking of it in terms of money, of course... They aren't going out of business by forgetting blind people. Still sucks for the rest of us though.

Don't these people have enough to do with saving the whales, trees and endangered species around the world - Leave Apple alone - They are innovators of technology not innovators of devices to enrich the lives of a portion of the population.

  • 9.
  • At 03:19 PM on 10 Oct 2007, Marwan wrote:

In my opinion apple are playing a very good game of monopoly, as they are controlling the prices, where, when and in this case whom they would like to sell there products.

I can understand the frustration to a point but I am sure that we cannot complain that the handset does not do more than what it already does due to something that was no fault of the manufacturer nor ourselves.

If the handset does not work to your liking then buy another handset.

  • 10.
  • At 08:08 PM on 09 Nov 2007, Stan Scott wrote:

Does this mean you could NEVER have touch-screen technology unless you ALSO develop some OTHER kind of technology for the blind? That makes NO sense to me. There are thousands of other phones that blind people can use.

What about the iPod itself? They certainly discriminate against deaf people, don't they! I insist that iPods MUST include text-based versions of all songs -- it's the ONLY fair thing to do!

  • 11.
  • At 12:45 AM on 22 Nov 2007, Ben wrote:

As some have said, ignorant comments by ignorant people.

However, as a Mac person from day one, I've long been aware that Apple take very seriously the aspects of disability when it comes to using their machines.

To that end, perhaps not everyone will be aware that incorporated within OS X (the system software that both new Mac's and the iPhone run natively) is a great little bundle of accessability options (termed appropriately 'Accessability') which includes the options to have the Mac speak to you, listen to you, to adjust screen settings - reverse contrast etc, and to zoom the screen in a similar fashion as applications such as ZoomText on a PC.

I'm currently looking into whether or not the iPhone has these options available, and if not, how one can get them enabled - ie. by putting pressure on Apple to do so. Remember, it's native to the system software on the iPhone ! Personally, I believe the iPhone has the potential to open up the way blind users can use mobile phones - I hope others do as well.

BTW, I'm not visually impaired myself, but my wife is. And FYI Mr. Scott, there are NOT thousands of phones out there that blind people can use - in fact, my wife has to use one that is over 7 years old simply because it is the ONLY one that meets her requirements. Please don't make glib comments about something you obviously have very little if any experience of. It just makes things harder for those of us who do have to live with blindness.

  • 12.
  • At 09:43 PM on 16 Dec 2007, Karl Meesters wrote:

Dear Ben,

I completely agree with your comment.
Being visually impaired myself I am always looking for new ways to make things easier. And as you said the iphone holds a lot of potential. The idea of a zoomtextlike software on the iphone is very possible. It just needs to be done.

I'm planning to write a letter to apple through a major organisation for blind people. It could be interesting if we could share ideas.

Hear you soon,


  • 13.
  • At 03:49 PM on 11 Jan 2008, Marwan wrote:

I do apologize if I came out as a bit of an idiot, I did not mean to be offensive in my comments.

I have been an avid Mac guy since my early teens and till now have not bothered with the iPhone (although given half the chance I'd take one) due to the fact the line rental charges are extortionate when adding the cost of the handset.

But guys even if the handset has voice activated dialing, has anyone thought of the problems that may cause? Slower handsets if all languages are added, or to get around that due to people having to program the handset manually it would not only take time and patience but whom would do it as the handsets geared yet towards the visually impaired.

There maybe something around it but if you check current trends most gadgets and new software is geared towards visual stimulation.

Also why can we not start bashing at the other touch screen handsets manufacturers:


as far as I am aware the above manufacturers do not have any touch screen handsets that are geared towards anyone visually impaired.


Was just sending out some posts in an attempt to see what people thought of the possabilities introduced by the SDK. I'm assuming that there are now possabilities for a 3rd party developer to impliment some solutions. So here is my suggestion; a centeral place is set up for all of the blind comunity who want an IPhone to work for them, due to how cool it is, the form factor, the mp3 player or the possability that other apps will be developed for it that will be useful such as weather ... and so on.

It can be a resource for developers to work with the potential customer to find out exactly what we want and have some ideas on how it can be implimented. I think it would be most kind if such a discussion board would be hosted by apple themselves.


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