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The Apple iPad and accessibility 'out of the box'

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Damon Rose Damon Rose | 16:45 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010

Everyone's been talking about the Apple iPad, launched in California last week. And this gives us a great opportunity to talk about accessible computers and device interfaces generally.

Disabled people are beginning to expect accessibility out of the box and, indeed, laws are firming up these previously unheard of ideas.

In the US, for instance, a new Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind, was introduced into Washington on the same day the iPad was launched. It requires that all consumer electronics, home appliances, kiosks, and electronic office technology, have accessible interfaces.

Existing law Section 508 of the US workforce rehabilitation act requires that all federal government offices 'buy accessible'.

As the US is home of Silicon Valley and many rather important computer companies who'd rather like to have contracts with the government and to remain within the law - hello Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc - we should be expecting more products to be accessible on day one of launch. Surely?

So. Back to this iPad thing. disabled commentators were out there on their blogs and on Twitter over the last few days, discussing whether Apple's new device is accessible ... or accessible enough.

Blog entry: Accessibility and the iPad: first impressions - a basic look at what a mass market touch screen tablet computer could bring in terms of accessibility to people with interesting dexterity issues, low or no vision and cognitive difficulties. Plus the listed accessibility features published so far.

Podcast: The Mac-cessibility Round Table Podcast - iPad, Therefore, I Want - a bunch of blind people talking together about what they know so far and what they'd want from the product.

Article: Apple's forbidden fruit - Geoff Adams-Spink reviews the accessibility of the iPhone which is already out on the market, a known quantity and, looking like a small iPad, presumably behaves similarly. Only he wasn't too impressed with it.

The new iPad product will spawn a brand new service: an online book store: an iTunes for electronic books (iBooks). It remains to be seen how accessible these books will be to visually impaired people who have been crying out for mainstream access to reading material and education for hundreds of years. Surely they'll get it right this time? Or face wrath galore. I guess we'll find out when the product goes to market in March.

We're interested in your comments on accessibility of mainstream electronic products, computing and services. Tell us about your experiences and what you'd drool over in terms of an ultimate accessible gizmo in the comments below. Then we'll get it made for you (disclaimer: no we won't ... but I wish we could).


  • Comment number 1.

    I want an iPhone. Mainly because there are so many cool apps for them. And they're really easy to browse the web on too.

    My problem? I can't type on the things. They're excruciatingly painful for me. I need buttons that I can rest my fingers on, like how you rest your fingers on a keyboard when doing proper touch typing. So I'm stuck with a BlackBerry which rather than getting cooler with each upgrade seem to get rubbisher. The camera on the 8520 Curve doesn't even have a flash.

  • Comment number 2.

    For a company that does so much marketing, Apple didn't caption the keynote address from Steve Jobs nor did it add the iPad to its accessibility page (though the accessibility features are comparable to the iphone, which is listed.) I touched on this in my blog, "Hey Apple, What About iPad's Accessibility?"

    In any case, there's VoiceOver, zoom, a large screen, the ability to add an external keyboard, and other functions. I'd like to see Apple make an actual Peep about accessibility, though.

  • Comment number 3.

    Main problem with Apple products is they aren't compatible with Windows systems. May as well use Linux as your own accessibility can be added and it's free software. Also, a Google search usually finds solutions to Linux problems as it's open source software and forums are full of problems and how to solve them.

  • Comment number 4.

    MiniMaestro complains that Apple products aren't compatible with Windows, yet my iPod functions perfectly well hooked up to iTunes running under Windows on my PC. You have to draw a distinction between Macs (and even they can run Windows nowadays) and the rest of Apple's product line, which is OS-agnostic.

    More specific to the accessibility issues with the iPad is that the traditional publishers seem to be playing hardball over text-to-speech and eBooks. They have a nice little earner with audiobooks and apparently don't want to lose that income stream, even if it means forcing Apple to disable built in accessibility functionality when reading ebooks on an iPad.

  • Comment number 5.

    Why I think people should buy an iPad!

    In today’s hi-tech world, most people are technical morons. Yes, the young and the old are tech halfwits. When it comes to explaining how new gadgets work these dunderheads do not have a clue. If you try to educate them, they look at you as though you just landed your space ship in their backyard.

    If you try to dummy up the conversation with hand-drawn diagrams the thickheaded ninnies will exclaim, "Yes, Yes, now I understand!" Nevertheless, do not believe them for a minute, this is just a tactic to hide the fact that they are hi-tech nincompoops that cannot even figure out how to adjust the car radio.

    The iPad is the computer of the future!

    Apple has finally developed a computer for the technical challenged. You do not have to know how to save files, read a directory or format a hard drive. You just turn it on by touching a little button and tapping on a little screen icon and off you go to whatever silly little app that you just purchased for a dollar. To turn it off you just push the same silly little button. If you have an iPhone or an iPod touch, then you're fully trained and are now ready for harvesting by Apple Inc.

    Will anyone buy it?

    Yes and in the thousands, Millions will be sold this year alone. Billions will be sold over the next two years or so.

    Why? Because Steve Jobs knows that not only will the technical morons buy them, but all the smart mouth techies like myself will sell our souls to get our sweaty little hands on let me see, should I get the 3G model with 64GB flash drive...

  • Comment number 6.

    DavidG is right, my post relates mainly to the Mac although Apple software has to be cross compatible as majority of people use Windows.

    Mac is also right as the iPad will sell. Although touch screens are really coming on, are they really the way to go with regards to accessibility? Someone with a tremor will have problems as there is no feedback when selecting options, you touch and not push unlike with a standard button. How easy will it be for them to get the item they are aiming for and not the one next to it and have to navigate back.

  • Comment number 7.

    I pre ordered an iPad on

    I hope apple is fast enough.

  • Comment number 8.

    I was one of the lucky few to get my hands on an iPad last week and I must say, so far so good. It's an incredible piece of technology and I think it will change the way we read, watch movies, listen to music and more. I just want to find more apps and sites related to iPad, which seem to be hard to trace online. I can't believe that the ipad index ranked Touchgrind as a Top iPad game site. I think Touchgrind is a stupid idea – who wants to fingerboard when you can skateboard for real? The best thing about ipad is going to be video and HTML5. Most of the video sites such as youtube and vimeo can be accessed by the iPad and I think it'll improve the ultimate viewing experience.

  • Comment number 9.

    Go Google! I say, let's kick the iPad tablet into outer space. I, like many other tech geeks, am fed-up with hearing how amazing Apple is. Yes, ipod was great, but since then I think there's been too much hype. The iPhone is good for everything on earth except the one basic element – phone deals. And the ipad looks like it is not good enough to play flash movies. It's too selected. I have been checking and I think there are not enough iPad tablet choices out there yet. I say, wait two years for the iPad. Don't buy it yet, it's too expensive and has only 1000 apps.

  • Comment number 10.

    I've just found this article about iPads.
    It compares prices from different UK e-retailers. Very interesting if you want to order your iPad in advance and at the best prices ^^

  • Comment number 11.

    The iPhone 3GS is the first iPhone to offer a full set of accessibility features. A line of Internet and multimedia-enabled smartphones that functions as a camera phone, a portable media player comparable to a video iPod, and an internet client that can execute e-mailing, web browsing, and Wi-Fi connectivity -using the phone's multi-touch screen to provide a virtual keyboard in lieu of a physical keyboard. It is more than just a phone that does many different things. It has faster proccessing and network speeds, extended battery life, more memory, and additional features which you normally enjoy. Dealing with Apple iPhone 3GS is really amazing.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    The iPad is the easiest to use device. My 76 old grandma used it for cooking me a tasty meal. My father played BackGammon right away. I sit on my couch and surf in the www. The iPad is nice to look movies in train and so on.
    But its not productive, in my opinion its good for multimedia and entertainment, but not for the work in many ways.
    I love my ipad so much, that i did a german blog: My iPad Blog. I hope its allowed to post it, there are several iPad Tips on it... cause i love this device.
    Best regards,
    Tobias (sorry for my bad english)


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