Friday, September 23, 2016

New in iOS 10: Magnifier

Magnifier captured an image of a keyboard and user applied yellow/blue high contrast mode 15x magnified keyboard key using Magnifier

Apple's newly released mobile operating system includes a new accessibility feature called Magnifier. The feature uses the device's built-in camera to enlarge objects placed in front of the camera. This can be helpful for people with visual disabilities who need to read small print. The feature can be enabled by navigating to Settings > General > Accessibility > Magnifier. Once enabled, Magnifier can be accessed by triple clicking the home button.

Magnifier's interface looks very similar to the camera apps interface with a few notable changes. One change is that Magnifier has a freeze frame button rather than a shutter button. Pressing this button freezes the image instead of taking a picture. Magnifier also has a zoom slider that is large and always visible on screen. The zoom slider allows users to zoom in further than is possible with the camera app. Magnifier allows users to zoom in up to 15x compared to 5x with the camera app (iPhone 7 Plus has optical zoom). However, the further a user zooms in the more pixelated the image will become. Magnifier also includes several high contrast options that can be applied before or after a freeze frame is captured.

Magnifier has several advantages over taking a picture with the camera app and then enlarging the image from the camera roll. The first advantage is that freeze frames are captured in full resolution. This means that users can zoom out after the freeze frame is capture. In the camera app, once a picture is captured using zoom there is no way to zoom out again. Another advantage of Magnifier is the high contrast modes that are available. Lastly, opening Magnifier by triple clicking the home button means that it is faster to launch than third party magnification apps.

There is one feature that unfortunately is not included in Magnifier which is the ability to save freeze frames for viewing at a later time. For example, if a person uses Magnifier to read a conference agenda the person may need to take multiple freeze frames of the agenda through out the day because only the most recent freeze frame can be saved.

It also may be difficult for some people to capture crisp images with Magnifier. At 15x zoom, even the slightest shake can make the image blurry. I wish Apple had added a capture timer to Magnifier. This could help eliminate minor shaking that occurs when a user reaches for the freeze frame button.

Overall, I think Magnifier will be greatly appreciated by people with visual disabilities and older people who have trouble reading small print.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New in iOS 10: Software TTY Calling

Software TTY call on iPhone

Apple's updated mobile operating system, iOS 10, includes many new accessibility features. One of these features is Software TTY calling. TTY calling allows people who are deaf and people with hearing disabilities who cannot communicate using voice calling to communicate with people by using voice calling through relay services. The TTY user with a hearing impairment types a message and a relay operator reads that message aloud to the person on the other end of the phone call, who does not have a hearing impairment. When the person on the other end of the phone call speaks the relay operator types what is spoken and the text then appears on the TTY device.
physical TTY machine
Previously, this communication method required a physical TTY machine such as the one pictured above. These machines are large and much less convient to carry around than an iPhone. With iOS 10, Apple is building the functionality of a TTY machine into the iPhone. This eliminates the need for people who rely on TTY calling to have a physical TTY machine.

Software TTY calling on the iPhone works much like an iMessage conversation with a few differences. When software TTY is enabled, the user makes or receives a phone call through the Phone app. Once the user dials the number and presses send the user has the option of placing the call as a voice call, TTY call, or TTY relay call. TTY relay calls will be placed using the relay number specified in settings. If the user chooses one of the TTY options they will be able to access the TTY interface which resembles an iMessage chat. iOS even suggests TTY abbreviations above the keyboard during the conversation such as GA for go ahead and SK for ready to hang up.

With voice calling on the iPhone users can press the home button during a call to access other apps while still talking to person on the other end of the call. I frequently use this feature when placed on hold. While on hold I will check my email or read the news. However, with software TTY calling, users are not notified when new TTY messages are received while using other apps. For example, if  software TTY users wants to check their email while on hold they will not be notified when the next message is received. This means that TTY users might miss incoming messages when multitasking. I would prefer that the feature send notifications when the user is multitasking to alert the user that a new TTY message is received. Much like iMessage sends notifications to users when a new message is received. This would allow TTY users to multitask without fear of missing a message.

The software TTY feature of iOS 10 is a great addition to the iPhone. I think it will be viewed as a major upgrade for TTY users. iOS 10 users who want to enable software TTY should navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility > TTY and then switch on software TTY. This menu also gives users access to other TTY settings such as setting the relay number. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

New Add-On for OneNote Benefits Students with Dyslexia


Microsoft OneNote Icon
Microsoft recently made a new add-on available for its OneNote software which aims to help students with dyslexia. The add-on works within Microsoft's note taking software and is currently available to download as a beta. Once installed, a new tab appears which gives users the option to read content using text-to-speech or dictate using speech-to-text. While both of the features have been available before it is nice to have a free option that can be used directly within OneNote: an application that many schools and parents already have installed as part of the Microsoft Office suite.


The text-to-speech reader mode is called "immersive reading mode" and includes some handy features. When activated the reader fills the entire screen with text from your OneNote notebook. While reading text is highlighted as it is read aloud. Users have the option to change the background color and text size in order to create a more comfortable reading experience. The add-on also includes the ability to highlight nouns, verbs, and adjectives in different colors; a feature that could be helpful for younger students. Microsoft even includes the ability for users to break words up into syllables.

It is exciting to see the fruits of Microsoft's enhanced accessibility initiatives. While the new features are not novel they seem easy to learn. Since the "Learning Tools" are free for OneNote users and easy to learn they may prove to be a great starting point for people new to assistive technology. Microsoft seems to be increasing their focus on accessibility. Recently, the company announced a new Chief Accessibility Officer and a reorganization of accessibility teams. Hopefully, with the new reorganization, "Learning Tools" is just the beginning of Microsoft's accessibility improvements.

The "Learning Tools" add-on available as a free download for Windows. Click here to learn more and download the add-on.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

AXS Map: Crowdsourced Accessibility Reviews of Businesses



AXS Map is an app available for iOS and Android that allows users to rank the accessibility of local businesses. Using the location of the device users can search for nearby businesses and rank the accessibility of the location in very basic terms. More detailed accessibility information and information for people with a wider range of disabilities would improve the app.

While accessibility standards established by the government are exact and technical, AXS Map uses a star rating system. For example, a businesses that is easily accessible to people with disabilities would earn a five star ranking. The app also allows users to rank a business based on the noise level, which can be helpful for people with hearing impairments, and by light which can be helpful for people with visual impairments.

I was recently involved in a "Mapathon" were a group of people used the app to map parts of the city. This experience helped me understand the value of the app, as some businesses had serious accessibility issues such as numerous steps with no ramps.

The data that is inputted through the app or the website can then be viewed by people interested in the accessibility of a business. For example, a person with a physical disability could check the app to make sure that a coffee shop had a ramp.

If the AXS Map platform becomes popular it could even prompt businesses with poor rating to make improvements.

While the concept behind AXS Map is good, the implementation is a little rough. The app is not intuitive to use and can be frustrating. However, it does work once you get familiar with the interface. The app also requires users to enter their email which could steer some users away.

To use AXS Map visit AXSMap.com or download the app for iOS and Android. Click here to download the app for iOS and click here to download the app for Android.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Inspiration Maps Updated with iPhone Support and More

Inspiration Maps displayed on iPhone 6

Inspiration Maps iconThe mind mapping and outlining app Inspiration Maps, which was previously only available on the iPad, is now available on the iPhone as well. The app is a valuable tool to help students organize their ideas and start the writing process. Users can drag text boxes around the screen to easily produce webs of ideas. Inspiration Maps is particularly helpful when writing about complex topics that require a well planned and organized essay. Inspiration Maps can be also be helpful when beginning an essay to visualize the structure that the written piece will take.

With the larger screen iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus in makes sense to bring the app to the iPhone. If you are concerned about not having enough room to effectively use the app on your iPhone, a free version is available here.

The update also makes in easier to select multiple text boxes or images at the same time. Now users can press and hold on the screen in order to lasso a group of images.

The updated app is available for $10 is the App Store. Click here to download the app. Click read more below to view more screenshots of Inspiration Maps for iPhone.



graphic highlighting brainstorming

screenshot showing ability to add graphics, notes, hyperlinks, and audio

screenshot showing the ability to flip between web and outline view

Friday, July 3, 2015

Bright Future for Apple Accessibility with Lisa P. Jackson in the Lead

Headshot of Jackson wearing red shirt

Apple recently updated the bio of Lisa P. Jackson to reflect her new role overseeing accessibility at Apple. This expands her previous responsibilities of overseeing environmental initiatives at Apple. Ms. Jackson's official title is now Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been vocal regarding his views of the importance of accessibility. This new management change, which puts a Vice President level executive in charge of accessibility for the first time, seemingly reaffirms Apple's long-standing commitment to accessibility.

Apple has been a leader in accessibility. Its products include superior accessibility features out of the box. Features such as VoiceOver, Speak Selection, Zoom, AssistiveTouch, and Switch Control give people with disabilities equal access to Apple products at no additional charge. From personal experience I can say that these features are truly life changing and positively impact many people.

Even considering Apple's past success there are areas for possible improvement. One example involves training sales people about the accessibility features. On recent trips to Apple Stores, I have had some experiences that are not consistent with Apple's commitment to accessibility. For example, the Apple Watch on display had its accessibility features disabled. While Apple likely wants to limit confusion for customers who do not use accessibility features, this does not promote equal access. Part of the magic of the Apple Store is being able to walk up to a shinny new product and try it out. With the accessibility features disabled, and the sales people unfamiliar with how to enable these features, users with disabilities don't have an opportunity to fully explore the product. Apple should be showing off these features, not hiding them. Apple would be doing a great service to its customers with disabilities to prepare its store employees to talk about accessibility features as well as they talk about other features.

Ms. Jackson has proven herself to be a very capable leader.  She has the ability to continue Apple's accessibility superiority and solve existing challenges. Her work on environmental initiatives has been very successful, propelling Apple towards the top of the technology industry in terms of sustainability. The future of Apple product accessibility seems bright, and I am excited to see what innovations come next.

To read Lisa Jackson's full bio from Apple click here. Photo credit: Apple.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Apple Watch Accessibility: Possibilities, Challenges, and Unknowns


When the Apple Watch launches next month it will mark the launch of Apple's first new product category since the iPad. The iPad was a game changer in terms of accessibility, bringing numerous features designed for people with disabilities at launch. How will the Apple Watch compare and what are some of the challenges and possibilities for the Apple Watch related to accessibility? A lot of questions remain unanswered, but the wait will soon be over.

Apple Watch is rumored to include built-in software accessibility features when launched, however these reports have not been confirmed by Apple. It would make sense and align with Apple's patterns if they included features such as VoiceOver and Zoom in the Apple Watch. While the inclusion of these features seem likely, how these features are implemented will be key for people with disabilities.

The Apple Watch could prove beneficial to people with various disabilities. Apple has already demonstrated the navigation capabilities of the Watch which include providing distinctive taps when a wearer needs to turn left or right while walking. This feature could aid blind and visually impaired users when navigating unfamiliar areas. Additionally, the device could help remind users to complete daily tasks like taking medication. The watch, which can be used for Apple Pay purchases and other forms of authentication could benefit users with physical disabilities who cannot handle a credit card for example.

Just like with the iPad, app developers will likely be key in coming up with unique assistive apps. The initial developer tools have some limitations that could hold back developers, but hopefully useful assistive apps will still be made available.

With all the potential benefits there are some challenges that stem from the device's small screen and buttons. First, the "digital crown," which is a small dial on the side of the Apple Watch, could pose challenges to users with physical disabilities and dexterity challenges. The "digital crown" which is used for scrolling and zooming may be difficult if not impossible for some people to operate. It will be interesting to see if Apple will devise a software solution to this potential challenge. Similarly, the small screen with small icons may prove difficult to press for some users.

Apple's new "force touch" gesture could also prove challenging for users with physical disabilities to preform. A "force touch" is a harder press on the touch screen display that invokes distinct actions from a lighter tap. From Apple's demonstrations, this gesture seems vital to the operation of the watch so hopefully a software solution will be available for users who are unable to preform this gesture.

Hopefully the Apple Watch will follow in the iPad's foot steps and be a game changer in terms of accessibility. If you are thinking of purchasing the Apple Watch, but have doubts about your ability to interact with the device due to a disability I would strongly recommend heading to an Apple Store in April to try one out.