This week Apple gave us quite a bit to look over. I am still trying to catch up with the many updates that were made available when Apple unveiled not only new Macs and iPads, but also a new version of OS X (now free!) and its iLife and iWork apps for the Mac (yes, now those are free too!). After spending a few days playing with Mavericks, as the new version of OS X is now called (I do miss the felines), here are a few noteworthy additions from an accessibility perspective:
- Switch Control is now available for OS X. This was a feature that was introduced in iOS 7 for iOS devices and for the most part it works in a similar way on the Mac as it does on iOS. Rather than writing a lengthy description of this new feature, I created a video for you:
- Caption styles. This is another feature that first appeared in iOS 7 and now works in pretty much the same way on the Mac. You can create custom styles to make the captions easier to read on your Mac. Again, I have created a video that shows how this works:
- Creation of Speakable Items with Automator. Automator is a Mac app that allows you to create workflows for automating repetitive tasks you might want to do on your computer. Speakable Items is found under Interacting in the Accessibility area of System Preferences, and it lets you control your Mac with your voice. You can perform commands such as launching apps, checking your email and more. With Mavericks, you can now create your own Speakable Items using Automator. This video shows you how. For students with physical and motor challenges being able to automate actions so that they can be performed with their speech opens up a lot of possibilities.
- Improved dictation. In Mountain Lion, Dictation worked well but it was limited to short phrases and it only worked when you had an Internet connection. In Mavericks, Dictation can now work while you are off-line, and it has been improved so that you can speak your text continuously. As before you start Dictation by pressing the Function key twice, but you don’t have to do that again to see your text shown in your editing software. You can just continue speaking and the text will appear as you speak. I see so many applications of this feature for working with students who have writing difficulties, since now they will get almost real time feedback of their editing. The one thing to note is that enabling this feature does require an 800 MB file download so that it can work offline. To me, that’s a small price to pay for adding this cool new feature to my Mac.
Now, Mavericks was not the only big announcement. New versions of iWork and iLife, as well as iBooks Author were also announced. And iBooks and Maps finally come to the Mac. I really like the simpler design of all the iWork apps, and their support for VoiceOver has improved. However, there were two other changes that I found especially exciting:
- The iWork apps now allow you to enter an accessibility description for your images in the new Format pane. This is huge for giving people the option to create more accessible documents. I also found that when I exported my Pages documents as ePub books, the image descriptions were preserved. This fix addresses what I saw as a big shortcoming with the old version of Pages.
- Embedded closed captioned videos are supported. I do a lot of presentations, and when I present I try to model what I preach by including captions in my videos. However, in the past I had to jump through a few hoops to get my captions to show up (such as creating a captioned video file and then screen recording it before adding it to Keynote). No need to do that anymore. I can just drag my video that includes captions into my Keynote deck and it will even do the optimization in case I want to add the Keynote file into an iBooks Author project.
Speaking of iBooks Author: it now appears to preserve the captions when you add a Media interactive. This was a big problem before, where you had to use Compressor (not the friendliest program for the teachers I often work with) to combine the original video with a captions file created with MovieCaptioner. Well, now I can just export my video out of MovieCaptioner using the SCC Embed with QT option and then drag it right into an iBooks Author project and it works with no error warning. iBooks Author will do the compression (optimization) for me. One tip is to make sure your video matches the specs for video on the iPad as much as possible. Otherwise, this optimization, which you cannot disable, will take quite a long time. Previewing your captions in a book is easier too, since iBooks is included with Mavericks and you do not have to connect your iPad to do a preview of your book.
The new iBooks app for the Mac is pretty much what you would expect if you have used the iOS version. All of the supports our students need are there: highlighting, notes, dictionary lookup, study cards for multi-touch books, etc. I really like that you can see the Notes in the margin by pressing Command +3, which works really well in full screen mode to create a nice reading experience. Another nice feature is that you can open two books at once, which helps if you have a second book that you need to keep referring to while reading. Speak selection is available when you select text, from a contextual menu, but I was surprised that word highlighting is not included. This is one of my favorite features of Speak Selection on iOS and it makes it such a valuable tool. I hope this gets added soon. My other beef is that some of the buttons at the top when you’re reading a book are missing labels for VoiceOver. Overall, I think having iBooks on the Mac will be welcomed news to many educators and I’m really excited about the convergence of the two platforms. It makes it much easier for those of us who need accessibility support, as we are not really learning different platforms with all the similarities between iOS and OS X.
On the hardware front, I was most excited about the new iPad mini with Retina. After having the original mini, I don’t see myself going back to the larger iPad. I just love the portability of it and it does everything I need it to do. Having Retina is not a huge deal for me (my own retinas don’t really know the difference), but having a better chip will make a difference if it leads to improve performance for VoiceOver, Speak Selection and all those accessibility features I love to use. I can’t wait to get my hands on a 32GB model.
After doing all of the updates on the many devices I own and use, I’m still learning about all that is new. Did I miss anything? Let me know and I will look into it. I’m always learning.
I am really excited to be presenting at this year’s Reform Symposium, #RSCON4.. This is a free 3 day virtual conference that will be held October 11th to 13th in conjunction with Connected Educator Month. The entire conference will be held online using the Blackboard Collaborate webinar platform. Participants can attend this online conference from the comfort of their homes or anywhere that has Internet access. This amazing conference provides educators new or currently active on social networks the opportunity to connect with educators and professionals in the field of education worldwide.
Here is the description for my session, nABLEing All Leaners: Mobile Devices as Transformational Technology:
The session will begin with a quick overview of the SAMR model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. This is a model that emphasizes the transformative use of new technologies such as the iPad and the apps it supports. In the context of students who have special needs, a transformative use of technology would move us beyond “assistive” technology and into truly “empowering” technology. When technology is used in a transformative way, it provides an outlet for creative expression and allows students to find their own voice in order to disrupt preconceived ideas about ability and disability. This is the goal behind the nABLE framework: to encourage more creative uses of technology by people with disabilities. During the session, I will share my videos and photography as an example of how someone with a disability (I am legally blind) can use new technologies for personal expression and advocacy.
After I introduce the nABLE framework and the philosophy behind it, I will spend the rest of the session focusing on how to implement it through the built-in accessibility features of the iPad and other iOS devices along with a number of free apps that facilitate collaboration and content creation. For each level of the model, I will do a brief demonstration of at least one feature or app that is appropriate for that level.
My session is scheduled for Sunday, October 13th at 10 am, EST (there is a schedule that will help you find out the correct time in your time zone).
And here are some other useful links for the conference (click on any item for more information):
Opening plenary- Sugata Mitra, 2013 Ted prize winner and instigator of the Hole-in-the-Wall experiment, will speak about The Future of Learning.
Musical guest- Steve Bingham, the internationally renowned electric violinist, will conduct a live performance.
I hope you will join me for my session and attend some of the other wonderful presentations.
Update: My good friend and fellow ADE Daniela Rubio has created a similar post for our Spanish speaking friends on her Macneticos blog.
The long wait is over. It’s finally here: iOS 7, the latest and radically redesigned version of Apple’s mobile operating system. Along with the redesigned interface, iOS 7 has a number of new and updated accessibility features which I will outline here (with videos to come soon). I will organize these according to the kinds of supports they provide.
The first thing you notice is that it is now easier to navigate to the accessibility area in the Settings. In iOS 6, Accessibility was toward the bottom of the General pane . In iOS 7, it is much closer to the top of the pane, so that you don’t have to scroll. A small change, but one that hopefully will get more people to explore these settings and to become aware of the powerful assistive technology that is built into their devices. It will also aid with navigation for the people who actually use features like VoiceOver and Switch Control.
- Large cursor for VoiceOver: you can now choose to have a larger, thicker cursor when VoiceOver is enabled. This is great for me, as I always had a difficult time seeing the old cursor’s faint outline. This option is found at the bottom of the VoiceOver pane.
- Enhanced voices and language support: The Language Rotor option for VoiceOver has been replaced with a Languages and Dialects pane which provides a lot more flexibility. In this pane, you can specify a default dialect for your language (U.S. English, Australian English, etc.) and add languages to the rotor like you could in iOS 6. For each dialect or language, you can now download enhanced versions of the voices as well as separately control the speech rate.
- VoiceOver’s option to use phonetics now has a few options (off, character and phonetics, and phonetics only), whereas before you could only turn the feature on and off.
- You can use a switch to disable the VoiceOver sound effects. These are the sound cues that let you know when you are at the edge of the screen and so on.
- New options in the VoiceOver rotor: you can add the option for turning sound effects on and off to the rotor, and there is a new handwriting option. Updated (09/18/13, 3pm): The handwriting option allows you to enter text using your handwriting. For example, you can open up the Notes app and start entering text by using the screen as a canvas where you write your text. The handwriting mode supports a number of gestures: two finger swipe left deletes, two finger swipe right adds a space, three finger swipe right adds a new line. You can also switch between lower case (the default) and upper case, punctuation and numbers by swiping up with three fingers. For navigation on the Home screen, you can enter the a letter and VoiceOver will announce the number of apps that start with that letter (even if they are not on the current screen). If there are several apps that start with the same name, you can swipe up or down with two fingers to navigate the list, then double-tap with one finger to open the desired app when it is announced. The handwriting option also works on the lock screen, where you can use it to enter the numbers for your passcode (it even defaults to numbers). In Safari, you can use the Handwriting feature to navigate by item type (for example, you can write “h” for headings, “l” for links and so on then swipe up or down with two fingers to navigate the various headings, links, etc).
- Updated (09/18/13, 3pm): VoiceOver has a new gesture for accessing the help from anywhere in iOS: a four finger double-tap will allow you to practice VoiceOver gestures. When you’re done, a second four finger double-tap will exit the VoiceOver help.
- Enhanced braille support: VoiceOver now supports Nemeth Code for equations, and there is an option for automatic braille translation (supporting U.S., Unified and United Kingdom options).
- The Large Text option is now called Dynamic Type and it can work with any app that supports the feature rather than the limited set of built-in apps in previous versions of iOS. The size of the text is controlled using a slider rather than by choosing from a list and a live preview shows how the text will appear.
- Bold type and other visual appearance adjustments: overall, iOS 7′s new design has less contrast than previous versions. However, in addition to large type, there are a number of adjustments you can make to the UI to make it easier to see items on the screen. You can make text bold (requires a restart), increase the contrast when text appears against certain backgrounds, remove the parallax motion effect, and enable on/off labels (I’m guessing this feature is for people who are color blind. The feature will add a small mark to indicate when a control is in the on/off position, which would be helpful because green is used quite a bit throughout the interface and the changes in state could be difficult to perceive for those who are color blind to this color).
The big addition here is a Subtitles and Captions pane. This pane brings the Closed Captioning support under the Accessibility area of the Settings, whereas before it was found under Videos. It is a global setting that will control closed captions throughout iOS.
In addition to having a global control for closed captions, the Subtitles and Captioning pane also allows you to select from several presets that make captions more attractive and easier to read. You can even go further and specify your own styles for captions, with many options ranging from font, text size, color and opacity to the color and opacity of the box the captions sit on.
Guided Access now allows disabling the Sleep/Wake and Volume buttons in iOS 7. You can also access the other options in your triple-click home shortcut (which has now been renamed the Accessibility Shortcut) while Guided Access is enabled. This will allow you to use VoiceOver, Zoom and other accessibility features along with Guided Access.
Like VoiceOver, Speak Selection has enhanced language support, including selection of different speaking rates for each of the supported languages and dialects as well as enhanced quality voices that are available for download as needed.
Both of these features are also supposed to get new APIs which I will verify once I can locate apps that implement them. For Speak Selection, a new speech API will allow apps to tap into the built-in voice support of iOS. The idea is that by not having to include as much voice data, the apps can be smaller and take up less space on the devices. In the case of Guided Access, a new API will allow developers to hide parts of the screen to reduce distractions. This builds on the previous version’s feature of disabling touch in certain areas of the screen.
The built-in dictionary feature now supports additional languages which can be downloaded and managed in the Define popover. When you select a word in a foreign language and tap Define, iOS will open the definition in the appropriate language if you have that dictionary downloaded. This is a nice feature for language learners.
Probably the biggest addition in iOS 7 for accessibility is Switch Control. This feature has the potential to do for people with motor and cognitive impairments what VoiceOver has done for the blind community. With Switch Control, items on the screen are highlighted with a cursor sequentially, and when the desired item is highlighted it can be activated by tapping the screen or a separate adaptive device connected to the iOS device over Bluetooth. A menu can also be brought up to access scrolling, saved gestures and a number of device functions such as clicking the Home button. Switch control is highly configurable in iOS 7:
- you can enable auto scanning and adjust the timing parameters for the auto scanning feature, including the number of times it will loop, how long you have to hold down the switch to activate an item (hold duration) and so on.
- you can adjust the visual appearance and audio effects: for the visual appearance you can choose a large cursor and select from a number of colors for the scanning cursor (I actually wish this feature were available for VoiceOver as well). For audio, you can choose to hear an audio cue when the cursor advances, as well as enable speech and adjust the speaking rate. This last feature may be helpful to someone who needs to use a switch device but also has low vision and needs the audio cues for the items on the screen.
- You can add multiple switch sources, and the switch source supports three options: external, screen and camera. The first two are pretty self-explanatory. You either tap on an external device or on the iOS device’s screen to activate an item. I set my iPad up to interpret a tap on the screen as a select action and my external switch (a Pretorian Bluetooth switch/joystick device) to pause scanning. The last option is pretty interesting. The camera can be set to recognize your head movements as an action, and you can assign different actions to either a right or a left head turn. When a head movement is added as a switch source an option for adjusting the head movement sensitivity will be available. One thing to note is that you should probably have your iOS device on a stand if you plan to make use of the camera as a switch source. Otherwise, moving the device may cause the camera to not recognize your face as desired.
Although not considered an accessibility feature, the improved Siri personal assistant with higher quality male and female voices could come in handy for people with disabilities when they wish to look up information or control their devices quickly. For example, Siri recognizes a number of new commands: you can turn some of the settings on and off with a simple command (“turn Bluetooth on,” or “enable Do Not Disturb”), or navigate to specific areas of the Settings with a voice command (“open accessibility settings” or “go to accessibility settings”).
Similarly, the new TouchID feature (currently available only on the iPhone 5S) should make it easier for individuals who are blind or who have cognitive disabilities to access the information in their devices. As great as VoiceOver is, entering text has never been a strength, even when it is just a few digits on the lock screen. Using the fingerprint reader built into the Home button of the iPhone 5S (and hopefully future iPads) will make it easier to unlock the device while also ensuring privacy. For individuals with cognitive disabilities, the passcode becomes one less thing they have to remember.
On the iPhone, the Control Center includes a Torch feature that uses the flash to provide a constant source of light. I can see this feature being useful for those who need to scan documents in order to perform OCR. Along with the improved cameras in the new phones released with iOS 7, the additional light could improve the performance of the scanning apps used by many people with print disabilities.
iOS 7 also added the ability to perform automatic updates for apps you own. This could have some accessibility implications because you may have an app installed that is accessible in its current version but may become inaccessible after an update. To prevent this from happening, you can turn off the option for automatic updates in Settings > iTunes & App Store > Updates. The App Store also supports the option for redeeming gift cards using the camera (a feature already available on the Mac with iTunes). For individuals with low vision, the redeem codes on iTunes gift cards can be difficult to read, and this option to scan it with the camera makes the process of redeeming gift cards much easier.
Of the new accessibility features, I am most excited about the captioning styles and Switch Control. These two features build on Apple’s strong support for the blind community to extend accessibility to even more people (especially so in the case of Switch Control and its potential impact for people with motor and cognitive disabilities). What are your thoughts? What are you most excited about in iOS 7 with regard to accessibility?
I commend the team at Red Jumper Studio, the creators of Book Creator for iPad, for adding an option that will let book authors add accessibility descriptions for images in version 2.7 of their app. This was already one of my favorite apps for content creation on the iPad, as it makes it really easy to create ebooks for the iPad that can include images, videos and audio recordings. I created the following short video that shows how to add the accessibility descriptions in Book Creator for iPad:
As I was traveling to Macworld 2013, where I presented a session on iBooks Author, I had some time when I was trapped on a plane without Wi-Fi (the horror!). Rather than reading the magazine in front of me, I gave into my urge to try to combine two frameworks I am really passionate about, the SAMR model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentadura and the UDL framework developed by CAST. Below is an image showing the framework I developed and some apps that address each level. This was just a quick brainstorm on a long plane ride, but I do appreciate your feedback.
Update: Here is a text version that should be more accessible with a screen reader (with app and feature matching):
n: needs assessment and profile
determine current level of performance and desired outcomes.
A: access to content and tools
The technology eliminates barriers that prevent access to information
- Closed Captioning Support
- Dictation (built-in with iOS)
- Dragon Dictation
The technology includes scaffolds and supports that account for learner differences.
- AppWriter US
- Speak It!
- Typ-O HD
- Book Creator
- Creative Book Builder
The technology unleashes creative potential and disrupts perceptions of disability.
I uploaded a couple of videos to my YouTube channel showing some of the enhancements to Speak Selection and AssistiveTouch in IOS 6. Speak selection now does word highlighting as the text is spoken aloud, and it also supports a number of dialects (Australian English, British English, Mexican Spanish and so on). AssistiveTouch is not only now compatible with VoiceOver (a great addition for those with multiple disabilities and those who rely on switch access) but it also can now be used for launching Siri, taking screenshots, and opening the task switcher for multitasking. Watch the videos below to learn more about these enhancements to the accessibility of IOS devices.