4th Gen Apple TV is Now Accessible with Switch Control

At launch, the 4th generation Apple TV lacked support for the iOS Remote app. The only way to navigate the interface and enter passwords and other information was through the use of the new Siri remote. An unintended consequence from the lack of support for the Remote app was that Switch Control users were for the most part locked out from using the device. Yes, you can do quite a bit with Siri on the new Apple TV using only your voice, but Siri doesn’t work for everyone (it does not always recognize the voice commands if the person using the remote has a speech difficulty or strong accent, and it can’t be used to enter passwords).

Fortunately, this limitation was addressed with the latest update for the 4th Generation Apple TV (tvOS 9.1). Now it is possible to use the Remote app on an iOS device to control the Apple TV (you must turn on Home Sharing and be on the same Wifi network for this to work). Since the Remote app is optimized to work with Switch Control, this means that switch users can now control the Apple TV just like any other user. In Item Mode, Switch Control will recognize hotspots in the touch area located in the middle of the Remote app interface. By selecting these hotspots the switch user can navigate in any direction and launch apps or interact with any of the controls on the Apple TV.

Screenshot of iOS Remote app interface showing a hotspot for moving the focus on Apple TV.

The addition of Remote app support is not only a great convenience for all users of the Apple TV. It addresses a major omission in the otherwise excellent support for accessibility on the new Apple TV, which I have covered in a number of recent posts.

Media and Interface Options on 4th Generation Apple TV

As I finish out this series of tutorials on the 4th Generation Apple TV, I want to focus on the options for customizing the playback of media and the appearance of the interface. As shown in the video, the captions and subtitles feature makes great use of the Siri remote capabilities on the 4th Generation Apple TV: you can either enable the captions for the rest of the program (“Turn on closed captions”), or you can enable them for a short time if you have missed something  (just say “What did he/she say?” and after the video rewinds a few seconds the captions will come on for a short time to help you catch what you missed).

Of course this feature will only work if the content creator(s) have made the captions available. Ted Talks is one channel that does, making the great presentations on their channel accessible to a wider audience (yay for Ted Talks!).

Apple TV also supports audio descriptions. Audio descriptions provide a description of the action in a video for those who are unable to see. The audio descriptions can be enabled in the same Media section of the Accessibility Settings where Captions and Subtitles are found. As with captions, these audio descriptions will only work if the content creator has made them available.

In addition to the ways in which viewers can customize media playback, the Apple TV watchOS includes a number of options for customizing the interface: bold text, reduce motion,  reduce transparency and focus style, which adds an outline around the currently selected item.

Overview of VoiceOver on 4th Generation Apple TV (Video)

VoiceOver was already available on  older Apple TV models, but the touchpad on the new Siri remote allows it to be an even more robust accessibility solution on the new 4th generation model. This video provides an overview of the various gestures VoiceOver supports on the new Apple TV, including the Rotor gesture that can be used to change VoiceOver settings such as the speech rate.




Now on iBookstore: Supporting Students with Low Vision Using Apple Technology

My new book focusing on accessibility for Apple users who have low vision is now available for download from the iBookstore.

Cover of Supporting Students with Low Vision Using Apple Technology

The book includes more than 25 short video tutorials (closed-captoined) to go along with explanations of the built-in accessibility features of iOS devices, the Mac, Apple TV and even Apple Watch (I was only able to record one video on Zoom by visiting my local Apple Store, since I don’t yet have access to an Apple Watch – more videos on Apple Watch will be added in a future update). The book also has a section on apps for those with low vision as well as some tips for creating more accessible iBooks content for those who have low vision. A final section focuses on accessories that I use as a person with low vision (stands, bone conduction headphones and the like).

I hope you enjoy the book, find it a valuable resource and will provide me with feedback so that I can make future updates even better.

To celebrate the release of this new book, I have made a few updates to my previous book (A Touch of Light), which is now FREE.

Apple Watch Review Roundup and Thoughts

With the Apple Watch finally arriving in stores for trial and then initial deliveries starting on the 24th of April, a number of reviewers have had hands-on time with the device and shared their first impressions. These include Steven Aquino at iMore and David Woodbridge at AppleVis, both of whom have done an excellent job with their reviews. Apple has also created a nicely laid out page describing the key accessibility features that are available on the Apple Watch, which it divides into two categories: vision and hearing. To summarize, the Apple Watch continues Apple’s excellent track record of including accessibility and universal design features on all of its new products. On the new Apple Watch, these features include:

  • The VoiceOver screen reader
  • Zoom screen magnification
  • an Extra Large Watch Face option
  • Large Dynamic Type and Bold Text
  • Reduce Motion and Transparency
  • Grayscale and On/Off Labels for those with color difficulties
  • Mono Audio and balance control for those with hearing loss
  • an Accessibility Shortcut (triple-clicking the Digital Crown) to enable accessibility features such as Zoom and VoiceOver

Features can be enabled or disabled on the device itself or on the companion app that runs on the iPhone. From David’s review it looks like you will find learning the accessibility gestures of Apple Watch fairly easy if you are already familiar with these features on the iPhone or iPad. For example, with Zoom instead of using three fingers to zoom in/out and pan around the display, you use two fingers to account for the limited screen real estate.  The Zoom level can be adjusted in much the same way you used to on iOS before a slider was added in iOS 8 but instead of double-tapping and holding with three fingers and then sliding up or down, on the watch you do it with two fingers. Similarly, for VoiceOver you can flick left or right to move by item, move your finger over the screen to navigate by touch or double-tap with one finger to activate a control or launch an app. This is one of the things I have always appreciated about Apple’s approach to accessibility. What you learn on one device usually translates to the use of other similar devices, reducing the amount of time it takes you to become proficient with the accessibility features even when it is a new product category like the Apple Watch. 

 Surprisingly, there is little mention of any features for those with motor challenges on the Apple page for Apple Watch or the reviews I have read. This is surprising to me given the fact that the Apple Watch relies on the Digital Crown as the main way of interacting with the device. People with poor motor skills may find the Digital Crown to be difficult to operate, though initial reviews indicate that it is much easier to operate on the Apple watch than on traditional analog watches.  Sure, the user can use Siri to control the device with voice recognition, but Siri may not work accurately in environments with a lot of ambient noise, or for people who have speech difficulties. 

 One area that has not gotten as much attention in the reviews I have read is the potential for this device as a communication aid. With a press of the side button, the user can bring up a list of key people (parent, caregiver, etc.) to communicate with not only with a phone call or a message, but with sketches (quick drawings that animate on the other end if the other person also has an Apple Watch). For people with autism and other related disabilities, this more visual way of communicating could be very helpful. Taps are also supported for custom messages between two Apple Watch wearers who have hearing difficulties (the taps are felt on each end of the conversation as a silent tap pattern on the wrist). The true potential for the Apple Watch as a communication device will probably not be known until the app store for the device matures. One app I would love to see is one where the user who has a hearing loss can hold up the watch to another person’s face and have the audio amplified on a Bluetooth headset (similar to the Live Listen feature for hearing aids on the iPhone). 

Then there is the integration of the Apple Watch with environmental solutions Apple has developed: Apple Pay, HomeKit and iBeacons. As Steven Aquino suggests, Apple Pay and Apple Watch will make payment at places of business easier for those with motor difficulties, who will not have to fumble around trying to get the phone out of their pockets or a handbag to pay. The same goes for checking in for a flight at the airport with Passbook. Similarly, an app for Starwood Hotels will let you open your hotel room from the watch. HomeKit could also make the Apple Watch the controller for a number of devices, from lights to the alarm, the garage door and more (such as the Honeywell Lyric app for controlling a thermostat). As for iBeacons, their integration with the Apple Watch could be used to develop educational activities that add a kinesthetic component to learning (hints or prompts that are activated based on the user’s location in relation to a classroom-based beacon and more).

I believe the App Store will be key to unlocking the full potential of this new product, and if the iPhone is any indication the app store will grow rapidly, especially after Apple holds the World Wide Developer’s Conference this summer.

As for me, I will probably not be getting this first version of the Apple Watch. I want to wait to see how the battery life holds up, as this is an important consideration for an accessibility device you need to use for an entire day. Any device, no matter how fancy it is, will be of limited use if the battery dies when you most need it. If history holds, future versions will be better in this area. The Apple Watch is also expensive at $350 (for the Sport version). As a person with a limited tech budget I have to think about which device will have the most bang for the buck for me. As a photographer, that means that for me that device remains the iPhone, which I hope to upgrade as soon as my current contract runs out later this fall. Wouldn’t it be nice if in the future you could get both of these devices as a bundle (with a discount for buying this way). I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one…

New YouTube Video: Picto4Me Google App

Screenshot of Picto4Me app with simple Yes/No Board

As I was preparing for my Lunch and Learn with MACUL’s special ed folks today (I will be a featured speaker at MACUL in March), I came across a neat Chrome App that I want to share with all of you. The name of the app is Picto4Me (free). What it does is let you create simple communication boards that have speech support (looks like it’s using Google’s Text to Speech engine) and scanning support. It is a very easy to learn tool and while it may not be as sophisticated as some of the commercial solutions out there it can be a nice solution for those implementing Chromebooks.  Here is a quick video overview of this app:

What do you think of this app? Let me know in the comments.

I Am More Powerful Book Project and World Usability Day

The following blog post is cross-posted on the Red Jumper blog.

World Usability Day

Thursday, November 13th is World Usability Day. According to the World Usability Day website, WUD is:

A single day of events occurring around the world that brings together communities of professional, industrial, educational, citizen, and government groups for our common objective: to ensure that the services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use. It is about celebration and education – celebrating the strides we have made in creating usable products and educating the masses about how usability impacts our daily lives.

For me, usability and accessibility are personal. The small steps people take that make things like websites, documents and technology products  easier to use for people of all levels of ability have a big impact on my day to day life. Without usability and accessibility, it would not have been possible for me to complete my education or do the advocacy work I do today through this blog, my YouTube videos or my presentations.

I Am More Powerful Than You Think

To celebrate World Usability Day, a group of us are releasing a book with the title “I Am More Powerful Than You Think.” The idea behind the book is to show how technology empowers us as people of different levels of ability to pursue our dreams as students, teachers and world citizens.

There are a number of ways you can access the book:

  • you can download it from the iBookstore (this is the easiest way).
  • you can download a copy from Dropbox and open it in your Chrome web browser using the Readium app for Chrome to read the book on any device that can run that web browser, or
  • you can watch a YouTube preview which will auto-advance through each page and auto-play the embedded media. This is a great feature recently added to Book Creator. It is a great way to share the work broadly with the popular YouTube service and also a great way to collaborate. I used this feature to share drafts of the project with my collaborators as we went along.

Authoring the Book

To build the book, I used the Book Creator app from Red Jumper Studio. Why Book Creator? It is very easy to learn and use (great usability), includes features for making content accessible, and offers the flexibility we needed to tell our story in a way that models Universal Design for Learning principles. With UDL, information is provided in a variety of formats so that people can access it in the way that works best for them. Book Creator allowed us to each tell our stories of empowerment  in three different ways:

  • a text blurb that can read aloud with word highlighting, using the Speak Selection (text to speech) feature built into iOS devices. I tried to make sure the text was large enough (24px) for anyone with low vision to see.
  • a sound recording of the same blurb. Book Creator makes it very easy to record audio by tapping the Add (+) button, choosing Add Sound and then recording right into the device. As an alternative, you can also add a recording from iTunes, which I did for a few of the sound clips which were emailed to me by the rest of our team.
  • video: video was really important for this project. Video connects with people in a way that other formats just can’t. It has an emotional impact that is important for working toward change. One tip I learned after contacting the Book Creator team is that you need to make sure to have the right format. If you import the video from the Camera roll as I did, it will be in the QuickTime (.mov) format and this will cause the book to be rejected when you submit it to the iBookstore (it will still work when you preview it in iBooks but if you want to share it widely I recommend uploading it to the iBookstore). It’s a simple fix: with the video selected, open the Inspector and choose Format > M4V. That will ensure your video is in the right format for the iBookstore.Changing the video format in Book Creator

The videos were actually how this idea first came to be. It all started with a series of tweets and emails after the release of Apple’s Powerful commercial for the iPhone, which ends with the phrase “I’m more powerful than you think.”  Not long after, Christopher Hills released his own More Powerful video and created the hashtag #iAmMorePowerfulThanYouThink on Twitter.

After that it was on. I created my own More Powerful video and asked other people in my personal learning network if they would like to contribute. We ended up with five beautiful videos covering a range of experiences from around the world:

  • I am a visually impaired photographer based in Florida and use my iOS devices for photography and creative expression.
  • Carrie is a special education teacher in Illinois and she uses technology to improve access to education for her students.
  • Christopher is in Australia and he’s a certified Final Cut Pro X video editor with his own video production business.
  • Daniela is in Spain and runs an accessibility consultancy.
  • Sady is a student at Full Sail University in Florida, but she lives in North Dakota and is able to pursue her cinematography degree online.Contributors to I Am More Powerful Than You Think

We are diverse in terms of age, gender, geographic location and how we use technology, but we are united by a common mission: to show the world that technology can make a difference in people’s lives when it includes accessibility from the start.

For each person, there is also a page that documents our online presence using the Hyperlink feature in Book Creator. You can visit our websites, follow us on Twitter, view our YouTube videos and Instagram photos and more. This was important because the many places we post in and participate online are a big part of our stories as well. They build a narrative of what we do and how we do it that is important to understanding the impact of technology in our lives.

Accessibility Options

A nice picture accompanies the contact information and it includes an accessibility description that can be read aloud by VoiceOver to someone who is blind. The team at Red Jumper included was great to include this feature in Book Creator to make the books authored with it more accessible to those who use a screen reader. It is important that accessibility be included not just in the app used to create the books (as it is with Book Creator) but in the content that app outputs. With the accessibility descriptions, we can ensure that’s the case. You can learn how to add an accessibility description in Book Creator by watching this tutorial on my YouTube channel.

Get Involved

We don’t want this book to be the end of this conversation. If you have a story of how technology makes you or someone you work with more powerful, we would love to hear it. Drop me a line or post a link to your story on Twitter with the hashtag #iAmMorePowerfulThanYouThink so we can find it.

The best way to share your story is to use Book Creator to build a few pages according to the template in our book. A nice feature of Book Creator is that you can email a book to another person who can collect several submissions and combine them into one book on one device. This feature makes it very easy to collaborate on global projects like this one. Along with the fact that you can use the app on both iOS and Android, this made it a great choice for us to quickly and easily publish this project. A big thanks to the Red Jumper team for continuing to build on the accessibility and usability of this great app.