Tag Archives: iBooks

A small action with a big impact (Recipes for Switch Control)

Sometimes accessibility is about making small changes that bring about a big impact in people’s lives. Take the act of flipping the pages in a book. This is probably an action most of us take for granted.  For some people with motor challenges, though, the ability to flip the pages of a book is the difference between being able to enjoy a favorite book or being locked out of that experience.

In the past, the only way to accomplish this action (flipping the page of a book) was through the use of a cumbersome mechanical device. My friend and colleague Christopher Hills illustrates the use of such a device in a short YouTube video.

 

Description: As dramatic music plays, the video begins with the words “In the not too distant past…” then cuts to Christopher sitting in his powered wheelchair while a relative reads a book next to him. As Christopher looks on, his dad Garry brings in a large, industrial looking device that needs to be wheeled into the room. Garry proceeds to plug in the device and place a book on it. An external switch box has options for the various page flip actions. Christopher flips the pages of the book with this device, which uses a roller to turn the pages each time Christopher presses a head mounted switch that is connected to the external switch box. The video then cuts to “Now…”  and we see the same relative as in the opening scene sitting down at the kitchen table with his iPad, ready to read a book. With an over the shoulder shot, we see the relative turn the pages on his iPad as Christopher performs the same action next to him  by pressing a head mounted switch that is connected to his iPad via Switch Control.

With digital content and assistive technology, the cumbersome, mechanical device shown in Christopher’s video is no longer needed. Devices like the iPad now include built-in switch access (Switch Control) that can be combined with external switches to make flipping the pages of a book a much simpler task. In the embedded video, I demonstrate the use of Recipes to flip the pages of a book I created with the Book Creator app on my iPad. The book is I Am More Powerful Than You Think.

 

Want to learn more about Recipes and Switch Control?  You should check out a free book I co-authored with Christopher Hills – Handsfree: Mastering Switch Control on iOS . This interactive book has more than 20 closed captioned videos that go over every aspect of using Switch Control – from how to connect a switch interface to your iOS device, to how to control your Apple TV with a switch.

 

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Sneak Peek: New Ebook on Apple Accessibility Supports for Low Vision

Out of all the amazing accessibility features built into my Apple devices, the ones that are most meaningful to me are those that are intended for people with low vision. These are the features I use most frequently since I still have some vision left and I am not a full time VoiceOver user.

To share what I have learned about these features with the rest of the educational technology and assistive technology communities, I have authored a new multi-touch book: Supporting Students with Low Vision with Apple Technology. I had hoped to have the book available on the iBookstore in time for Global Accessibility Awareness Day, but with more than 25 videos that needed captioning it took longer than I expected. I am providing a sneak peek of a work in progress available for download from my Dropbox account. A word of caution: the file is 345 MB due to the videos.

Cover of Supporting Students with Low Vision Using Apple Technology

The book explores the concept of an ecosystems approach to accessibility which I discussed in my Global Accessibility Awareness Day post. It focuses not only on the accessibility features found throughout the Apple ecosystem (on iOS, Mac, Apple TV and even Apple Watch), a number of apps to designed to meet the needs of those with low vision, and techniques for creating more accessible content for low vision readers.

I hope you like this multi-touch book and I welcome any feedback related to it: things I missed, things that need to be clearer, any feedback you wish to provide. Here is the intro video I created for it with PowToon:

Accessibility in iBooks 2 and iBooks

Today’s post will focus on some of the lessons I have learned about the accessibility of ebooks created with iBooks Author and accessed on the iPad with iBooks 2.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Apple included an option for adding a description for images and other objects when it released iBooks Author. I don’t remember this feature being discussed much at the event where Apple unveiled iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, and only found out about it while test driving the software.

An even better surprise was learning that closed captions are now supported for any video that is embedded in an iBook. This is a great feature that will benefit a range of different learners (not only those with hearing disabilities). I think these new accessibility features of iBooks Author and iBooks 2 will go a long way toward facilitating the adoption of iBooks in the schools by meeting legal requirements for accessibility set by the U.S. government (for a summary of the legal requirements, please see the Dear Colleague letter and the follow-up clarification from the U.S. Department of Education).

Apple has published a support document  with  advice for making iBooks created with iBooks Author more accessible.  However, the article focuses mostly on the accessibility of images and other visual content, and does not include any information about closed captions. I would add a couple of bullet points to the advice given in the Apple support document:

  • the article suggests adding descriptions for all images, including background images. Web accessibility guidelines state that decorative images should have a null or empty alt attribute so that they are skipped by a screen reader, but there is currently no way in iBooks Author  to indicate that an image should be skipped by VoiceOver on the iPad. In my testing, I found that when you leave the description field for an image empty in iBooks Author, VoiceOver will read the entire file name when it comes across the image in iBooks 2. This is a problem because most people don’t use very descriptive file names before they add their images to a document. In my test iBook, I forgot to add a description for one of the placeholder images included in the iBooks Author template I selected. When I accessed the iBook on my iPad, VoiceOver read the following: “1872451980 image”. Imagine how confusing this would be to someone who is blind and relies on the VoiceOver screen reader to access content in iBooks.  For the time being, I would suggest following the guidance from Apple and marking up all images, including those that are used for decorative purposes, but I would recommend marking up  decorative images (those that don’t add any content that is essential for understanding) with the word “Background” in the description. By default, VoiceOver will say the word “image” so it is not necessary to add that to the description. While it would be better for the image to be skipped by VoiceOver if it is not essential, I would rather hear a quick, single-word announcement that is much easier to ignore than a long number read aloud in its entirety by VoiceOver, or an unnecessary description for an image that does not add in any way to my understanding of the content.
  • as much as possible, image descriptions should focus on the function of each image rather than its visual appearance. Writing descriptions (or alternative text as it is more commonly known in the web accessibility world) is as much an art as it is a science, and much of it is subjective. There are many sites that provide information on how to write good alt text for images on websites, but I have found very little guidance on how to write descriptions for other online content such as ebooks. My recommendation would be to focus on three C’s when writing descriptions for images in iBooks Author: Context, Content and Conciseness. First, I would ask myself if the image is properly described in the surrounding text. If it is, then it might be more appropriate to mark it up as a decorative image (“Background”). Next, I would ask myself “what information does this image convey?” and focus on the key idea or concept supported by the image rather than its visual details. There could be a few exceptions where you might need to focus on the visual details of the image, but these cases should be the exception rather than the rule. The final consideration is to keep the description as brief and concise as possible. I would try to keep it to no more than 8-10 words if possible.

The second aspect of accessibility supported in iBooks Author is closed captioning. If a movie added to an iBook in iBooks Author has been captioned, you can view the captions in iBooks 2 on the iPad by going to Settings, Video and making sure Closed Captions is set to On. If you know a file has been captioned and you don’t see the captions on the iPad, you may need to go into the Settings app and turn the captions off and then on for the captions to show up. This appears to be a bug that will likely get fixed in a future update to iBooks or IOS.

To create a captioned file, I have found that a workflow using MovieCaptioner and Compressor has worked well for me. I like MovieCaptioner for creating the captions because it is affordable and easy to learn. To learn more about how to create captions with MovieCaptioner you can view this tutorial I have made available on the Tech Ease website at the University of South Florida.

The only difference with my current workflow is that rather than exporting a captioned QuickTime video file from MovieCaptioner I’m only using the software to create the SCC file that has the caption text and timecodes. I then use Compressor to make sure the video file is in the correct format for the iPad and to add the captions. I found that when I exported the movie from MovieCaptioner I would get an error message in iBooks Author and the software would refuse to import the movie. Once I have exported my SCC file (Export > SCC in MovieCaptioner), I use Compressor to combine the two as follows:

  1. Open Compressor and choose Add File from the toolbar, then locate the desired video on your hard drive.
  2. In the Settings pane (Window > Settings) choose the Destinations tab, then find Desktop (or your preferred destination ) and drag it into the Batch window.Drag Destination from Settings pane to Batch window.
  3. Switch to the Settings tab and choose Apple Devices, H.264 for iPad and iPhone, then drag that setting on top of the destination in the Batch window.
    Drag H.264 for IPad and iPhone setting into the Batch window
  4. With your movie selected, open the Inspector (Window > Inspector or click the Inspector button on the toolbar), select the Additional Information tab and then Choose to find the SCC file on your computer.
    Select Choose from the Additional Information tab in the Inspector
  5. Select Submit to start the export process.

Once your movie has been exported from Compressor you should be able to drag it right into your iBook in iBooks Author to add it as a widget. As with images, make sure you provide a description in the Inspector.

Students with disabilities have traditionally had a difficult time with access to textbooks. iBooks Author provides a platform for making textbooks more accessible for all learners as long as a few accessibility principles are kept in mind. What an exciting time to be working in educational technology and accessibility!

5 tips for ePub accessibility

Closeup of iBooks app on iPad.I was scheduled to present at a workshop on ePub at ISTe 2011 along with a group of fellow Apple Distinguished Educators, but since I was not able to go to the conference this year, I decided to create this ebook to be distributed to the participants instead.  The ebook is in ePub format and can only be read on the iPad or another IOS device, or by using a desktop reader application such as Adobe Digital Editions or Calibre.  It is an enhanced ebook that includes a few embedded video tutorials. This means it is on the large size, so please be patient with the download time on your device.

This was my first time using Apple’s template for ePub creation with Pages, and I must say that it made it pretty easy to create the ePub. In the past, I created the ePub documents from scratch using my own styles for headings. The Apple template, which can be downloaded here, saved me some time and the resulting ePub document looks great.

To summarize the key points of the ebook:

If you are implementing new technologies at a college or university, you really should read the Department of Education’s Dear Colleague letter to college and university presidents regarding ereader devices, along with their follow up guide.  The follow up guide clarifies the following:

  • it is not just ereader devices that are covered by laws such as the ADA and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, but any emerging technology. The new guide clarifies that online programs are also covered.
  • it is not just students with visual disabilities that are protected, but any student who has a specific learning disability or who otherwise has difficulty getting information from text sources (students with print disabilities).
  • the laws apply to elementary and secondary schools as well.
To make ePub documents more accessible, I presented the following 5 tips which are explained in more detail in the ebook:
  • use headings to split up long documents and provide structure and additional navigation in iBooks. The headings will be used to display a table of contents for navigating long ebooks.
  • provide captions or alternative text for images. At the very least provide a text caption underneath each image or video. This text should provide a concise description of the image’s content for those who use the VoiceOver screen reader.
  • provide a link to a captioned version of each video if you are creating an enhanced ebook that includes multimedia. iBooks does not currently read the captions when the video is embedded into the ebook. For this reason, you will need to link to a captioned version that can be accessed through the Mobile Safari web browser.
  • emphasize cognitive interactivity rather than just interface interactivity. Cognitive interactivity can be emphasized by asking questions and asking students to reflect on what they have read using the Notes feature of iBooks.
  • keep up with the ePub standard and become familiar with the new features available in ePub 3, such as media overlays.