Designed for (fill in the blank)

On the occasion of Global Accessibility Day (GAAD), Apple has created a series of videos highlighting the many ways its iOS devices empower individuals with disabilities to accomplish a variety of goals, from parenting to releasing a new album for a rock band. Each of the videos ends  with the tagline “Defined for” followed by the name of the person starring in the video, closing with “Designed for Everyone.” In this brief post, I want to highlight some of the ways in which this is in fact true. Beyond the more specialized features highlighted in the video (a speech generating app, the VoiceOver screen reader, Made for iPhone hearing aids and Switch Control), there are many other Apple accessibility features that can help everyone, not just people with disabilities:

  • Invert Colors: found under Accessibility > Display Accommodations, this feature was originally intended for people with low vision who need a higher contrast display. However, the higher contrast Invert Colors provides can be helpful in a variety of other situations. One that comes to mind is trying to read on a touch screen while outdoors in bright lighting. The increased contrast provided by Invert Colors can make the text stand out more from the washed out display in that kind of scenario.
  • Zoom: this is another feature that was originally designed for people with low vision, but it can also be a great tool for teaching. You can use Zoom to not only make the content easier to read for the person “in the last row” in any kind of large space, but also to highlight important information. I often will Zoom In (see what I did there, it’s the title of one of my books) on a specific app or control while delivering technology instruction live or on a video tutorial or webinar. Another use is for hide and reveal activities, where you first zoom into the prompt, give students some “thinking time” and then slide to reveal the part of the screen with the answer.
  • Magnifier: need to read the microscopic serial number on a new device, or the expiration name on that medicine you bought years ago and are not sure is still safe to take? No problem, Magnifier (new in iOS 10) to the rescue. A triple-click of the Home button will bring up an interface familiar to anyone who has taken a photo on an iOS device. Using the full resolution of the camera, you can not only zoom into the desired text, but also apply a color filter and even freeze the image for a better look.
  • Closed Captions: although originally developed to support the Deaf and hard of hearing communities, closed captions are probably the best example of universal design on iOS. Closed captions can also help individuals who speak English as a second language, as well as those who are learning how to read (by providing the reinforcement of hearing as well as seeing the words for true multimodal learning). They can also help make the information accessible in any kind of loud environment (a busy lobby, airport, bar or restaurant) where consuming the content has to be done without the benefit of the audio. Finally, closed captions can help when the audio quality is low due to the age of the film, or when the speaker has a thick accent. On Apple TV, there is an option to automatically rewind the video a few seconds and temporarily turn on the closed captions for the audio you just missed. Just say “what did he/she say?” into the Apple TV remote.
  • Speak Screen: this feature found under Accessibility > Speech are meant to help people with vision or reading difficulties, but the convenience it provides can help in any situation where looking at the screen is not possible – one good example is while driving. You can open up a news article in your favorite app that supports Speak Screen while at a stop light, then perform the special gesture (a two finger swipe from the top of the screen) to hear that story read aloud while you drive. At the next stop light, you can perform the gesture again and in this way catch up with all the news while on your way to work! On the Mac, you can even save the output from the text to speech feature as an audio file. One way you could use this audio is to record instructions for any activity that requires you to perform steps in sequence – your own coach in your pocket, if you will!
  • AssistiveTouch: you don’t need to have a motor difficulty to use AssistiveTouch. Just having your device locked into a protective case can pose a problem this feature can solve. With AssistiveTouch, you can bring up onscreen options for buttons that are difficult to reach due to the design of the case or stand. With a case I use for video capture (the iOgrapher) AssistiveTouch is actually required by design. To ensure light doesn’t leak into the lens the designers of this great case covered up the sleep/wake button. The only way to lock the iPad screen after you are done filming is to select the “lock screen” option in AssistiveTouch. Finally, AssistiveTouch can be helpful with older phones with a failing Home button.

While all of these features are featured in the Accessibility area of Settings, they are really “designed for everyone.” Sometimes the problem is not your own physical or cognitive limitations, but constraints imposed by the environment or the situation in which the technology use takes place.

How about you? Are there any other ways you are using the accessibility features to make your life easier even if you don’t have a disability?

HazeOver as a low vision aid

HazeOver is a $4.99 Mac app marketed as a distraction aid. The idea is that it dims all other windows so you can focus on the content in the foreground window (a blog post like this one, a paper you are drafting for school, etc.). The developers have prepared a short demo video that shows how the app works.


While that may be a good way to use this utility, for me it has become a helpful low vision aid as well. I often have a difficult time finding the mouse cursor and popup windows if they are out of my field of view (currently about 7 or 8 degrees depending on the day). I have been using Mousepose to help with the mouse cursor problem. Even with the mouse cursor set to the largest size it allows in Mac OS, I still have a difficult time locating it on the screen, especially when I have a dual monitor setup. I have found that the spotlight Mousepose puts around the mouse cursor when I press a special key (I have set to F1) makes this task much easier.

HazeOver does pretty much the same thing but for popup windows. When one of these windows pops up on the screen, the focus is assigned to it and all other windows are dimmed. In the HazeOver preferences, you can determine whether you want just one window to be highlighted or all front windows within the active app. I find the one window setting to be the most helpful with popups. You can adjust the level of dimming at any time using a slider that can be accessed by clicking the Menu Bar icon. For the best performance, HazeOver asks to get access to Mac OS as an assistive device.

A free trial of HazeOver is available from the developer’s site if you want to try it out first before you buy it on the Mac App Store.


Favorite Free Apps on the new Mac App Store.

When the new Apple Mac App Store launched on January 6th, I was at first really disappointed with the choice of free software available. However, there was a lot about the App Store itself to like.  One thing I really like about the Mac App Store is that it simplifies the software update process by making it extremely easy to update all of your purchased/downloaded software with one click (much the same way you update apps on an iPad or iPhone). I also like that it is tied to your iTunes account so that you can install the same software across several machines and keep them in sync without having to spend endless hours downloading the same software on each machine.

Now, I have not had a chance to do an extensive review of the accessibility of the app  (it is not part of iTunes but it’s own app accessed through the Apple menu or the Dock) but so far it appears to be good. The secret appears to be using the rotor to quickly move between the different sections.  In any case, I would think that a single app that supports VoiceOver, even if not perfectly, would be a much better option for someone with a visual impairment  than having to visit each individual website to purchase/download individual apps.

Of the paid apps, the standouts are Rapidweaver (a web design program I used to design my own website), Pixelmator (a graphic editor that should have most of the features needed by the average person who doesn’t want to mortgage their house for Photoshop) and the unbundled iLife ’11 and iWork ’09 apps (don’t use Numbers, fine don’t buy that one). Some of the software is available at a reduced price (Pixelmator is half price on the App Store). If you are a photographer, Aperture for only $80 (instead of $200) is a steal.

But this post is about the free apps, so here are the ones I have installed so far that I like:

  • Caffeine is a tiny program that runs in the menu bar and allows you to suspend your energy settings. It is perfect for when you’re doing a presentation or watching web video and don’t want to be interrupted by the screen reader, screen dimming and other energy saving features. Using the menu bar icon is much faster than opening the display preferences.
  • DropCopy allows you to copy files between any Apple devices, including your laptop or desktop and your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch (you will need to install a free companion app).
  • MindNode for Mac is a simple brainstorming/concept mapping app for those who are visual learners. The app doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of other programs such as Inspiration, but it presents a simple interface that is perfect for brainstorming ideas.
  • Alfred is now my favorite way to search my Mac and launch applications. It works much like Quicksilver. Press a key and a text box will open in the middle of the screen where you can type in your search term. I like that it is much simpler and appears faster than Quicksilver, which never really caught on with me.
  • TextWrangler is a pretty good text editor with features usually found on much more expensive editors (search and replace across multiple files, FTP and SFTP support, etc.).

So far the only program I’ve downloaded that I was not happy with has been Smart Recorder. I just didn’t find it that useful or easy to use. However, it is still on my list of Purchases, so if I change my mind and find a use for it, it will be there waiting for me to install it with just one click.

You will notice that my list has a heavy focus on utilities. Your list may be different depending on how you use your Mac.