Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Accessibility Options for iPad: Helping with Visual Impairments

The iOS software on iPads and iPhones has more accessibility features than many people may realize. Apple has a good introductory list of accessibility features available on their website. There is lots of in-depth information in the online user manuals. Originally, I was going to feature all accessibility features in today's list but after going through I thought it best to break it up a little. This  first installment of accessibility features will focus on options for the visually impaired.

It seemed like the only modifications in the past to help users see the screen better were changing brightness and contrast. While these are still very useful options, there are tons more accessibility options available to help with visual impairment. This list introduces the various features available. Check the user manual for your specific device for a full breakdown of options within each item.

Text Size: Settings -> General -> Text Size
This allows the user to modify the size of most text. This is for "Apps that support Dynamic Type." Basically this means that if a developer allows the text size to be modified, it will be changed to what you want. Some developers lock the size of the text to the size they want so you will not see any difference for those apps. Text can also be further modified in the Accessibility Settings which I'll cover in just a minute.

Accessibility: Settings -> General -> Accessibility
This is where the heart of modifications is kept. There is a wide range of options available including turning on VoiceOver capabilities, further increasing font size and the ability to zoom.

Accessibility -> VoiceOver
The VoiceOver feature allows words on the screen to be spoken aloud. Menu items, buttons and other text are all read aloud when tapped. This modifies different selections and gestures used on the device so it may take some adjustment to get used to navigating around screens.

Turning on SpeakHints with VoiceOver causes not just the words to be spoken aloud, but helpful navigation hints as well. It will give instructions such as, "Double tap to open." The VoiceOver feature can also interact with an iOS braille display device.

There are many options within the VoiceOver feature. Check the User Manual for your specific device for a full breakdown of features.

Accessibility -> Zoom
Allows for easy magnification of the screen up to 500 percent. This is different than the typical zoom available within many apps where users can zoom into specific areas. This zoom feature magnifies the entire screen, not just a section. Tapping three fingers zooms in and then back out. When zoomed in, use a three-finger drag to move around the screen. This takes a little getting used to but could be useful for certain vision impairments.

Accessibility -> Invert Colors
Sometimes inverting colors on the screen can help with visibility. Changing the screen to be black with white text can help make things easier to read. All pictures show as a photographic negative.

Accessibility -> Speak Selection
Turning Speak Selection on gives a Speak button on selected text. This is only available for text you can highlight. For instance, it works on email text, web pages and messages. This is different from Voice Over as it only reads selected text.

Accessibility -> Speak Auto-Text
Speak Auto-Text speaks the text corrections and suggestions iPad makes while typing.

Accessibility -> Larger Text, Bold Text and Increase Contrast
These three separate options allow to further modify text size and visibility.  These options modify the text inside Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Messages, Notes, and even some third party apps.

Accessibility -> Button Shapes
Button shapes bolds the shape of buttons to make it easier to see where to tap.

Accessibility -> Reduce Motion
Reduce Motion removes motion of certain screen elements, such as alerts and the "parallax effect" of icons. What does parallax effect mean? Basically it is what makes home screen icons float when moving the phone or iPad around. Some people have complained that certain movement on the screen causes a seasick feeling. This option helps stop that effect.

Accessibility -> On/Off Labels
The On/Off Labels makes it easier to identify visually if a setting is set to on or off.

Other Useful Features

Our website using Safari Reader View
Safari Reader view
Within Safari there is the ability to remove visual clutter and have a cleaner, less distracting view. In the address bar at the top there are (if available) four small lines to the left of the web address. This shows the web page in Safari Reader view. This view removes all side bars and background graphics and offers a cleaner, less cluttered view of the text and relevant pictures.

Anytime a keyboard input is available, so is the ability to dictate information. Pressing the microphone button next to the space bar on the on-screen keyboard allows any user to have their spoken words automatically converted into text.

Assigning Tones, available in Settings -> Sounds
Users can assign distinctive ringtones to people in their contacts list for audible caller ID. There is also the ability to set up distinct audio alerts for new voicemail, new mail, sent mail, Tweet, Facebook Post, and reminders.

Rachel H is in her mid-thirties and while she has never had to wear corrective lenses, her father is categorized as legally blind without his glasses. He cannot view the screen unless it's almost touching his nose.

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