iPhone accessibility

I have largely avoided all the iPhone excitement (being a child of the 70’s, I’m more than happy with my pocket calculator) but I recently found a post about the problems it has with accessibility.

A few years ago I had an idea about making touch screens devices more accessible after I noticed the rise in self-service kiosks that had no other way to provide input. The same idea could be ideal for the iPhone so I emailed accessibility@apple.com to see if Apple would be interested.

The full description can be found on the IP.com prior art database by searching for document ID IPCOM000125721D but the basic idea is for a touch screen device, like the iPhone, to support an accessible mode where, instead of the usual graphical buttons and layouts, large areas of the screen are used with a telephone prompt style system to interact with the user. For example, an audio prompt to, “Press the top right of the screen to make a call” and so on. High contrast blocks of colours would make it possible to find the right area with very little vision, and completely blind users could find the edge of the screen by touch, with small modifications to the case if necessary. Numeric input, to enter a phone number for example, could be handled with simple tactile markers arranged around the outside of the screen. Switching to the accessible mode could be as simple as pressing anywhere on the screen for a few seconds, or recognising a pre-paired bluetooth headset. The main advantage of all this is that it is largely software based with no additional external controls required, so ideal for small devices, or touch screen kiosks that have already been installed… and easy to add to something like the iPhone.

So it looks like I’m interested in the iPhone like everyone else now!


10 thoughts on “iPhone accessibility

  1. Pingback: First Century « Notes from a small field

  2. I don’t see how this is useful for an iPhone. Yes, you can create some kind of accessible fallback mode, but the experience would be so degraded as to be pointless. Mobile phones are a very personal device – the obvious answer for a visually-impaired person is “don’t buy an iPhone – it’s not suited to your needs”, and I think that’s fine.

    For a kiosk, though, which has to be used by the general population, the situation is totally different. This kind of thing should be accessible, and your idea is a good one. I’d suggest that the way to identify a visually-impaired user is via the kind of prominent, locatable-by-touch headphone socket found already on cash machines – might as well standardise on something that already exists rather than expect people to guess or learn something new. From the prevalence of such sockets one assumes that people who need them will be carrying headphones.

    Headphones rather than a speaker will also keep what the user is doing private, which may matter in some situations, and also avoid annoying everyone in the surrounding area whenever someone accidentally (or maliciously – it’s funny when you’re 12) puts it into voice mode.

  3. I must admit that I was attempting to use the popularity of the iPhone to kick start the touch screen kiosk idea again. I agree that making kiosks with touch screens accessible is a bigger issue, because there is less/no choice, compared to being able to pick your own phone.

    Headphones are pretty much a must for the reasons you mention, but it would be nice to take advantage of bluetooth headsets instead of old headphones and sockets. Being able to recognised devices used by different people would make an accessible interface much faster to use, with frequently used options presented first. I think a lot of accessibility features make things easier for everyone- I’d certainly be much happier if the new ticket machine at my local station recognised me by my phone’s bluetooth ID and presented a shortcut to buy my usual ticket.

    Back to the iPhone though…
    “don’t buy an iPhone – it’s not suited to your needs”
    I don’t agree. I might be persuaded if the iPhone was just a phone, given that there would be more alternative options for making phone calls. That’s not the case though. The iPhone is much more than a phone, and it is also setting a trend in similar devices. It’s more like saying, don’t use a PC because it’s not suitable, yet I’ve just been investigating accessibility fixes for the product I work on because that’s not an acceptable answer.

    I don’t think this idea is the best way to make an iPhone accessible, but with screen readers and gestures, and a bit of other thought and innovation, there’s no reason that devices like the iPhone couldn’t be accessible.

  4. Hi Tim, thanks for the comment. Like your list of guidelines, and good to see a few other posts about the iPhone/Touch on your blog.

  5. Pingback: More iPhone accessibility « Notes from a small field

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