Apple and the blind world

With the increase of mainstream accessible products from Apple, it was only time that the “blind organisations” decided to put their opinions into the mix. However, I don’t think some of these people are very well informed.

An article on the RNIB Website has continued my thought pattern of situations that have occurred in recent months, with not only British “blind organisations” but those of other countries.

Assistive technology was necessary for years and due to low market demand, prices are high. Whether you agree with those prices or not, they are fact and it would seem little can be done to change that. However, Apple has made a commitment to accessibility in the majority of its product line, only the Apple TV and IPod classics remain out of touch for its visually impaired end users but all of its computers, third gen IPhones and IPod touches, fourth gen nanos and shuffles and now the newly anticipated IPad boast accessibility features for a huge group of disabled customers from various backgrounds.

Not only are these products accessible, and yes, RNIB, out of the box, but they are no more expensive than our sighted peers would have to shell out for. Similar tablet devices, and I say similar because there are few that can be compared to the IPad, would be able to boast the same level of accessibility without third party software and the price tag, although a little more than what people would want to pay is no more than what everyone else will be paying.

For once as a generation, we are able to buy a mainstream product and not be penalised because we our visually impaired.

The article has some fair pointers, I say fair as I am A, not a low vision user and B I haven’t touched an IPad yet, about certain features or there lack of. The screen reader component is relatively accurate to all attempts and purposes, I realise this as I have A heard someone else recount their IPad experience and B use an IPhone and the experience sounds similar but it almost feels that this article is doing what it can to put off users without “lying”.

One issue I take strongly to is the “not accessible out of the box” line. This is ludicrous. If any of you have used an IPhone or an IPod touch or indeed the mac, or the IPod range, you will know all of these products only require you and your computer to get them going. Unlike a PC computer or a smartphone from another company you can literally plug your apple product in and get it going independently. For RNIB to say it is not accessible out of the box is a blatant understatement and I’m sure they know this as later on they write the accessibility features can be activated in Itunes. Well, RNIB, I’d like to point out you need to link the device to ITunes in order to register it and in that summary section you can indeed activate your chosen accessibility feature.

It almost feels like they are picking as can they honestly say that any product from Nokia or the windows side of the world has automatic turn on accessibility features. On the windows platform alone, you need sighted assistance to turn on narrator or someone to assist you closing apps when you need to install software so I deem the Apple line up as “accessible out of the box” as a completely accurate statement.

RNIB, like other organisations are sticking strongly to “blind specific” products as a rule. Yes, they may acknowledge these products exist and indeed recommend the IPhone on their list of accessible phones, but do they promote them as a viable alternative? I’d say no.

Their sister organisation is not even aware that macs are a viable option. And plenty of IT technicians that are allocated to the blind community either do not know or in fact refuse to train on macs. Slowly, through user demands, I’m aware that several higher education students have received macs through funding but I believe this is more to do with the individuals demanding it rather than it being posed as a viable alternative.

Apple has committed to their accessibility since 2005 and continues to implement its features and invent new ones on its increasing line of products so when will these organisations that are meant to be supporting the VI community catch up and offer the lower cost, potentially alternative solutions? Or will these organisations never take the chance of moving toward a medium where both mainstream products and “blind specific” products are offered as equals? For the time being, I’m saying it’s up to those of us who use these products to advertise their benefits and demonstrate the facts.


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