[Nfbnet-members-list] Apple Software and Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Wunder, Gary gwunder at nfb.org
Sat May 23 01:09:42 UTC 2015


Some of you may find this to be interesting and/or enlightening.

Dave Andrews





I’m Ilkka Pirttimaa, developer of an iOS app 
called 
<http://itunes.apple.com/app/blindsquare/id500557255>BlindSquare. 
Uniquely it uses Open Street Map and Foursquare 
data to help people who are blind to navigate in 
new and familiar environments and provide them 
with a world of choices, otherwise veiled. I 
write this in the spirit of the intent of the 
Global Accessibility Awareness Day, to raise 
awareness across the globe of the benefits and 
know-how on making products accessible. This 
needs to be done; and is the right thing to do, 
it doesn’t need to be difficult.

For people who are blind or partially sighted, 
travelling independently has always been one of 
the challenges. While some have managed to become 
very confident travellers regardless, others, 
especially if they have lost sight only recently, 
need more time or assistance to learn how to 
navigate new environments. Although technology 
can never substitute Orientation & Mobility and 
cane travelling skills, the right app installed 
on your iPhone can help blind and partially 
sighted users who have mastered the necessary 
skills to be safer and more independent when out 
and about. Having been localized to 25 languages, 
it is now used by thousands of people in more than 130 countries.

I started developing BlindSquare by chance. When 
I read what Wikipedia had to say a few years ago 
about augmented reality, I wanted to prove that 
augmented reality should not only include visual, 
but also auditory perception. It seemed only 
logical to me that the traveler who is blind 
would benefit the most from that. I managed to 
find my first blind tester and when I saw how 
enthusiastic she was about the prototype of 
BlindSquare I had created and about its future 
potential. I decided to continue with the 
project. When I released BlindSquare 3 years ago, 
it did not yet include many of the important 
features available today. But still, I received 
very positive feedback and saw how it improved 
people’s quality of life. I received a message 
from someone who had used BlindSquare at a water 
park and had been able to find all of the 
attractions there using my app. BlindSquare users 
enjoy being able to explore their environment on 
their own and also to be able to help their 
sighted friends to locate places in unfamiliar 
areas. After all, the friends cannot look around 
corners, but thanks to GPS, BlindSquare can. 
Although BlindSquare is optimized for VoiceOver, 
it is perfectly usable for everyone. I have 
sighted customers who enjoy hearing popular 
Foursquare places announced to them while they are riding their bicycles.

My app is geared towards customers who are blind 
or partially sighted, but I think that every 
developer should consider if their product could 
be made accessible and whenever possible walk the 
extra mile. It is just like app localization, it 
increases your user base. Let us just take an 
example and assume that you develop an app that 
gives access to public transport schedules of 
different companies and in many cities around the 
world. Sighted users may have many apps they can 
choose from, but your app might be the only one 
that is VoiceOver accessible. Sighted users can 
also just read the schedule at the station, an 
option not available to blind or partially 
sighted users. While your app can be nice to have 
for many users, it can be a life-changer for 
people who are blind or partially sighted, as it 
may be the only means to access information 
independently. The same is true for many other apps that come to mind.

Examples:
·         If a parcel-tracking app is accessible, 
Blind users do no longer need help reading the 
note left by the postman when they return home, 
because they can just go and pick up their parcel 
from the neighbor whose name they read in the push message on their phone.
·         Accessible banking apps can help blind 
clients to monitor their accounts and make 
transfers without sighted help, enhancing their 
privacy and allowing them to be more independent.

The World Health Organization estimates that 
worldwide 285 million people are visually 
impaired, and 39 million of them are blind. 82% 
of the visually impaired are 50 years and older. 
Developing accessible apps is an important 
contribution to creating a society where everyone 
can live as long as possible independently and in 
dignity. The screen reader and the zoom feature 
integrated into each Apple product make it 
accessible to every visually impaired user. The 
iPhone gives users who are blind or partially 
sighted access to information that would not be available to them otherwise.

Apple provides 
<https://developer.apple.com/accessibility/ios/>excellent 
documentation about iOS’ accessibility features. 
To learn more about VoiceOver really quickly, 
configure your iOS-device so that VoiceOver turns 
on when you press the Home button three times, so 
you can switch it on and off quickly. If your 
language is supported by Siri, you can even tell 
her to turn VoiceOver on and off. Now you can 
start to learn how it works. If you want to make 
a game of it, you can play through the VoiceOver 
tutorial by LookTel. Once you know the basics of 
VoiceOver, look at your app and see if it works with VoiceOver.

Accessibility is not just an additional feature, 
but a best-practice. After all, web developers 
test for compatibility with different web 
browsers, too. When you start developing an app 
and use standard elements, accessibility labels 
and label images, it is most likely that your app 
will be accessible as iOS has built accessibility 
right in. However, as soon as you want to make it 
more appealing visually, you should know how to 
develop accessibly and make sure that your app’s 
facelift does not make it unusable for blind people.

Connect with your users and find out how they use 
your app. Ask them for examples of apps that work 
well for them, look at these apps and learn how 
and why they are accessible. AppleVis, a site run 
by blind and partially sighted iOS users, is an 
excellent place to get feedback and find eager beta testers.

My wish: I hope many developers will embrace 
accessibility. It will not just increase their 
user base, but it will make a difference in the 
quality of life of many people.
·         AppleVis resources for developers: 
<http://applevis.com/information-app-developers>http://applevis.com/information-app-developers
·         LookTel VoiceOver Tutorial: 
<https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/looktel-voiceover-tutorial/id598788231?mt=8>https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/looktel-voiceover-tutorial/id598788231?mt=8
·         Apple Accessibility for Developers: 
<https://developer.apple.com/accessibility/>https://developer.apple.com/accessibility/
·         BlindSquare app: 
<http://itunes.apple.com/app/blindsquare/id500557255>http://itunes.apple.com/app/blindsquare/id500557255



Gary Wunder, Editor
The Braille Monitor
(573) 268-4245

The National Federation of the Blind knows that 
blindness is not the characteristic that defines 
you or your future. Every day we raise the 
expectations of blind people, because low 
expectations create obstacles between blind 
people and our dreams. You can live the life you 
want; blindness is not what holds you back.
The National Federation of the Blind wishes you a 
joyous and safe holiday season. We would 
appreciate your including the NFB in your 
end-of-year giving. 
<https://nfb.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=1>Make 
your contribution now.

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