Hello everyone. I covered quite a bit of ground in my second segment on AMI Audio's show Kelly and Company. Due to design constraints, AMI Audio cannot acomodate blog postings long enough to do these important topics justice. Of course, all of this will eventually be covered in Personal Power: The iOS Edition. That project is going to take quite a while to complete though. It doesn't seem right leaving newcomers to iOS devices hanging out to dry that long. I've decided to make a blog posting after each segment where I can give you my thoughts and important information in a less constrained manner. Some of this writing may end up in my guide eventually. Some parts of the guide might well end up in this blog before it is published in its complete form. I welcome feedback about anything I publish here. Most entries will be much shorter than this one. Most of my writing efforts will still go into the guide. In this case, I feel that there's simply a lot that people should think about even before they decide to obtain an iOS device. There's also a lot you need to know in order to get a good start with using an iOS device. Finally, I'm also taking this opportunity to cover this ground in a manner similar to what you'll find in my guide when it's finally released.
It's important to understand that by investing in an iOS device, you are investing in a marketing ecosystem. A lot of blind people rightly rejoyce that they don't have to pay extra for accessibility features like Voiceover. Apple has decided to include accessibility tools into their iOS operating system as well as the operating systems for their computers, watches and TVs. This is a far more progressive approach than any other company I'm aware of. They have invested seriously in making certain that the accessibility features work very well. They extend those efforts to doing a lot to help developers of apps which run on their products make their offerings accessible. This has scored Apple major points in the blind community who are long used to having to pay small fortunes just to have their brand new computers talk. The development costs of these features are born by Apple and by those who pay for Apple products. When you combine this with the low cost of most apps and the ability to buy iPHONEs from carriers paying the cost over a two-year contract, you can appreciate what a massive boon this is for often cash-strapped blind people needing some way of connecting to the Internet and leveraging technology to do other things.
Apple's iOS devices, especially iPHONEs, combine a whole lot of technologies like a camera, GPS, and other sensors that are also very useful to sighted people. This technology can then be leveraged by app developers for blind and sighted people alike. For instance, the Tap Tap See app, available free on the appstore, can help a blind person take a picture with the rear-facing camera on the phone which is then sent to artificial intelligence and human agents who can provide descriptions through the app for the blind person using it. All the technology necessary was already in every iPHoNE. Blind people who are able to master using these iOS devices no longer have to pay for a specialised device such as GPS systems or product identifyers when their iPHONES can do it all. I no longer have an OCR scanner on my desk. An app called KNFB Reader does a frankly better job in mere seconds rather than minutes. I have an old Trekor Breeze which I haven't touched in at least four years now. Apps like Blindsquare and Navigon do a better job, are easy to keep up to date and cost magnitudes less than standalone specialised devices. To obtain all of the best iOS apps helpful to blind people has cost no more than $300 even including the more expensive ones like KNFB Reader. Bought at full price, that was around $100 US. You'd pay far more than that for any well-known accessible reading software for Windows. Specialty GPS and product identification devices can set you back by hundreds or thousands. The iPHONE you bought on contract can perform all of these functions. In most cases, an iOS device can do just as well provided people take the time to practice and learn the ins and outs.
All of this is truly marvelous, but keep in mind that Apple wants to make as much long-term profit as possible. The hardware you purchase lets you come into a carefully balanced array of services where Apple always gets a piece of the action. This has very strong benefits particularly for the disabled. However, there are some disadvantages to this radical inclusive approach. I think it best that people are made aware of these before deciding to get on the bandwagon.
Customer safety and enjoyable experience are top priorities. Apple puts a lot of effort into making as certain as possible that anything new they introduce will work well. They began with a very closed system which resisted third-party innovation. Slowly, when they have felt safe in doing so, they have slowly opened aspects of iOS to developers. Hardware and software are tightly integrated giving Apple complete control of performance and experience. This makes things work more seemlessly and makes it easier to build accessible apps.
Apple must approve any apps or app updates before they reach the appstore. This makes it an overall safer platform than others like Android. This security isn't fool-proof but is far better than other platforms. This careful scruteny makes it harder to attack or cheet consumers. However, it can cause delays in how quickly and often updates appear to various apps you might use. Developers try to fix as much as possible before submitting an update for their app since there is a delay while Apple ooks any changes over and approves the update. This applies to updates to iOS also. Before they are released to the public, Apple tests and refines things extensively. There have been some exceptions, but typically, a lot of improvements must be made before iOS and the apps which Apple itself develops receive updates. In short, you may wait a while for your particular problems to be addressed. Part of that wait will be while Apple evaluates and figures out what can be done. A lot of that wait will be for enough other peoples' problems are tackled so that more gets fixed with each iOS update released which all users are expected to download eventually. There will be times when something which strikes you as being absurdly simple to fix will remain unresolved for many iOS updates while other more complex stuff gets added or fixed. Being part of the larger picture is a new experience for blind tech users. We're not dealing with a company specialising in accessibility. We're dealinng with a company wanting to maximise the positive experience of all users of their products who has decided to develop accessibility tools in house rather than have customers pay third parties to do it.
We're all learning as we go. This is true for blind users of Apple products and for the engineers and programmers working on accessibility solutions at Apple. They have staff who are blind but that doesn't mean that everyone at Apple understands the needs of blind people. Same for other disabilities. These devices can be used by people with all sorts of disabilities requiring different interface methods. There have been several big "ahah!" moments which have drastically improved things for blind users. Here are two examples of long-delayed but ultimately brilliant solutions to long-standing problems. My first example was the ability to select and move around blocks of text. You might want to move a paragraph above another one in an email you're writing or select text from a web site and paste it into the email somewhere. Ever since I got my first iPHONE in 2011, I never seriously contemplated writing anything longer than an email on it. I'd insist on carrying my laptop with me. Editing text longer than a few paragraphs was simply not practical. Even doing something simple like selecting text from an email to copy into another was next to impossible using Voiceover. Sighted people could do it quite easily by pinching and opening their fingers but this didn't prove very practical for blind people. This basically made all the word processing apps the next thing to useless for any serious projects.
At long last in iOS8 or 9 if memory serves, Apple finally came up with a wonderfully intuitive solution. They added a "text selection" option to the Voiceover rotor. Anyone who could master this gesture could now at last easily move to the start of the area to select, turn the rotor to "text selection", flick up or down to choose between character, word, line, page etc, and then flick left or right to expand or contract the amount by that much. You could select a whole line of text, flick to the "word" setting and de-select the one word at the end of the line you wanted to keep before deleting the accurately and painlessly selected text. Alternatively, you could select a paragraph by expanding line by line until it was all included and then turn the rotor to "edit" where you'd find options to cut, copy, paste, etc. Suddenly, all those word processing apps became quite useful. I no longer take my laptop with me when I travel. I do all my writing on my iPHONE these days using an app called Ulysses and a Bluetooth connected keyboard made by, of all people, Microsoft. Go figure. By the way, I've changed the order of these examples via the process above at least three times before settling on this one being first. That likely took all of thirty seconds not including hemming and hawing.
Now here's my second example. It used to be extremely hard to arrange apps on your homescreens the way you wanted them. You had to double-tap and hold your finger down on an app slowly dragging it over other apps to where you wanted it. Simple in theory but capable of inducing insanity in practice. Getting an app to the right homescreen was manageable but that was about as far as it went for me. For brief periods between iOS updates, there were times when it was simply impossible to move apps from the bottom of homescreens without first moving other apps into place which lifted the app you originally wanted to move. Of course, this left the apps used for this lifting stranded themselves. It turned the homescreens of my iPHONE into a very unwelcome and abtuse sliding puzzle of epic proportions. Finally, in iOS10 which is the current version, Apple came up with a wonderful solution. You could flick up or down on an app to get an "arrange apps" option. Double-tapping on this put you in an editing mode where you could easily delete or move apps around by selecting and double-tapping a "move" option and then going to where you wanted the app. Touching the app or folder nearest where you wanted the app moved to, you could then flick up or down to choose among options placing the app immediately before or after the app or folder you indicated as a destination. You could also create folders and add apps to them. A double-tap on the option selected completed the move and this was indicated by a small tick sound. It was further possible to move apps in the same manner within folders. All of a sudden, I could organise everything precisely the way I wanted quite easily. No more holding and draging apps around like a pack of unruly sheep. The solution was the kind of stunning brilliance you couldn't help but admire even while wishing to high Heaven they had thought of it when they first created Voiceover.
Like other users, you will eventually reach a point where you can't get the latest iOS version on your device. It will simply be too old. Your device will continue to function potentially for a long time but you won't be able to take advantage of accessibility and other improvements until you obtain more current hardware. My father still uses my iPHONE4 as his basic cellphone. He doesn't even have a data plan for it. He's starting to see some performance degradation but this thing has been heavily used for six years now. I believe he's still running iOS6 being unable to go any further. Over time, the hardware will ware down. There aren't any moving parts other than the few physical buttons. The built-in rechargeable battery and the Home button are prime candidates for being the first victims of ware and tare. After three or four years, they've been through a lot presuming average to heavy use. Long before your device becomes utterly useless and obsolete, Apple hopes you'll want to upgrade because of new capabilities in iOS or in newer hardware. My iPHONE6 serves me quite well but new capabilities like 3d touch intrigue me. More battery life, better water and damage resistance, a built-in useable FM radio, and other hoped for improvements would be nice temptations. Money is tight so I need more to entyce me than many people. I also get comfortable and attached to my devices. As painless as Apple has made the upgrading process, it's still a process and I tend to procrastinate unless they hit on really big league temptations. Sooner or later, circumstances like damage not covered by warranty or too many useful new capabilities to ignore will appear and I'll decide to upgrade to a new iPHONE. Nothing lasts forever, but these devices will last quite a while if their owners protect and care for them. Be aware of what you're getting into and go in with the right expectations. You'll be happier overall.
The other part of the iOS ecosystem is the wide array of digital products and services you can acquire through using your iOS device. These include books, music, movies, cloud storage for all those things, and any apps you purchase from the appstore. Most of these services are self-explanatory. You can buy and read books, play songs, watch movies often with descriptive audio included, etc without any accessibility barriers you might encounter elsewhere. This itself is absolutely liberating as a blind person. If you've lived under a rock or totally out of the loop, you may wonder what on earth an app is. An app is a piece of software which will allow you to do something with your device. It might be a music player, a game, a productivity tool etc. Besides the Ulysses app I'm now using and mentionned earlier, another app called Nature Space is filling my Earpods with the sounds of an equatorial island at midnight. Meanwhile, operating in the background, another app monitors my Twitter account for new tweets and alerts me when necessary. It recently informed me that a CBC reporter named Connie Walker liked a tweet where I mentionned that I was listenning to her new podcast Missing and Murdered. I sent this tweet directly from an app I use to find and listen to such podcasts called Downcast. I prefer it to Apple's free podcast app.
Cost Versus Convenience:
This brings us to another important aspect of the iOS ecosystem. Namely, the constant choices you'll make between cost and convenience. Apple allows competition in its ecosystem but stacks the deck in its favour largely by the element of convenience or customisation. You can do it Apple's way which is made very easy and convenient, or you can by all means do it someone else's way. The catch is that Apple puts some restrictions on how they can deliver their services if they compete directly with Apple's own. For an example truly near and dear to my heart, let's look at books. For most of my life, I have been restricted like most blind people as to what I can read and how long after people have stopped talking about a book it will be before it is made in an accessible format. You could purchase expensive narrated copies on CD or wait and hope for some library for the blind to decide more patrons than just you actually want to read it. You know that drill. Well provided you have a little spare money to your name, those days are at last gone. You can buy books which will be easily readable and completely accessible at the same time and cost as everyone else can. I can't begin to describe how liberating that single development has been. My bank acount can certainly attest to this. My father can tell me about a book he's reading and I can have it read in order to discuss it at our next brunch. Lets just say I'm profoundly glad I stayed away from smoking and more costly vices. iBOOKS versus Kindle.
Apple provides a way to purchase and read books quite nicely on iOS devices. They call it iBOOKS. The iBOOKS app is included right on your device when you get it. It combines both a bookstore and bookshelf plus reading facilities all in the same place. Five tabs across the bottom of the screen give access to "my books", "featured", "top Charts", "Search" and "Purchased". Just double-tap the tab to go to the respective section of the app. Explore the "featured" section to find out what's hot. For books not found here or in "top charts", use the "search" tab and enter the author, subject or title into the search field. Chances are you'll find the book you want. Double-tap on its title to go into its entry where you'll find all kinds of information about the book. Double-tap on he button that has either a price if there is one or "get" if the book is free. Prove you're serious and the rightful owner by double-tapping on the "buy" button which then appears and the book is yours. It immediately becomes available in the "my books" tab. You can then simply double-tap on the title to open the book. There are buttons to help you move around the book and you can of course read it very easily. This is all completely accessible with Voiceover. Whatever voices you have downloaded for Voiceover to use can be your narrator. Alternatively, you can use a Braille display if you have one around. Through a partnership with a company called Audible, you can purchase audio books read by human beings right in iBOOKs.
All of this is very simple and extremely convenient especially for beginners who haven't ventured out onto the Web with Safari. The catch is that you will pay more overall for books purchased through iBOOKS than you would for books purchased through Amazon's Kindle store. Amazon tends to have far more frequent and extensive sales on their Kindle books. overall but Kindle books very often much cheeper. However, to use Kindle, you must learn to browse the web and register with Amazon. You purchase Kindle books from Amazon site and they are delivered to your Kindle app the next time you open it on your device.
This principle is found everywhere throughout iOS. It's always easier to use Apple's apps or services in some way but that convenience comes at a cost. There are times when paying for a different approach is worth doing. IE, the app I use for all my writing is Ulysses. Pages is free from Apple and quite accessible. However, Ulysses was designed specifically for authors of longer documents and I prefer its approach for many reasons.
Like natural ecosystems, it is a carefully orchestrated balancing act on a grand scale. I'll be talking about the benefits and drawbacks more in future segments and blog entries. Unlike other companies, Apple has decided that it is worth their while to invest heavily in accessibility and has gained a loyal following of users whose lives they have changed in so doing. I count myself among these largely satisfied people.
Your Apple ID
NEVER FORGET YOUR APPLE ID!!!
Think of your Apple ID and password as the key to your safe. It's better to create something you'll actually remember and be able to type in reliably than to go for something ultrahard to crack. Your device will be of no use to you if you can't remember your Apple ID and password. All the information like contacts, emails, photos, etc, is stored behind that identification. Everything you purchase through Apple's shopping portals is registered under that information. This includes apps, books, music, movies, etc. It also includes in-app purchases. If the worst should happen and you need to get a new iOS device, you will be able to use the same Apple ID and password to gain instant access to what you purchased on the last device.
You will also likely use your fingerprint and a pin number to secure your device. Again, make this number something you will remember rather than something hard to guess. Don't make it absurdly simple for anybody who knows you but make it easy for you to think of clues to help you remember it easily. You don't want to lock yourself out of your own device. It's happened to lots of people and they must then contact Apple to fix the situation. Apple takes security very seriously.
Voiceover is designed to let you literally feel the screen with your finger and hear what is underneath it as you move it around. Alternatively, you can explore things in left to right top to bottom order via simple finger flicking left or right. Unlike for sighted people, touching the screen won't make things happen. This lets blind people explore the screen safely. To have things happen, special gestures or taps must be used. A single tap is regarded as a touch and won't cause action. A double-tap lets Voiceover know you mean business. Once you understand the basic gestures and concepts, it will all seem very intuitive.
Tapping twice quickly with four fingers spaced slightly apart will activate Voiceover help mode. This mode lets you practice gestures and announces what they will do when performed outside of help mode. When you're finished with help mode, a four-fingered double-tap will exit. Pressing the home button also exits help mode but exits whatever app you might be working in bringing you to your current home screen. Voiceover should speak short instructions such as "double-tap to open" as you move around the screen. If you don't hear such advice, go to the "verbocity" section in the settings for Voiceover and enable hints.
Touching anywhere on the screen will speak what is displayed. To activate an item or choice, tap twice quickly on it with one finger. This is called a double-tap since you are performing two quick taps with one finger. Alternatively, you can examine the screen with one finger and select or activate things by holding your exploration finger on the desired object and then tapping anywhere on the screen with another finger. This is called a split tap. Tapping twice quickly using two fingers at the same time is called a two-finger double-tap. This answers and ends phone calls or causes audio such as music to pause or resume.
You can explore the screen by flicking your finger left or right. Voiceover will move to each element starting at the top left and moving across and downward. Flicking downward with two fingers causes Voiceover to read continuously from the currently selected position. This allows continuous reading of books whose pages will automatically turn. During such reading, a single tap using two fingers will pause and resume progress. Flicking with three fingers left or right will scroll one page in the opposite direction of your motion. Flicking left or right with four fingers will switch between apps you currently have open.
This gesture is essential for efficient use of Voiceover. Take two fingers and imagine there is a small knob on the screen. Place the tips of your fingers on the screen as if you were grasping a knob. Rotate your fingers clockwise or counterclockwise as if you turned a knob. This will bring different settings and options into focus. An alternative method for turning the rotor is as follows:
1. Place a finger from your left hand anywhere along the left side of the screen and a finger from your right hand across from it on the right edge. Your two fingertips should be pointing at each other.
2. Move one finger upwards while moving the other downwards. For example, move your left finger upwards towards the top of the screen while your right finger moves downwards towards the bottom. Both fingers should move at the same time. This will turn the rotor one selection to the right. Moving your right finger upwards while the left moves downwards will turn the rotor to the left.
3. To interact with the option selected by the rotor, flic up or downward with one finger. This will change the value of the option. For example, if speech rate is selected, flicking upwards will increase the speed while flicking downwards will slow speech.
4. While learning how to use your device, remember to leave the rotor on a safe option such as characters or words. This will prevent accidentally disabling hints, changing volume or speech rate.