iPad Review: From a Blindness Perspective
The Apple iPad is one of the hottest pieces of technology on the market right now. Just about everyone is talking about how hot the iPad looks and how they must have one. Us blind folks are no exception. Because Apple has done a spectacular job at integrating accessibility in all of their products in an effort to include the blind and other disabled individuals, us blind people can enjoy being a part of these hot trends and feel cool like our sighted peers. This enables us to have something to relate to when it comes to conversing with our sighted counterparts, which to me is huge because I do not enjoy the feeling that I'm so isolated and can only relate to a certain subculture. Thanks so much to Apple; we are not left out in the cold, being forced to wait a long period of time to have some cool gadgets in our hands long after the coolness has died out. And thanks so much to Apple caring enough about our inclusion; I'm able to provide a first person iPad review from a blindness perspective.
The Apple iPad is one hundred percent accessible straight out of the box. Like many other products that require the blind to install third-party software in order to use them successfully, which requires more money to be spent, the iPad has Voiceover technology integrated into the device that enables all aspects of the iPad to be utilized. Blind individuals will spend the same amount of money as their sighted counterparts, and they can use the iPad like everyone else. For those who do not know, Voiceover is a screen reader that speaks all of the text aloud on the screen, as well as the menus and icons.
For those blind individuals who are worried about the touch screen being difficult to use, there is nothing to worry about. Blind individuals can glide a finger over the screen, and as they glide their fingers, the options will be spoken aloud. When the users hear an option that they want to select, they can tap their fingers on that option twice, and the option will then be selected. There is no barrier to us blind folks using the Apple iPads touch screen.
Of course, with me being totally blind, I'm going to give a lot of attention to detail in this regard, as the sense of touch is very important to me. And if things feel nice, then I'm more inclined to pay better attention and be more interested. The iPad feels sleek, smooth, and thin, and I love that a lot. It is a bit bigger than the iPhone, but it is portable enough to carry around on trips. It has a touch screen that feels smooth to the touch, making it very easy for a blind user to utilize every function of the iPad. The iPad is not bulky in the least bit. It is very lightweight; that is another thing I love about it.
The Apple iPad has all of the functionality of a computer with very few exceptions. For example, the iPad possesses the capability of word processing (Even Microsoft Word files are compatible), the ability to read E-Books (The iBook application can be downloaded for free from the Apple Store, and this application enables you to read E-Books of many types. Free E-Books can be obtained from elsewhere and be synchronized with ITunes, and Voiceover can even be used to read these books aloud.), and the ability to utilize all aspects of the Internet, just the same as one would on a computer. There are two data plans that users can subscribe to. One plan costs $15 per month. This particular plan includes 30MB of data. The second option is an unlimited data plan that costs $30 per month. I personally will never, ever go with the limited data plan because I feel that watching usage is so yesterday, and the unlimited option is the best way to go in all things. Of course, this depends on each individual user. Data plans can be purchased without a contract.
Apple has really changed the lives of many blind individuals by integrating accessibility in all things. I strongly feel that the rest of the electronic industry needs to follow in their footsteps, so us blind individuals can continue to enjoy equal usability at an equal price. Because Apple has taken this major step in including us, I'm able to sit and chill out with all of my sighted peers, use my iPad right along with them, and join other blind techs in providing information to our fellow blind peers about the device. Best of all, I did not have to spend hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, to make the device accessible in order for me to use it.
Blind iPad Review
from Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind
Cheree Heppe is a Ziegler reader and she decided to send me her fantastic review of the newest product from Apple, the iPad. Thanks for sharing, Cheree! Enjoy.
I actually did it! I took the light rail to the Apple store and saw one of those iPads in the flesh on the Saturday morning that it went public. For me, the pictures do nothing to allay my curiosity, since I am totally blind.
Portland, Oregon boasts both corporate and non-corporate Apple stores. The Apple store I visited was a corporate one.
That whole up-scale inner city mall was jumping with people, so it was no problem finding directions down to the Apple store.
When I got off the escalator, there was this incredible double line nearly to the escalator. The line reminded me of a snake dance, except most of the would-be customers were keeping their excitement under tight rein and were standing still, maybe afraid to dance while being videoed by the TV station.
Someone saw me on TV because the Apple store crowd was being panned by the TV station reporters. I wasn’t dressed for TV photographing, just my hair swept back with a silver headband, long, wool, cranberry cloak and jeans and Kili, my black and tan German shepherd dog guide in her white harness.
It was busier in that apple store than at a Vegas casino!
There were Apple staff outside the store directing traffic. One of these guys escorted me inside and arranged for me to see the demo model with it’s case on, but the demo model which came newly unpacked ran out of charge and the Apple rep and I moved to the display tables to continue my examination of one of the plugged-in models.
I have been stopping by the Apple store, dipping my figurative big toe into the stream for months now, wanting to migrate from the Windows based platform with its third party accessibility to the integrated Apple platform, but hadn’t felt Apple systems welcomed blind users sufficiently to be fully accessible until now.
The iPad feels about like a MacBook Air in thickness; it feels slimmer than my NetBook. The glass is flat to the edge of the horizontal surface with a circular, concave Home button embedded flush into the face of the glass very near the bottom middle of one short side. The active portion of the screen starts maybe a half-inch in from its edge.
The Apple rep explained how the icons are arranged on the screen. This is standard and once you get the feel for the gaps and positions, it all stays the same. That’s what he told me. There is a physical volume toggle switch near one end of one long side. No fiddling with screen settings for volume, just handily bump the toggle up for loud or down for soft. The earphone jack is on one short side near a corner, flush with the metal side but easily recognized by touch and out of the way. The sound is good and the jack would hold earphones solidly so they wouldn’t fall out while being ported or moved. There is a physical switch near one end of the long side of the iPad to lock it into whichever position, portrait or landscape, the screen is oriented. There is a recessed connector on the opposite short side of the iPad from the earphone jack to charge it or interface it with a computer. This is apparently called a doc connector. The on/off switch is located on the edge of the iPad, but I can’t recall exactly where. The back and sides are metal and the sides are curved inward from their widest point where they interface with the glass to where they taper in a rounded way to the back side. The back side felt flat with no features, but I didn’t look really carefully and the case covered the back of the device.
Even while not being facile with Voiceover or the tap and flick finger navigation motions, I got the iPad to go on to a website, to go into E-mail and apps store, and to read a book.
The iPad can interface with a Windows based or Apple based computer.
The cover or case that it now comes with is the first cover before everyone else makes something. It looks like the outside of a thin notebook without the binder rings. It opens from the long end and the flap tucks behind the iPad with the bottom edge tucking into a built-in slot in the back of the case. This allows the iPad to sit at a comfortable slant. Apple plans to have a dock for a keyboard if the user remains stationary. The Apple guy suggested getting a wireless keyboard and Bluetooth to pair the two if one plans to be mobile.
The iPad should not be thought of as a tool solely for low vision people. I’m a no-vision user and can work the iPad well, for being a new user and having no experience with configuring the Voiceover settings.
To use the iPad well, a blind user should have a strong spatial sense. I mean that the touch method for the screen depends on knowing where the icons reside in space in relation to other icons on a flat glass plain.
I speculated that if a blind user wanted to use a certain app a lot, such as the typing virtual keypad feature, a tracing could be made of the positions of the icons and someone could cut out an overlay of light plastic, like a glorified check writing guide or a stencil. That way, a blind user could tactilely locate the positions quicker. Imagine a sheath of light plastic overlay cut-outs the shape of the screen for different standard uses, such as typing or web surfing, carried in a sleeve or pocket inside the front cover of the iPad case. This idea is based on knowing virtually nothing about how the icons refresh or whether they change position, etc.
What a gadget! Accessible right out of the box. If Apple can insist on accessibility across the entire platform as standard foundational basics for any app developer, blind consumers will have a lot of amazing possibilities with this device and won’t have to be shunted off to the separate-but-equal, but not quite accessible, side of things.
Apple has caused a totally unexpected paradigm shift with this iPad, at least in my thinking.