BusinessWeek: Apple To Improve Access For The Impaired

Apple has done a pretty decent job on its User Interface (UI), having moved from "lickable" to useable in OS X. The Dock, one of the biggest UI changes between OS 9 and OS X, has become an accepted, and even welcomed part of the Finder. Mac users have choices in how they interact with their computers: They can use Aqua, the Command Line Interface via the terminal, or some combination of the two.

Apple has always included some provisions for the visually and hearing disabled in OS X, but it seemed more of a token gesture than any real attempt to make Macs more accessible. Navigating through OS X, for instance, is nearly impossible for many of the visually impaired, even with Universal Access options turned on.

Alex Salkever, of BusinessWeek Online, is excited about Appleis recent decision to build in a spoken interface option into OS X. In the latest edition of his Byte of the Apple column, Mr. Salkever praises Apple for its efforts to make computing more accessible, and points out that Apple may well benefit greatly from doing so. From the column:

This week at the 19th annual Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference in Los Angeles -- the biggest assistive-technology confab in the country -- Jobs & Co. introduced a nifty tool to help the blind use Macs again. Apple calls this new technology "Spoken Interface." The basic concept is to vocalize and make audible everything that visually happens on a desktop, just like screen-reading software.

UNEQUAL ACCESS. Thatis big news for a couple of reasons. With no screen reader available on Macs, any schools wishing to deploy them faced a potential lawsuit on grounds that the blind would be denied equal access. Even if no one sues, the prospect of advocacy groups for the visually impaired blaming Apple for shunting blind kids onto Windows machines and further isolating them from their sighted classroom peers presented a looming PR nightmare.


I suggested in a November, 2003, column that Apple create a screen reader for Macs and offer it to the open-source community (see BW Online, 11/12/03, "A Failing for Apple in the Classroom"). After all, thatis just what Apple did with its Safari Web browser, and the result filled a gaping hole in software offerings for the Mac. Apple Senior Product Manager Chris Bourden told me the company was aware of the potential problems and was going to work on something to address them.

BARGAIN BUY. Apparently he meant it. And even better, unlike traditional screen readers, Appleis technology will be built right into the next version of the OS X operating system. That will be a big help. For starters, the price is sweet. Spoken Interface wonit cost anything extra because itill be part of the core OS. Screen readers for Windows can run up to $1,000, on top of the cost of the computer itself.

Thereis much more in the full article at BusinessWeek Online.

If youid like to look through what options are currently available for the visually and hearing impaired in OS X, bring up iSystem Preferencesi and click on iUniversal Accessi Thereis also more information about Universal Access in OS X at Appleis Web site.