We trekked out to the wilds north of Eglinton to the CNIB, dropping in on the iDevice User Group. This is a group where blind people teach each other how to get around in the world, using iOS applications as their helpers. We were the only sighted people present, there to talk to this particular subset of Pocket Rocket‘s users.
I simply gawped when one blind woman pulled out an iPhone then snapped a perfect shot, guided by the built-in Camera app.
Eventually a common theme became apparent: Apple’s applications — Calendar, Messages, Mail, iPhoto, even Maps and most surprisingly Camera — are completely usable by blind people.
If you’ve never seen a blind or partially sighted person using an iPhone or iPod Touch, it is quite intriguing – you can’t help but stare in the way your mother told you not to do. You can try it out for yourself, as Stephen van Egmond shows:
- Go into Settings app, and go into Accessibility at the top level.
- At the bottom of the screen is a setting that lets you make a home key triple-click turn on VoiceOver. Turn it on.
- Go into the VoiceOver panel, and turn it on. Your phone will now say “VoiceOver on” and become extremely annoying to use if you’re not used to it. A “VoiceOver Practice” button will appear.
- Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to ‘tap’ on that VoiceOver Practice button and go practice some moves. Hints:
- You can drag one finger around the screen to browse until you find the button that does what you want, then put down a second finger to activate it (some call this a tap-and-a-half; the proper term is a split tap).
- Use two fingers flicking down to have the entire screen read to you. This is great for news or email: your device can read a piece to you while your hands are busy driving a car or feeding your baby.
(Disclaimer: never use your phone while driving a car)
The point of Stephen’s blog post is to encourage all app developers to build in accessibility like this – it’s part of the iPhone’s operating system and there’s really no excuse for developers not to do it. The effects can be quite amazing - read what Austin Serpahin wrote a couple of years ago about “hearing” colours:
The other night a very amazing thing happened. I downloaded an app called Color Identifier. It uses the iPhone’s camera, and speaks names of colors. It must use a table, because each color has an identifier made up of 6 hexadecimal digits. This puts the total at 16777216 colors, and I believe it. Some of them have very surreal names, such as Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green, Opium, and Black-White. These names in combination with what feels like a rise in serotonin levels makes for a very psychedelic experience.
The next day, I went outside. I looked at the sky. I heard colors such as “Horizon,” “Outer Space,” and many shades of blue and gray. I used color cues to find my pumpkin plants, by looking for the green among the brown and stone. I spent ten minutes looking at my pumpkin plants, with their leaves of green and lemon-ginger. I then roamed my yard, and saw a blue flower. I then found the brown shed, and returned to the gray house. My mind felt blown. I watched the sun set, listening to the colors change as the sky darkened.
The title to Stephen’s post, “The Blind Shooting The Blind”, refers to that scene of a blind user taking a perfectly framed, perfectly focused photo using the iPhone. As Stephen says:
To get your mind blown, fire up Camera and point the camera at a nearby face, preferably a cute infant.
(Read more at The Blind Shooting The Blind ∵ Stephen van Egmond’s weblog: .)