The special needs community is rarely the target demographic for the tech industry. Many of the wonderful new gizmos and gadgets that come out simply aren’t designed for them. There are an increasing number of companies that are developing products and technology to make computers and mobile devices more accessible for the special needs community, however – and one of those companies happens to be Apple, Inc.
Apple’s VoiceOver technology was introduced with OSX 10.5 – better known as “Tiger.” It’s an accessibility feature that allows blind or visually impaired Apple users to interact with a computer through sound. A user can use the trackpad or keyboard to scroll through the applications on the docked menu at the bottom of the screen. It can literally read the user any text that’s displayed on the screen and allows users to edit text where applicable.
VoiceOver is also available on iOS devices such as the iPad. Visually impaired users have been incredibly receptive and appreciative of this, especially considering the fact that it’s a feature many other tablets and readers lack. As more and more publishing companies, universities, and corporations look to switch to readers and tablets in the future, accessibility features for the visually impaired certainly help Apple market its products as the superior choice amongst the competition.
Another feature that benefits the members of the special needs community is a new feature in iOS 6 called Guided Access. Guided Access allows parents and educators to “lock” onto an app so that children can’t accidentally exit out of it by pressing the home button. While this may seem like a very basic feature, it’s incredibly useful for children with Autism or learning disabilities who may become distracted or lose focus on tasks. There are a number of educational apps available in the App Store but it’s often hard for learning disabled students to stay focused on them long enough to actually benefit. With Guided Access, the task of keeping a child focused has gotten a little easier for teachers and parents.
While full accessibility is an on-going battle as technology continues to evolve, Apple is certainly taking steps in the right direction. Many other companies in Silicon Valley are taking their lead and continuing to improve accessibility features for different technologies and we hope to see this trend continue.
My own time at Apple saw many of these technologies discussed and drawn out on desks and white boards under the tireless leadership and direction of my colleague Dr. Alan Brightman, who was Director of Apple’s WW Disability Solutions for 12 years; and is now a VP at Yahoo focusing on Global Accessibilty. To see these things come to life and create impact all around the world is simply astounding (then and now).
CEO of the All Access Group, LLC