I am on the hunt for accessible iPhone apps. By accessible, I mean those easier to use for those of us with limited vision. Unfortunately, for now, profoundly blind users are out of luck when it comes to the iPhone. Still, you might think that the tiny screen on the iPhone is just too small. Sure, the iPhone’s screen is not as good as a thirty inch monitor, but the iPhone is a lot more mobile and has all that cache.
There are a four main features that an iPhone app needs to be easy to use in the sense meant here. To be fully accessible for the profoundly blind, a full auditory and tactile interface would be necessary. For now, let’s focus on the visual interface.
The primary feature an accessible app needs is to allow zoom. Resizing content with the multitouch pinch zoom is one of the niftiest features on the iPhone interface. This feature also makes the iPhone accessible. Without it, it would be just another iPod for me, one lacking the clickwheel’s tactile and auditory feedback.
Most iPhone apps have a single set font, which is too small to read even with my low vision aids. Some apps offer ways to customize the font. Mail offers a range of font sizes, though the largest, called Giant, is not well named. Other apps actually let you specify a particular font style and size. Yet others re-size the font with the multitouch zoom. Regardless of the method, larger fonts are essential to an accessible app.
This feature is a lot of fun, but it is more than that. Apps that pivot from portrait (tall) to landscape wide as the device itself is swiveled make much better use of the screen space at larger font sizes. Wider screens allow for more normal text flow with several words per line instead of one or two. The keyboard is also much easier to use landscape with the buttons spread over more space.
Adjustable color scheme
An uncommon feature on the iPhone apps, this would make the screen both easier to read and easier on the eyes. Personally, I like light-on-dark schemes, in particular a gold font on a black background. Besides the accessibility of this type of color scheme, it would also extend battery life as the iPhone would not need to use the amount of energy necessary to brightly light the an entire white screen.
Are there any examples of apps with these features. Definitely. The default Mail app has adjustable fonts. The web browsers is famous for its multitouch zoom. Besides these built-in programs, there are several on offer in the App Store. Filq Notes, a note taker with font selection, Stanza, an e-book reader also with font selection, and Easy Writer, a Mail add-on with multitouch zoom and swivel, are just three examples. I have already blogged about Stanza. I will soon be reviewing Easy Write, Fliq Notes ans others as I find them. If you know of any accessible apps, please let me know.
There are other features that would be useful for the visually impaired that I have not mentioned. An auditory interface, even a partial one, would be great. Audio cues, like the click of the clickwheel or the digital shutter noise on a digital camera, are simple, but extremely useful features for the visually impaired. Advanced interaction, such as text to speech and voice recognition, are not as far off as one might think. Google, among others, offers some voice-based features. It is the future.
Read more about iPhone accessibility here.If you find this post useful or interesting, please consider buying me a cup of coffee.