September 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 9

Cell Phone Access

Book Review: Four Great Guides to Jumpstart your iPhone Journey

Over the past 20-plus years, National Braille Press (NBP) has carved a considerable niche for itself as a fabulous source for braille materials to assist users in navigating some of access technology's trickiest waters. The organization has published books on using various Microsoft applications and on such areas of interest as online shopping, blogging, social networking, and more, all aimed at the specific issues of blind and low-vision users.

With the unprecedented popularity in the last three years of the iPhone and other iOS devices among people with visual impairments has come an equally unprecedented clambering for guides designed to facilitate the learning process (or at least minimize the pain).

An iPhone user who is blind doesn't have to look very far to locate tips on becoming acquainted with these devices. A tremendous variety of tutorials, podcasts, webinars, and e-mail lists can be found online, and while the quality varies significantly, many are excellent.

If you want to get up and running with just one phone call or online visit, however, NBP stands apart with its four fabulous books that, together or singly, can jumpstart the novice iPhone user or augment the fun and practicality for those who have mastered the basics.

Getting Started

The first offering from NBP, Getting Started with the iPhone, by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau, appeared in 2010 and was reviewed in the June 2011 issue of AccessWorld .

Available in three softcover braille volumes or electronically in DAISY audio, text, or .BRF files, this guide covers everything from taking the iPhone out of the box and setting it up to the gestures required for individual functions and a whole lot more in step-by-step practical language.

Because technology (particularly the iPhone) is a rapidly moving target, changes in the marketplace soon rendered that marvelous book an incomplete guide for users with visual impairments. NBP quickly stepped up to the plate, had Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau go back to the drawing board, and has published an updated version of the book. The 2012 version, Getting Started with the iPhone and iOS 5 for Blind Users, is still available in all formats: eBraille, Word, DAISY, and hardcopy braille. It is still only three thin softcover volumes. Dresner accomplished this by moving the section called "Anna's Journal" to the NBP website where you can read it, thus allowing space for the addition of material covering the use of SIRI and features available in iOS 5. The book is extremely well organized, detailed, and clear, and you will find yourself returning to it again and again as your abilities with the iPhone increase. This is not a book you will read once and put on a shelf. Rather, you will want to keep it handy for ongoing consultation to learn new techniques or review existing ones.

Getting the Picture

Apple has indeed done the heavy lifting by adding VoiceOver to the iPhone, thus rendering every item on the screen available through speech, but the first significant hurdle for a person who is visually impaired in using such a device is to visualize the words and icons as they are arranged on the touchscreen. While it's helpful to describe verbally that, for example, the status bar is at the top and the dock at the bottom or to "keep flicking right" until you hear the icon you're seeking, a picture is still worth a thousand words!

With the book iPhone Tactile Screenshot Quick Reference, a blind or low vision user can readily see the primary iPhone screens as they appear on the phone.

Designed by Tom Dekker with Tactile Vision and produced by NBP this wonderful little spiral-bound book is the perfect initial companion to the iPhone. Each page presents a bold, tactile representation of the iPhone screen with braille labels indicating exactly where the words and icons will appear. The raised illustrations are on the right with large print black-on-white representations on each left-hand facing page. Some drawings are exactly the size of the actual iPhone screen while others are larger for clarity, but all are in proper scale.

When you put your hands on the Home screen, for instance, the fact that there is a grid of 16 icons flanked by the status bar at the top and a dock of four choices ("Phone," "Mail," "Safari," and "Music") across the bottom becomes instantly clear. Similarly, when you see the familiar phone keypad in raised line format with the brailled numbers and letters ("2" [ABC], "3" [DEF], and so on) in each square, the fact that the iPhone's "Call" button is located directly below the "0" button and the "Delete" key below the pound sign is instantly apparent.

The book is 21 pages and includes only the most basic screenshots. Beyond the Home screen and depictions of the front, back, top, and bottom of the phone, the other screenshots facilitate examining the screens for using basic functions, such as the phone keypad, Contacts, Calendar, App Store, iBooks, and iTunes.

Like the Getting Started guide, this collection of tactile screenshots is one the user might initially study and then return to later for reminders or verification. While it's a fabulous tool, it doesn't go far enough, and some of the choices seem off-base to me. Five of the book's 21 pages, for instance, are devoted to iBooks images while text messaging is never even mentioned. The novice iPhone user will probably want information about sending and receiving messages before he or she is ready to visit the iTunes store, and might well want to set an alarm before downloading an iBook, but screenshots for Clock, Messages, and many other basic functions are not included.

As far as it goes, however, the Tactile Screenshot book is an excellent tool and one that both teachers and beginning iPhone users will want to have on hand.

It's All About the Apps

In 2011, the hottest iPhone book from National Braille Press was, without a doubt, Peter Cantisani's Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind iPhone Users, which I reviewed in the August 2011 issue of AccessWorld . This is a book you definitely want on your bookshelf.

Of course, much of the magic of iPhone use is in the apps (hundreds of thousands of them now), which can be downloaded from the App Store. Many of those apps are completely accessible to users with visual impairments, and Cantisani hand-picked 26 that are accessible and ones he found particularly useful as a user with a visual impairment. In that book, you'll find apps to tell you when your next bus is coming, take your blood pressure, label documents at work, identify the bills in your wallet, find the nearest pizza place, and more. Cantisani told me just a month or two after the book was released that there were already dozens more apps he wished he had included. (Remember that this technology is truly constantly evolving!)

Thus, just in time for summer 2012, NBP released a new iPhone tool, a little booklet titled Twenty-One iPhone Apps We Can't Live Without. The "we" in this case is Judy Dixon and Doug Wakefield, both longtime users and experts in the world of access technology.

Like Cantisani's book, this guide offers the basic information about 21 iPhone apps, all found to be completely usable by users who are blind. Issues that complicate life most for people with visual impairments are rooted in such activities as way-finding, transportation, and identifying print. So, it comes as no surprise that, in each of these little books, those categories are front and center. Two of my own personal favorites are among the Twenty-One iPhone Apps collection (Light Detector and iBlink Radio) as are several others having to do with music and visual identification. Dixon and Wakefield introduce us to an app that makes ordering a taxi almost fun, an app that helps you find out where you can find something to eat near your gate at the airport, and apps that take some of the hassle out of shopping. While more seasoned iPhone users may not find too many surprises, this is an interesting collection of apps presented in a clear and concise format, and nearly all of them are free.

Just as the iPhone itself is constantly growing so is the body of material designed to help blind and low vision users take advantage of the power of this remarkable technology. These four books from NBP are all outstanding tools written by people who are blind for people who are blind, and they are available in all the formats we love.

Ordering Information

With the exception of the Tactile Screenshot book, all of the above titles are available in a variety of formats, including hardcopy braille, downloadable Word, eBraille, DAISY, or any of the electronic formats shipped to you on CD. The Tactile Screenshots book is available in the print/braille format described above, spiral bound with tactile diagrams labeled in braille facing large print representations of the same screens.

Prices are as follows:

Getting Started with the iPhone and iOS 5, $22

iPhone Tactile Screenshots Quick Reference, $27

Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind Users, $9

Twenty-One iPhone Apps We Can't Live Without, $9

All items, unless otherwise requested, will be shipped as Free Matter for the Blind, so there are no shipping costs.

To order, visit the National Braille Press website, or call them: (800) 548-7323.

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