May 2014 Issue  Volume 15  Number 5

App Accessibility

iPhone and Android Apps Keep you Up to Date with the Latest News

You don't have to look far to realize that the ways people learn about news and current events have changed dramatically over the past decade. The days of waiting for tomorrow's newspaper or the 6 o'clock news to get the latest headlines are long gone, and now, thanks to smartphones, we have a bevy of options at our fingertips to learn of the latest happenings. Since news stories by their nature are mostly text-based, many of the apps available to read the news are quite accessible on mobile devices. Below, we'll cover several apps available for iOS (iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad) or Android that we have found to be both accessible and useful in gathering and reading about the latest news. As you will notice, most news apps are either free or very inexpensive, so all you'll need is your phone or tablet of choice to keep up-to-date with the latest happenings in the world.

NFB Newsline

The NFB Newsline service has been offering news, TV listings, and more from hundreds of sources since the 1990s, and now it has evolved to include an iPhone app. After signing up for a free Newsline account, you will receive an identification code and a PIN, which you will need to use the app. If you've ever used the phone service or website, this is the same code used for these services. Once you enter this information, you can browse through the list of available publications or search for one you like. NFB Newsline includes hundreds of sources, and finding the one you're looking for can sometimes take you a few menus deep. You can create a favorites list, however, so you only have to search once for your favorite newspaper or magazine.

Once you choose a publication and an issue, all of the articles are presented on a single screen. You can navigate by headings using the rotor gesture on your iOS device. Take two fingers and place them on your screen as if you were turning a screw and turn clockwise. You will hear a wrench sound if you perform this gesture correctly. Keep doing this until you hear the word "headings." Then you can swipe up or down with one finger to move between each story in the list.

NFB Newsline has recently added a Breaking News category that includes popular online sources such as CNet and the Verge. Select the Breaking News item from the list and then select today's date. Headlines are posted here at roughly the same time as they appear on the website. While many of these news sites offer their own apps, some people may prefer the consistent interface the NFB Newsline app provides.

Umano

News read through a speech synthesizer can get tiring after a while. Sometimes, it's just easier to listen to someone else reading you news and interesting articles. Umano's tagline is "Bringing content to life with human narration," and this goal is achieved through providing a variety of news and features content read by others.

When the app opens, you'll be asked to log in with an account or skip logging in. While you don't need an account to listen to articles, the free sign-up process lets you create playlists and store your preferences across devices. You then will be asked to select some categories to create your custom feed. Don't worry, you can change these later on. This will just help the app create a list of suggested articles you might want to read. Once you do this, you can start to select articles to listen to them. You can load articles one at a time or put them in a playlist for hands-free listening while jogging or working.

The basic Umano service is free for both iOS and Android and includes a growing library of content from dozens of sources. The focus is on features content such as technology, sports, or political stories. A $3.99 per-month premium service allows for enhanced features such as offline listening, so you can download articles and listen to them without an Internet connection, and additional playlist features.

CNN

Practically every major and local news outlet has mobile apps to complement their other services. As we mentioned above, many of these are completely or mostly accessible since news is largely text-based. For example, the CNN app allows users to read the latest news stories or browse through featured content. When selecting a news story on an iPhone or iPad, it's often easier to turn on continuous reading so you don't have to keep swiping to hear an entire story. To do this, swipe down with two fingers to read the screen from the current position, or up with two fingers to read the entire screen from the top. For newer Android devices, make a right angle gesture by swiping up and then to the right for the continuous reading menu.

The CNN app allows you to also watch various live television channels, the same channels you would find on your cable or satellite provider. You will need a subscription from one of these providers to watch live TV, and will be prompted for a username and password to view these channels. Check with your cable or satellite provider if you do not have your log in information.

If CNN is not your cup of tea, similar apps exist for the BBC, Fox News, NPR, and many others. You can use the news apps section on the AppleVis website to browse through over 100 apps that other users have rated for accessibility.

Following News on Twitter

Twitter is often thought of as a place for people to give short 140-character updates on their lives, but it is perhaps more often used as a means to post and share news headlines, stories, and observations. One common strategy is to create a list of news accounts to follow and browse for the latest headlines. For example, all of my local television stations, my local newspaper, and a local radio station have Twitter accounts that I follow. These accounts will tweet news headlines and stories as they are posted to the Web as well as other short observations about important events. By following all of these accounts, I can get a good sense of the happenings in my local area. You can expand on this idea by following local restaurants, universities, libraries, theaters, and others who also have Twitter accounts. This Introduction to Twitter was published in AccessWorld in 2010, but much of the material still applies.

There are a variety of Twitter apps to choose from, but Twitterrific on iOS and Tweetings on Android both have simple, clean interfaces that are easy to follow and work well with accessibility. You'll need to create a Twitter account to follow others including news sites, but you don't need to actually post to your account if you don't want to.

Conclusion

We've only scratched the surface when it comes to accessible apps for staying up-to-date with the latest news. Whether you prefer to read articles from today's paper, listen to news read aloud, or watch a television news channel, there's likely an app or several apps to do the job. And since most news apps are free, you can try them out without worrying if they'll meet your needs. If you don't like a particular app, just remove it from your device. Most mobile devices can store hundreds of apps, so there's little worry of filling up your phone with apps.

If there's a particular app you're fond of, be sure to let us know and we may feature it in a future article. But for now, enjoy the news.

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