Is Apple's New iTextbook Platform Accessible?
by Darren Burton
There has certainly been a lot of buzz surrounding Apple's event last week announcing their iTextbooks initiative, which includes iBooks version 2, enhancements to iTunes U, and a new iBooks Author software aimed at making it easier for authors to create iBooks.
Unveiling iBooks 2 on the iPad, Apple demonstrated exciting new interactive elements that can be included in a textbook, such as videos, slide presentations, animations, quizzes, and interactive images that can be rotated, zoomed and otherwise manipulated by the reader. In our AFB Tech lab, we took a sample textbook for a spin, E.O. Wilson's "Life on Earth," the biology textbook Apple demonstrated at their event.
Our sighted lab interns were immediately impressed with the way the biology book came alive on the iPad, and the books worked well with the iPad's Zoom magnifier and other visual enhancement features. However, I was not quite as excited by the way the iPad's VoiceOver screen reader interacted with these new textbook elements. Although the iPad's VoiceOver screen reader was able to read all the text of the book, it would sometimes skip a section when I was swiping through content, and it sometimes read things out of order. I could access the movies, slide presentations, and images that were part of the book, but the image descriptions included by the author were very limited. However, one nice thing about iBooks 2 is the Notes feature, which could be used by a teacher to add more detailed description to a picture or chart.
The bad news is that the Notes feature does not work perfectly with VoiceOver. You can highlight text and make a margin note related to it, but the text you highlight with VoiceOver is not the text that actually gets highlighted. Also, there is no indication of the highlight when reading with VoiceOver, and it is very difficult to find the margin note when reading through that section of the book. It is also impossible to associate the note with the highlighted text it annotates.
These new interactive textbooks are currently available only on the iPad, and not yet on the iPhone or iPod touch, which also concerns me. Although there is no cookie-cutter solution, when advising people with vision loss trying to decide between an iPad versus the smaller iPhone or iPod Touch devices, I generally advise a person with low vision to consider the iPad because its large screen is better suited to take advantage of the Zoom magnifier and other visual enhancements available on the devices. However, I usually advise blind people to consider the iPhone or iPod Touch because you get the same blindness features in a more portable, ergonomically friendly device, and I don't want those people to be left out.
Although my initial reaction was not nearly as positive as I had hoped, I do expect Apple, as they usually do, to make the necessary improvements. Apple has already showed they are concerned with the accessibility of this new platform, as they have developed a support page for using their iBooks Author software to design accessible textbooks.
iBooks has up to this point been by far the most accessible mainstream eBook platform, an I hope students with vision loss won't be left out of these exciting new textbook advancements.For more information: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5073
Re: Is Apple's New iTextbook Platform Accessible?Posted by Joe S on 1/27/2012 at 10:19 AM
Thank you for sharing this information! I was interested in knowing more about the accessibility of the new iTextbook app features. I look forward to hear more in the future!
Re: Is Apple's New iTextbook Platform Accessible?Posted by mestomba [http://www.afb.org/blog/blog.asp?BlogID=7&BlogEntryID=234] on 2/1/2012 at 9:47 PM
Is the quality of speech much better in Ibooks than in Kindle?
Re: Is Apple's New iTextbook Platform Accessible?Posted by Hoot44 on 2/3/2012 at 3:24 PM
The voice is the same Samantha text-to-speech engine from Nuance that th eKindle uses, but it is much better as far as functionality and your ability to navigate through the book. iBooks is in my opinion the most accessible mainstream e-book platform, and the Kindle reading experience does not even compare to the iBooks reading experience.
Re: Is Apple's New iTextbook Platform Accessible?Posted by mestomba on 2/4/2012 at 10:48 AM
Thank you Hoot44! I appreciate it.
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