It was back in 2014 when I offered up my first review of Shelly Brisbin's eBook, iOS Access for All: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accessibility for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. As I noted then, "The first thing you will notice when perusing the book's table of contents is that Brisbin was serious when she concluded her book title with the words ?For All.'" Along with chapters covering VoiceOver (the iOS built-in screen reader) and low vision accessibility, this comprehensive guide also covers iOS accessibility tools for the hearing impaired, and the physical and learning disabled. Additionally, the book is all-inclusive in that it can be read and enjoyed by accessibility users of all levels, from the absolute novice to access tech instructors who want to learn a new accessibility trick or two.
With the release of iOS 11, we have also been served up with the latest, and dare I say greatest, fifth edition of Brisbin's authoritative iOS accessibility guide, now expanded to 700 pages and nearly 160,000 words. Happily for the reader, this new content is not simply tacked on to her pre-existing material. A great deal of reorganizing and re-prioritizing has gone into this new edition. For example, less emphasis has been placed on using iTunes to pair the iPhone with a computer, and much of the initial setup material has been moved to an appendix. As before, Brisbin's book covers a wide range of disabilities, but for our purposes we will focus here on accessibility for the blind, low vision and deafblind iOS user.
It can be a daunting task to learn how to operate a brand new device's various accessibility features. You might find an instruction that tells you to "slide three fingers down from the top to summon your notifications" before you know what notifications even are.
Brisbin continues to shine in interweaving these two instructional elements. Most of this dual-track learning occurs in the "Tools for Blind Users" section, though some essential material is scattered about, so non-VoiceOver users may wish to review this section anyway, and users who use VoiceOver exclusively will want to read ahead through the low-vision and hearing sections. Everyone will wish to review the chapter devoted to using Siri, and everyone can, since this chapter is available as a free sample at iOS AccessBook.com.
Where necessary, Brisbin demonstrates the differences between the display layout on an iPhone and iPad, and includes the slightly different gesture commands now found on the iPhone X. She devotes an entire section each to most of the built-in apps, such as Mail, Calendar, FaceTime, and Safari. She then offers a list of several dozen third-party apps of potential interest to users of accessibility features. Even longtime iOS users may find an undiscovered gem in this list. I, for one, plan to give the Social Speaker Twitter app a whirl. The apps are categorized: Writing and Notetaking, Utilities, Reading, News and Information, and so on. I do wish Brisbin had also subheaded this chapter by individual apps, to make it easier to navigate back to a listing of interest. And of course I believe not including the AccessWorld iOS app, where you can read, search, and share articles from this fine publication, was a major oversight (OK, end of shameless self-promotion).
Author Q and A
I sat down with Shelly Brisbin to ask a few questions:
Bill Holton: Accessible smartphones have been with us for nearly a decade now. As the writer of an accessibility guide with several editions, are you finding that more of your books are being sold to previous readers who have upgraded or first time / agency purchases, indicating there is still growth in the market?
SB: It's a good mix, actually. I have customers who buy each edition the day I release it, and often write to ask when a new one will be available. Some folks will skip a version and return, which is also a reasonable thing to do. New folks do find the book: the iOS 10 edition got a lot of love from teachers, trainers, and agencies that offer services to those with blindness and visual impairments.
BH: You have certainly been following the development of iOS for quite some time. Do you think iOS 11 represents a major upgrade to accessibility or do you view it as more an incremental evolution?
SB: I think it is an incremental upgrade. Apple added a few new features to most accessibility tools, and supported access features in the many new apps and tools it added to iOS generally. And one thing that mars the upgrade a bit are the problems with braille. Many braille display users experience a lot of bugs in the early releases of iOS 11. Some have been squashed, some not.
BH: What do you think are the most significant hardware and software changes between iOS 10 and 11?
SB: The iPhone X is the biggest hardware change, obviously. It's a phone that requires new gestures to operate, since there is no Home button. And its OLED screen is different, and perhaps more useful to some people with low vision. In software, the iPad multitasking changes are significant, because they make it easier and quicker to use multiple apps at once. Exposing some of the file system with APFS will mean a lot to some people, as it does to me, because, like the iPad multitasking options, access to the file system means greater productivity and flexibility in the way you can work in a mobile environment.
BH: What is your personal favorite new feature or improvement, either mainstream or accessibility?
SB: I dig Smart Invert Colors, the color mode that adds proper image display to the existing reverse video feature in iOS. I have low vision, and am a constant Invert Colors user. Until iOS 11, I had to triple-click in and out of Invert Colors every time I wanted to see a photo on Facebook or Twitter. With Smart Invert, there's a lot less of that. Sadly, that feature requires the developer to support it, which many do not yet do. And Web browsing in Safari still doesn't display images correctly with Smart Invert.
BH: You dedicate a complete chapter of iOS Access for All describing apps that enhance accessibility or that work well with it. What would you recommend as the first three or four app downloads for the new blind or low vision iOS user?
SB: Microsoft's amazing Seeing AI, Voice Dream Reader, Twitterific, and Transit. Seeing AI and Transit are free, the other two are not.
BH: What do you think of the current state of Android accessibility? Is it catching up with iOS? Would you still recommend a new user of accessible mobile technology begin their journey with an iOS device?
SB: Android accessibility is improving. It's quite usable, whether you're blind or have low vision, but I think it's a bit more fiddly for low-vision users than iOS is, and it's harder to learn because each Android device and [operating system] can have its own features and quirks. You can save money with Android, because more less-expensive devices are available on that platform. And if you (or someone you love) is an inexperienced user who will probably use that device for a few, very specific tasks, Android's alternative launchers are a great way to customize and simplify a device experience. I'm talking about your mom, here. I think a braille user should stick with iOS, bugs in iOS 11 notwithstanding.
Where to purchase:
iOS Access For All is available for $20 in either e-Pub or PDF format from iOSAccessBook.com
Or from the Apple iBook Store
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- Book Review: iOS 11 Without the Eye by Jonathan Mosen by Jamie Pauls
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