AccessWorld contributing author Shelly Brisbin recently released the 6th edition of her popular book iOS Access for All. I have been aware of her reference since the first edition, and in fact purchased the work. I recall looking briefly at the book, thinking it would be a great read, and then allowing myself to get side tracked by other projects. I must confess that I never really sat down and read through the text from start to finish. Over the years, I have read other works dealing with the subject of Apple's iOS devices and operating system. When I became aware that Brisbin was about to release the iOS 12 edition of her iOS Access for All, I decided it was time to get serious about reading through the work.
I will confess that I love to read; I always have. I can think of nothing more exciting for me than to sit down with a good book, and begin absorbing information. Seldom do I hold a hard-copy braille volume in my lap anymore. These days, I either read with my refreshable braille display, or using audio whether it be text-to-speech, or human narration. I don't mind paying for a book, but unfortunately I can't afford to purchase every volume I would like. For this reason, I take seriously the decision of whether to spend my money on a book. Also, the format or formats available are important to me as well. I want to be able to read my books anywhere I am, so multiple formats are important to me.
One thing that sets this book apart from many other offerings is the comprehensive nature of the work. Brisbin sets out to cover all areas of accessibility using Apple's iOS devices including iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Even if you are primarily interested in one topic such as VoiceOver, or Apple's low-vision implementation in its iOS operating system, I believe you will find enough material in this book to make the price worth it. Also, I feel that it pays to look at the broader view of accessibility options that have been implemented in Apple's line of products. Finally, there is a surprising amount of overlap when considering the needs of people who are blind, low vision, or have physical and cognitive challenges.
Brisbin has been writing books and magazine articles for mainstream and visually impaired audiences for over 25 years, and it shows when you read her work. Her style is both engaging and informative. A knowledge of her subject matter and a passion for the topics at hand infuses her work from start to finish.
Brisbin provides a table of contents and a sample chapter of the book on her website so you can better determine whether to spend your hard-earned cash for this reference. You will only get one format when you purchase the book, so decide if you'd rather have ePub or PDF, or whether you'd rather buy from Brisbin's website or the Apple bookstore.
I read the ePub version of the book using the Voice Dream Reader app on my iPhone. Although there are hyperlinks in the book that allow you to jump directly to various sections as you read, I did not see hyperlinks with Voice Dream Reader.
What's in iOS Access for All?
iOS Access for All is divided into three parts, with a total of 10 chapters plus appendices. Part 1 introduces the reader to the Apple ecosystem and its implementation of accessibility. I was struck by how relevant this book, and Part 1 in particular, might be for those who wish to help someone they know get set up with an iOS device. Brisbin has some vision, and she has explored all areas of interest to the blind user as well. She is comfortable discussing flicks and taps related to VoiceOver, using switches if you have a physical impairment, and low-vision tips and tricks in a way that should engage any reader.
Whether you need some information about which iPhone model to purchase, or you want some guidance when it comes to setting up accessibility options on a new device, the first part of iOS Access for All has you covered.
The Wide World of Access
Part 2 of Brisbin's book delves into the details of Apple accessibility. Chapter 3 deals with VoiceOver, and it feels like the longest chapter of the book. If this is in fact the case, it is probably because VoiceOver accessibility is interconnected to everything in a way that few other areas of iOS accessibility are. That said, it is worth reading the rest of the book in order to see how VoiceOver works with, for example, the Maps app. If there is a downside to a work as comprehensive as iOS Access for All, it is the fact that you can't simply read one chapter or section of the book and learn everything you may need to know. The reference deserves at least one complete read through upon purchase just so you can get a feel for how much overlap there really is when it comes to Apple accessibility.
In case you think that just because you've used VoiceOver for a long time that means you don't need to read Chapter 3 of this book, I would submit that there may be a thing or two you may not know. For example, I am an avid fan of braille screen input when it comes to typing on my iPhone. However, I didn't know that I could locate apps by invoking braille screen input from the home screen and typing the name of an app. Pretty slick, Apple!
The only area of the chapter on VoiceOver that left me wanting more was the discussion of braille displays. As these devices become less expensive, it is likely that iOS users may have more than one display available. I would like more information regarding juggling multiple displays on my iPhone.
Until I read Chapter 4, I didn't realize that low-vision access to iOS devices is more a set of tools rather than the one giant VoiceOver solution. It seems from my reading of this chapter as well as discussions I've had with low-vision users, that the iOS experience for people with low vision isn't always as satisfactory as for those using VoiceOver, but Brisbin brings it all together as best she can.
If there is one aspect of Apple's iOS operating system that brings disabled and mainstream users together in a common experience, it's Apple's voice assistant, Siri. Chapter 5 gives many examples of how Siri can be used, from receiving turn-by-turn directions to making reservations at your favorite restaurant. No matter how many books I read regarding how to use iOS, I always learn something about Siri I didn't know. Part of the reason is because the voice assistant, as well as other forms of available voice input such as dictation, are constantly updated.
Chapters 6 and 7 are devoted to individuals with hearing impairment as well as various physical challenges. It is worth reading these chapters if for no other reason than to appreciate all the work that Apple puts into making its products truly accessible. It is easy to only be aware of one's own little corner of the universe without taking the time to learn about the needs of others.
All About Apps
Part 3 of iOS Access for All is devoted to various apps that make the iOS experience truly unique. Brisbin briefly mentions scores of apps that either just work out of the box or have been designed with visually impaired users in mind.
She also takes the reader through built-in apps like Maps, as well as iOS features including Control Center and Screen Time.
The remainder of the book is made up of appendices that provide easy access to iOS commands including VoiceOver gestures and keyboard commands.
The final appendix is devoted to setting up a new device with VoiceOver.
The Bottom Line
If you want a comprehensive, well-written book that covers all aspects of Apple's iOS accessibility implementation, I highly recommend purchasing Shelly Brisbin's iOS Access for All.
If Brisbin ever partners with an agency that provides the book in hard-copy braille, I will most certainly purchase the reference. It might be more practical to produce just the appendices in braille as a quick reference guide.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.