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Media (Apple) Media

Software Update Makes iTunes Accessible To Blind Users 148

Posted by timothy
from the rockbox-already-has-voice-guidance-note dept.
rickthewizkid writes "Recent updates to the iTunes software allow blind users to access the program without assistance. From the article: 'The new software — which transforms the written information on an iTunes-linked computer screen into speech or Braille — stemmed from an agreement between Apple, the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer company, the National Federation of the Blind and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.'" It's not just the actual iTunes app, though; the article notes that this update makes iTunes U useable as well.
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Software Update Makes iTunes Accessible To Blind Users

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Part of the same effort. User may turn on larger text, or enable spoken items from within iTunes.

    • good on them. i hope other portable device makers will follow in their footsteps.

      i was going to suggest that Sony should add accessibility features to the PSP, but the PSP's media player is still pretty much a bare-bone audio player. after all these firmware updates, the PSP still doesn't support playlists, much less the advanced media browsing features of the iPod (genres, artists, albums, etc.).

      though i don't have much use for it, adding accessibility features for the blind would at least be more producti

      • I am all for accessibility for the blind and deaf but talking about adding this to a visual gaming system? That is going a little far don't you think?

        • the PSP is a portable entertainment device, it doesn't just pay games. i use it to listen to audiobooks and read e-books more often than i actually play games on it these days. i mean, there are blind computer users even though computers use a visual display for most output.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rich0 (548339)

      Interesting.

      I use Rockbox and I've noticed that a large number of Rockbox users are blind (I am not). Rockbox has supported voice prompts for quite a long time now - obviously the word has gotten out since many of these users are not the sorts of people who would be flashing custom firmware onto an mp3 player otherwise. A fair amount of effort has been devoted to accessibility on the project, and I don't think that many other mp3 players can make that claim.

  • Good start Apple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rampant mac (561036) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @08:39PM (#25189405)
    Now how about incorporating this into every Cocoa app? Provide developers with an API so they can use it as well.
  • Awesome! (Score:4, Informative)

    by WiiVault (1039946) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @08:42PM (#25189427)
    As someone who has worked extensivly with the blind I have to say, its about time! I love the Mac but in so many ways it is difficult for blind or near-blind users. I hope Safari and other apps follow soon.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by narcberry (1328009)

      If only they would make it more accessible to the deaf.

      • Re:Awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by The Iso (1088207) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @09:48PM (#25189889)

        Actually, many deaf people enjoy music. They experience vibrations from loud music in a way that you cannot, and appreciate rhythm. They also enjoy the experience of a concert; venues are required by law to provide interpreters for the deaf upon request.

        Beethoven, as we all know, continued to compose brilliant works even after he was completely unable to hear.

        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yeah, but he didn't have to listen to it. The best parts of his Ninth Symphony were just an editing of the Choral Fantasy. Have you heard his Eighth? Ugh.

          I'm completely in favor of deaf people composing music, as long as I don't have to listen to it. I like writing Chinese poetry, too, but I don't speak Chinese so I just make the little picture-letters look pretty together.

        • Kindly call me the day that there's a DragonForce show that's interpreted for the deaf. I'd pay double the ticket price just to see someone keep up with them.

        • Actually, many deaf people enjoy music. They experience vibrations from loud music in a way that you cannot,

          I'd say that anyone who's lived in an apartment has experienced that particular phenomenon. It's not all that fun. Of course, that could be because my neighbors have usually had shitty taste in music.

        • by fifedrum (611338)

          as a fife and drum guy I can tell you that the people who are often most impressed are the deaf ones. The drums, up close and personal at a demonstration in a school or out in a living history event, penetrate the chest and head quite effectively, and even people without any hearing at all can feel the open rudimental drumming just fine. They also make fine drummers, good tactile response mechanisms and all that.

      • I realize you are just trying to be funny, but iPod, iTunes, and Apple TV all support captioning, and have for some time. Jobs even metioned it during his last keynote. Here is a page about it: http://www.apple.com/accessibility/itunes/hearing.html [apple.com]
    • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Informative)

      by gkearney (162433) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @09:56PM (#25189937)

      Safari and the many other application on the Mac are accessible to the blind. The Mac has a built in screen reader, VoiceOver, that permit the blind as well as the print disabled to have the screen read to them and to navigate to onscreen controls.

      Most Cocoa application are, by default, accessible to VoiceOver and there are simple and well documented steps a programmer can do to insure there Macintosh applications are accessible.

      Because VoiceOver is built into the OS and not an added services the blind users literally saves $1000s of dollars over the cost of a Windows PC.

      • by WiiVault (1039946)
        I stand corrected, this is very nice to know. I will pass it on.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dutch Gun (899105)

        In XP, just look under Start | All Programs | Accessories | Accessibility... You'll find a number of accessibility programs, including a screen reader, magnifier, and programs to configure manage these features (Vista has these too, of course). What added services are you thinking of that cost $1000s?

        There's plenty to knock Microsoft for, but I don't think accessibility support in their OS's is one of them. And honestly, are you seriously trying to tell me that buying a Mac is ever cheaper than a roughly

        • Clearly you have not actually used the built in screen reader in Windows. (Not that you said you had.) Here's a quote [computerworld.com]:

          Narrator, the screen reader built into Windows XP and Vista, is so crude that even Microsoft admits that it is not suitable for daily use.

          So the actual alternatives that are usable (JAWS and WindowEyes) do cost about a thousand dollars each. And no VoiceOver, the one that comes built in to OSX, can't compete entirely with those, but it is usable. You can interact with the entire operati

          • by Dutch Gun (899105)

            Yeah, that's why I asked the question - I was curious what was needed beyond the built-in utilities (I probably could have worded it better - and I think I sparked some ire by raising a question about the pricing issue). Thanks for the info.

            Computing for the blind is an interesting problem for me. I'm a game developer, and I specialize in audio programming specifically. I've long thought about creating more software that only requires audio to play - about what sort of games those could be and how one wo

            • It is interesting and there is actually a fair amount of it out there. Google for computer games for the blind or similar and you'll find a fair amount. Some are audio games designed for blind people and some are adaptations of sighted games so that they are accessible such as AudioQuake [agrip.org.uk] which runs on Linux.

              Here's [wired.com] an older article from Wired about games for the blind.

        • Microsoft does do a good job with accessibility, especially Office, but there is no good to be had in overstating their effort.

          You'll find a number of accessibility programs

          As TaxMan explained in his reply to your post, those are more like utilities than robust features that can be relied upon every day.

          And honestly, are you seriously trying to tell me that buying a Mac is ever cheaper than a roughly equivalent Windows PC? Macs are great computers, don't get me wrong. But they're also *premium* devices, and

          • by Dutch Gun (899105)

            Microsoft does do a good job with accessibility, especially Office, but there is no good to be had in overstating their effort.

            I wasn't trying to overstate it. I was just trying to clarify what the Windows OS offered.

            As TaxMan explained in his reply to your post, those are more like utilities than robust features that can be relied upon every day.

            Ok, I'll take your word on that. I only have experience in programming for those features, not actually using them. I'll accept others' expertise on that.

            You are trolling.

            Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean they're trolling. It's great way to kill a discussion though.

            • I only have experience in programming for those features

              The fact that you include this factor in your developement process has got to put you in the top 1% of all programmers. Kudos and thanks!

          • Microsoft does do a good job with accessibility, especially Office, but there is no good to be had in overstating their effort.

            They may do that on Windows, and others have confirmed they do, but Microsoft Office is completely inaccessible on the Mac with VoiceOver. Luckily you can open Word docs in Textedit which is accessible or I presume you could open the files with Openoffice. I haven't tested that. And in the spirit of not overstating, since Voiceover isn't as full featured as the expensive Windows only software that is available (and nothing like it is available for Mac that I am aware of) most fully blind people do use JAWS

            • Microsoft Office is completely inaccessible on the Mac with VoiceOver.

              This is true. Other developers heavily vested in Carbon, not the least of which is Adobe, also have huge problems with VoiceOver compatibility.

              most fully blind people do use JAWS or WindowEyes because they have to ... $1000 isn't a big deal.

              Mostly true. If a blind person needs to use MS Office or other Windows-only applications, there is no choice, and a grand is not expensive if that is all it takes to get a job. But just as mo

              • OCR software that is fully functional for a blind individual [kurzweiledu.com] costs another $1000! Unfortunately, this is another absent product category under OS X and Gnome.

                Actually OmniPage is $150 and is fully accessible (well at least version 15 was) and many people say it is more accurate than Kurzweil for OCR. The other consumer OCR apps are supposed to be decent accuracy, but I don't know about their accessibility. Readiris has a Mac version and supposedly it works with Voiceover, but I don't know. Photoshop has OCR, but nothing like the dedicated OCR apps, and as you mentioned, not especially accessible.

                Hopefully they [Gnome vs. KDE] are similar.

                I do not quite grok the reasons for the differences, I think they are architectural, but there are at least three decent screen readers for Gnome, but none for KDE.

                Yeah actually I looked into this and it seems KDE is way behind in

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by gkearney (162433)

          In all due respect Narrator is not a screen reader and Microsoft never claimed it was. To gain access to the OS in Windows you will need to buy a Windows screen reader which will add a thousand dollars to the cost of what ever computer you will buy. Or put another way you can buy a entry level Mac for less than the cost of a Windows screen reader itself.

          While many here have said that VoiceOver is not as capable as it commercial Windows counterpart I would beg to differ. VoiceOver is fundimentaly different f

  • Personally, I never used the screen, anyways. The Mac UI is so wonderful, I just think what I want to open, and it practically opens it for me. Frankly, I don't understand why anyone would use a screen.

  • Braille? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AaxelB (1034884) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @08:52PM (#25189507)
    Pray tell, how does a software upgrade convert text into Braille? Does it just display a series of dots on the screen?

    Actually, now that I think about it, I'd be interested in the idea of a computer screen which could create slight relief, raising dots for the user to feel. I wonder if that, combined with a stylus for clicking and such, would allow for existing interfaces to be used by blind people... Does such a thing exist?
  • I must confess, I'm not really following what is going on in helping the disabled in the technology field, but I know it's been a big issue since at least one decade and I thought it had somewhat been solved at the OS / standards / specialized hardware level.

    I'm kindof shocked by this headline ... and also wondering what is the current state of supporting the blinds in other apps than iTune nowadays? Is iTune (pre-patched) the exception or the norm?

  • by Speare (84249)
    Did they add the Dock Menu's MUTE option back into the thing? Seriously, WTF did they remove the mute option in a recent update? I'm playin' my tunes or watching a video, I don't want to go find and PAUSE it, I just want to kill the sound for a sec. while I listen to something else briefly.
  • Apple's fondness for non-haptic-feedback touchscreens and zero-tactile-feedback panels with a distinct lack of buttons still means that using ipods and iphones without sight is a fraught experience. Rockbox can work on ipods, but it's a much better sightless experience on an older iRiver or Archos with lots of clicky, raised, mechanical buttons.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 28, 2008 @09:58PM (#25189959)

      Haptic feedback doesn't help if you can't see the screen. And what's a "zero-tactile-feedback panel" if not a non-haptic touch screen?

      Products sometimes just flat-out don't work for some people. The iPhone is a poor choice for the blind. That's why there are other products out there, not that ANY cell phone is "good" for a blind user.

      "Clicky, raised, mechanical buttons" are only half of the game--you still can't see what's on the screen. Using an iPod is no more difficult than using an iRiver or Archos with buttons, since you can't feel the labels. It has distinct zones and the orientation of controls can be readily determined by touch alone--how many people even take their iPods out of their pockets to use them? None I've seen, unless they need the screen for something.

      Honestly, did you even think this comment through in your head before posting?

    • by BMonger (68213) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @10:06PM (#25190015)
      I use my iPhone every morning without looking at it. I am a master of hitting the snooze area of the screen.
  • It's always good news and encouraging to see progress like this. While it's certainly not a requirement for most parties to have software/websites that are compliant for people with disabilities, it's good to see when things are designed so they can readily use them. In the government public websites and software services are required to be Section 508 compliant -- meaning they work for those with disabilities. This has to do with colors, alt-tags, text placement, etc. One could make an argument that pe
  • by syousef (465911) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @09:57PM (#25189947) Journal

    ...to call users who don't understand or care about Apple DRM blind. Think of how insulting it is to the blind.

  • Windows has always had superior accessibility because it was designed to support full keyboard navigation from its inception. It's impossible to create an application using standard controls that doesn't support the keyboard. Why Apple didn't make their OS work right in this regard with the move to OSX escapes me to this day.

    • by Graff (532189) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @10:16PM (#25190083)

      Windows has always had superior accessibility because it was designed to support full keyboard navigation from its inception. It's impossible to create an application using standard controls that doesn't support the keyboard. Why Apple didn't make their OS work right in this regard with the move to OSX escapes me to this day.

      You mean like this [apple.com]:

      Full Keyboard Navigation
      In Mac OS X, you can use the keyboard to navigate through a document. The Tab key lets you navigate to lists, text boxes, and other controls, and the space bar and Return key let you interact with them.

      Keyboard Shortcuts
      Using keyboard shortcuts (or key combinations), you can quickly perform a wide range of tasks. In addition to the large number of predefined keyboard shortcuts included with Mac OS X, the Mac lets you customize existing shortcuts, create your own, or remove shortcuts you don't use. Shortcuts can be systemwide or made to work only in specific applications. Use the Keyboard Shortcuts tab in the Keyboard & Mouse pane of System Preferences to add or modify shortcuts.

      Slow Keys
      If you have motor-skills disabilities, you can use Slow Keys to avoid typing errors and unintended multiple keystrokes.

      Adjustable Key Repeat and Delay
      If you want to change the Key Repeat or Delay Until Repeat rate to suit your needs, you can do so using the Keyboard & Mouse settings in System Preferences. Used in conjunction with Slow Keys, these settings let you adapt the keyboard to match your abilities and use it more effectively.

      Sticky Keys
      Using Sticky Keys, you can enter key combinations (called "chords") -- such as Command-Q (for Quit) or Shift-Option-8 (to enter the symbol) -- by pressing them in sequence instead of simultaneously.

      When Sticky Keys is active, Mac OS X visually displays each key in the sequence in the upper-right corner of the screen, accompanied by a sound effect, so you can verify the sequence and correct it (if needed) before it's entered. When you press the last key in the sequence, Mac OS X enters the keys as a chord and the visual representation disappears.

      Mouse Keys
      If you have difficulty controlling the mouse, you can use Mouse Keys to control the mouse pointer using the keys on a numeric keypad. With Mouse Keys, you can navigate menus, the Dock, windows, toolbars, palettes, and other controls by pressing keys.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by chaboud (231590)

        And, well, sorry, but the Windows universe has long been better for blind and near-blind users than the OS X universe. Though Apple has made some serious strides in the past few years, they're still behind.

        Simple things, like not tab-stopping commit/cancel buttons, make the process significantly harder for usability programmers and users alike.

        Applause should be given for making strides on this front, but Apple is still playing catch-up.

        • by bidule (173941)

          Simple things, like not tab-stopping commit/cancel buttons, make the process significantly harder for usability programmers and users alike.

          What's wrong with Enter / Cancel and cmd-D?

          And yes, I am a mouse hater that is too lazy to fix the missing shortcuts.

        • by Ilgaz (86384)

          Windows has better third party support since the companies coding those complex apps and drivers choose Windows over Apple. The Windows accessibility which is built in is a 'fallback' thing. Look to its help if you don't believe me. Blind people use way more advanced apps but... apps doesn't exist on OS X.

          When they port to OS X using XCode or when they finally wake up and start porting does Apple refuse to support them? I bet they would even support them for free.

          What will Apple do? Bribe them and make them

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Yer Mum (570034)
          The option is there but by default on Mac OS X tab only jumps to the next text field. If you want to make it jump through all controls you need to enable it in system preferences. I've forgot exactly where it is though...
        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          Turn on full keyboard navigation.

      • Have you tried actually using OS X from the keyboard alone? I have, and it doesn't work.

        All that verbiage from Apple is just trying to cover up that fact. In particular, the section "Full keyboard navigation" is misleading.

        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          From the keyboard _alone_? You're right, it doesn't *fully* work, and I write up bugs whenever I find things that don't work. (You should too. Go to https://bugreport.apple.com/ [apple.com] and write up a bug.)

          But I use keyboard navigation for much of my daily use of the system. I keyboard navigate the menubar and the Dock all the time, for example. Some things (e.g. dragging of files around) obviously are easier with the mouse (trackball in my case).. but I use the keyboard for much of my interaction with the GUI

      • Weasel words. (Score:3, Interesting)

        Full Keyboard Navigation
        In Mac OS X, you can use the keyboard to navigate through a document.
        [emph mine]

        Notice that while the page you link to gives the impression that the OS is keyboard navigable, the above statement refers to navigating through a document, not all Operating System features.

        Apple have managed to suck a few disabled into buying their systems with this sales pitch. Have a read of this guy's experiences [accessifyforum.com] (he interacts with his PC via a mouthstick):

        Very annoying. In short i'm refering to th

        • by Graff (532189)

          Notice that while the page you link to gives the impression that the OS is keyboard navigable, the above statement refers to navigating through a document, not all Operating System features.

          You can navigate through all operating system features, not just documents. All I have to do is hit control-F2, for example, to control the main menu with the keyboard. This sort of thing exists for all UI elements, all you have to do is read the appropriate documentation and it spells it out very nicely and in a fairly logical manner.

          Oh and if you have a menu open in this fashion you can just start typing the name of the menu item and it will select it. If there are two menu items with similar names jus

          • Did you miss the quote in my post that said:

            Also most tabbed Preference dialogs have no keyboard access to the tabs themselves,

            • by Graff (532189)

              Also most tabbed Preference dialogs have no keyboard access to the tabs themselves

              You mean like control-F7 which does just this? I've just tried it on a bunch of standard windows with tabs, such as many of the preference dialogs in System Preferences and it works just fine for me.

              You can keep on trying to come up with exceptions and I'm sure you'll eventually find SOMETHING but the point is that there is pretty damn good Universal Access in Mac OS X. I'm sure there are some non-standard applications out there which are broken and don't properly support people with disabilities but it's

        • by Lars T. (470328)

          Full Keyboard Navigation In Mac OS X, you can use the keyboard to navigate through a document. [emph mine]

          Notice that while the page you link to gives the impression that the OS is keyboard navigable, the above statement refers to navigating through a document, not all Operating System features.

          So you are saying that when I hit the Tab key in a document, it "lets [me] navigate to lists, text boxes, and other controls" - is that your final answer?

          • So you are saying that when I hit the Tab key in a document, it "lets [me] navigate to lists, text boxes, and other controls" - is that your final answer?

            I didn't say anything about what you can do, I said that OS X has inferior keyboard navigation compared to other OSes.

    • by chaboud (231590)

      Sorry, but that's not entirely on the mark. It's possible to create a Windows application that isn't fully accessible by keyboard by screwing up tabstop ordering, failing to add accelerators, etc. That said, it's much easier to get it right. You have to go out of your way (and a surprising number of people do) to screw things up.

  • by barfy (256323)

    I think if they could bring Itunes for the Deaf, that would be rad! (Waving my hands in mime excitement)

  • Attorney General (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @10:24PM (#25190141) Homepage

    I don't mean to sound like I'm against making software more accessible to disabled users, but what are the details of the Attorney General's involvement in this. Were there any threats made against Apple concerning iTunes accessibility? I thought private companies weren't required to make their software accessible, which is a policy that I fully agree with.

    Too much bullying by Attorneys General these days (see NY AG's actions w.r.t. UseNet).

    • by jipn4 (1367823)

      I thought private companies weren't required to make their software accessible, which is a policy that I fully agree with.

      And why would you "fully agree" with that? Why should Apple or Microsoft not be required to do in their software what companies have to do in the physical world?

      • I would argue that software is not a fundamental right and part of existence. Getting the lawyers involved threatens to open a frightening floodgate of frivolous lawsuits.
      • Prove to me that people are entitled to a particular software package and I'll agree that accessibility features should be mandatory. Failing that, show me that the software's creation was publicly funded and I'll agree that accessibility features should be mandatory. Otherwise, I don't think it's the government's place to mandate development of accessibility features. But perhaps I'm wrong, so please tell me: "Why should Apple or Microsoft be required to [make their software accessible]?"

        • People aren't entitled to stay in a particular hotel room or shop in a particular store either. The law still requires hotel and shop owners to provide handicapped access.

  • If this update made it accessible to the deaf.

    *ducks*
  • I had been under the impression that Apple had at least as much accessibility support as other platforms. If it takes this long for one of their main audio apps to become accessible to blind users, Apple is doing poorly on accessibility.

  • But what about the def users?!

  • This is a PR fluff piece, with no feedback from anyone blind. And everywhere I looked for derivative articles was more of the same. I want to know if it really works for a blind person, or is it just frustration in a tiny box.

  • does it make the ipod/iphone usable for linux users?

    • Usable??? Hell, with my "ZZ Top" beard, kaftan and sandals, they won't even let me in the Apple shop!

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