Several years ago, I looked at the Apple VoiceOver screen reader and found it wanting. Last week, I returned to VoiceOver and, at the risk of further inflaming the hyperbolic passion of the Apple Fan boys/girls, I must say it is amazing how much difference a few years can make.
Last Friday, Russ Weakley and I visited an old friend, David Woodbridge in Gosford, an hour’s drive north of Sydney on the freeway through sheeting rain. David is a senior consultant for Vision Australia and spends part of his time testing and evaluating adaptive technologies. Formally a dedicated JAWS user, David is now an Apple VoiceOver evangelist. Russ and I were keen to see how David uses VoiceOver with his Macbook Pro and make a video of him using it with the iPhone and iPad.
In the past, many people in the blind community and accessibility advocates, myself included, generally felt that VoiceOver did not have the necessary features to be considered a viable alternative for established screen readers like JAWS and Window Eyes. Today, it appears that VoiceOver is an effective and easy to use screen reader, although it seems that it may take people who are used to the more commonly used screen readers a little time to get use to.
I feel VoiceOver, which is built into the Apple operating system, and NVDA, a Windows screen reader that is available at no cost, now provide screen reader users with real alternatives. And in the process, they will hopefully put pressure on the manufacturers of other, relatively expensive, screen readers to lift their game.
In making the following video, many thanks to David for his knowledge, time and patience, and to Russ for operating the second camera, which provided the essential close-up shots of the devices.
The video is captioned in English and open for translation into other languages if you so wish. A transcript of the video is provided after the video player.
MAIN TITLE: iPHONE, iPAD and Apple VoiceOver
DAVID: Hi my name is David Woodbridge and I am the senior adaptive technology consultant at Vision Australia. I’m part of the equipment solutions team and my job is to do the adaptive technology help desk. I’m one of the people that do that, and also research and evaluate products, including Apple products. And, one of the exciting things last year was the iPhone 3GS because it actually has all the universal access options built into it. So basically you’ve got a screen reader which is the VoiceOver program on the Mac, it’s now on the iPhone. You’ve go Zoom, the large print software and you’ve got Black on White.
A really cool thing about VoiceOver, especially on iPhone,particularly for sighted people that want to help blind or low vision people out is that under Settings, General Accessibility. What you can actually do is associate the Home button with turning VoiceOver,in my case, on or off. So, if just press my Home button three times [PRESSES HOME BUTTON ON iPHONE THREE TIMES].
iPHONE: VoiceOver off.
DAVID: Now my iPhone is a perfectly standard iPhone so if I need sighted assistance for something they can do it with standard gestures. And then, one, two, three [PRESSES HOME BUTTON]
iPHONE: VoiceOver on.
DAVID: And I’ve got myself an accessible iPhone again. And, basically what happens with VoiceOver, is when you touch the screen [MOVES FINGER ACROSS iPHONE SCREEN]
iPHONE: Clock, maps, photos, calendar …
DAVID: It actually reads out what’s happening. Now some people say, well look that’s okay because you are used to it, but how do you know where things are? What you can actually do with VoiceOver is you can actually do a left finger flick to the left or a right finger flick to the right [FLICKS FINGERS LEFT AND RIGHT ACROSS THE SURFACE OF THE SCREEN].
iPHONE: Weather, Voice memo, notes … [PHONE CONTINUES READING WITH FINGER FLICKS AS DAVID TALKS]
DAVID: And you can move item by item so you’ve got total control over where you are. Now the other really good thing about the screen as far as the screen reader is concerned is that if I take my finger to the top of the iPhone and bring it down slightly [MOVES FINGER DOWN ONTO THE TOP OF THE PHONE SCREEN]
iPHONE: Twelve forty one p.m.
DAVID: I’m now on my status line so I can read all the information about the status of what the phone is doing. So if I flick to the left [LEFT FINGER FLICK]
iPHONE: 67% WiFi, signal. Optus network two bars …
DAVID: Two bars [FLICKS TO RIGHT] and to the right …
iPHONE: Status, 31% battery power.
DAVID: 31% battery power. And I can now just take my finger down to the rest of the screen and I’m back on the main iPhone screen itself. Down the bottom, where you’ve got all your apps that you like to access all the time.
DAVID: I normally use my home button as an orientation point, so I come down here, go to the left, go up a little bit. [SLIDES FINGER TO BOTTOM AND UP A LITTLE]
DAVID: So I’ve got Phone to make phone calls [FLICKS RIGHT AND LEFT]
iPHONE: Phone, mail – 95 new items.
DAVID: Mail with 95 new items. Flick to the right again …
DAVID: and the ipod. But, with the release recently of the ipad the accessibility for the VoiceOver application, in my case, has actually got even more spectacular. And, I’ll just mention one particular feature which really gets me excited. At the moment, if I say bring up my Spotlight search for the iPhone … [iPHONE voice] and I touch my qwerty keyboard [PRESSES KEYBOARD LETTER]
DAVID: Ok so I am finding my letters [MOVES FINGER ACROSS KEYBOARD]
iPHONE: G, R, E
DAVID: Now, to put a letter in I normally have to double tap with one finger to put the letter in. So it’s almost a three sequence: Find the letter,
iPHONE: A, G
DAVID: Double tap with one finger
DAVID: it puts it in the search. What they’ve actually done with the iPad … [PUTS DOWN iPHONE, MOVES HAND TO iPAD] is if I bring up my search [TURNS iPAD ON]
iPAD: Search iPad, search field …
DAVID: And I touch my keyboard
iPAD: Auto-cap keyboard, capital
DAVID: First thing it says is keyboard so I know I am on the keyboard, second thing it says is, if, I hold my finger down on the screen long enough, it says the phonetic of the character, so …[HOLDS FINGER STILL ON KEYPAD]
iPAD: Capital F, foxtrot.
DAVID: F, foxtrot [MOVES FINGERS ON KEYPAD]
iPAD: Capital T, tango
DAVID: And so on. But the really cool thing is when I find the letter I want [MOVES FINGER ACROSS KEYPAD]
iPAD: Cap, cap, capital G [LIFTS FINGERS – SCREEN CHANGES]
DAVID: Take it off, take my fingers off the screen and it puts the character in straight away. So your accessibility has just increased phenomenally because I’m not having to find the character,double tap it, I just find the character take my finger off and hey presto its going.[PRESSES HOME BUTTON] To come back to the main home screen with the home button. And again I’ve got the same thing that I can do with the iPhone. [PRESSES HOME BUTTON THREE TIMES] I can do one, two, three.
iPAD: VoiceOver off.
DAVID: VoiceOver off. Use it normally. Back on again, one, two three.[PRESSES HOME BUTTON]
iPAD: Voiceover on.
DAVID: And we have got the status line. And what Apple have done this time with the status window is, if I come down from the top [SLIDES FINGER DOWN SCREEN]
iPAD: BEEP SOUND FX, contacts, BEEP, 12.44 p.m.
DAVID: It gives me a bleep when I hit the status area and [MOVES FINGERS DOWN SCREEN] and I can do the same thing, flick left and right [FLICKS FINGERS OVER SCREEN]
iPAD: 39% battery …
DAVID: And if I come down to the dock. I drag my finger down to the dock. [SLIDES FINGER DOWN SCREEN]
iPAD: BEEP, BEEP, dock. Mail forty new items.
DAVID: It gives a double beep, plus it actually says dock. Another really exciting feature of VoiceOver on the iPad is when I am using the iPhone [PICKS UP iPHONE] and I flip it [ROTATES PHONE IN HIS HANDS] to landscape or its upside down VoiceOver actually doesn’t tell me that I am actually moving it. But what the iPad does [PUTS PHONE DOWN NEXT TO iPAD] is that, I’ve currently got this in landscape mode [PUTS HANDS ON iPAD] and at the moment I physically know where my Home button is because I can feel it on the left hand side of the screen. [PICKS UP iPAD] But if I actually rotate my iPAD [ROTATES iPAD BY 90 DEGREES]
DAVID: OK, so I am now in portrait mode and I know from experience my Home button is always on the bottom. But, if I now flip it to the left …[ROTATES iPAD BY 90 DEGREES]
iPAD: Landscape, Home button to the right.
DAVID: It tells me Home button’s now to the right, so I know exactly where my Home button is and I can go straight to it without any problems at all. If I do a flick to upside down [ROTATES iPAD]
iPAD: Portrait flipped.
DAVID: Portrait flipped, and again I know my Home button is exactly at the top of the screen up here. And if we do another flick [ROTATES THROUGH 90 DEGEES RETURNING TO ORIGINAL LANDSCAPE VIEW]
iPAD: Landscape, home button to the left.
DAVID: Home button to the left and I can put my finger right on it. And just one finally thing I want to show people, because this is the thing that always gets people confused. They say, look I’m pressing the [BEEP SOUNDS] volume up button, and I’m pressing the volume down button, [BEEP SOUNDS] but when I actually go back to my speech [FLICKS ACROSS SCREEN WITH FINGERS]
iPAD: Help, contact, notes …
DAVID: It’s the same volume. So the trick is … [PUTS iPAD ON TABLE] You actually start the screen reader reading and then the volume up and volume down button actually then controls the screen reader voice. So if I do a two finger flick down the screen to start it reading.
iPAD: Calendar, contacts [CONTINUES READING WHILE DAVID TALKS AND CHANGES VOLUME LEVEL]
DAVID: And now when I do it [PRESSES VOLUME BUTTON – iPAD VOLUME DECREASES]
iPAD: Settings, photos, page one of two …
DAVID: Volume’s going down, and back up again [VOLUME INCREASES] And I can do a two finger touch on the screen to stop it talking. So that’s basically VoiceOver on the iPad [PUTS iPAD DOWN ON TABLE]
DAVID: When I’m actually doing web browsing. [MOVES FINGER ALONG DOCK SECTION]
iPAD: Safari – SOUND FX
DAVID: Just quickly …
iPAD: Safari, Apple
DAVID: The way that gestures work on the iPhone and the iPad, besides basically moving your fingers around the screen, one finger, double tapping, there’s actually a system called the Web Rotor. [FINGERS OVER iPAD SCREEN] If I do a two finger rotate … [TWIST/ROTATE TWO FINGERS ON SCREEN]
DAVID: I can rotate between different elements on the screen. So, I can do links … [ROTATE FINGERS]
iPAD: Form controls
DAVID: Form controls …. [ROTATE FINGERS]
iPAD: Visited links.
DAVID: And then when I want to move on one of those elements, so let’s go back to links. [ROTATES FINGERS]
iPAD: Form controls, [ROTATE] Links
DAVID: When I flick up and down with one finger [FINGER FLICKS OVER SCREEN]
iPAD: Apple, Store, Mac, iPod ….
DAVID: I’m actually moving up and down the following. And of course, when I get to the one I want to get to, I can double tap. Now the similar gestures for the iPhone and the iPad are exactly the same commands that I would be using with VoiceOver on the multi-touch trackpad on a Macbook Pro. So, once you’ve got a Macbook, an iPhone or and iPad you know how to use the gestures in the whole three systems.
DAVID: [C.U. iPHONE] Okay to finish off, I think I might make a phone call because the iPhone does actually have the ability to make phone calls. So, I am going to go to my phone app. [PRESSES SCREEN – SOUND FX] I’m going to find my keyboard …
iPHONE: Contacts, keypad, keypad, selected.
DAVID: And to speed things up I going to use one finger to find the number, and while my finger is on the screen I’m going to use my second finger to complete the double tap sequence. [ONE FINGER MOVES OVER SCREEN TO LOCATE NUMBER. OTHER FINGER TAPS TOP OF SCREEN]
iPHONE: Nine, nine, three, three, three, [iPHONE FINGER MOVES AND TAPS] four, four, three, three, three, three.
DAVID: And, if I zip down the bottom of the screen.
iPHONE: Seven, star, zero.
DAVID: Find zero, come right down.
iPHONE: Call button.
DAVID: And, if I did a double tap now I would actually make a phone call to Vision Australia.