Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ipod and Itunes are now accessible to the blind!

This was an important week for blind people. Apple, a company that has long ignored the need for accessibility in it’s consumer devices brought out a new 4th generation version of the Ipod Nano that, when combined with Itunes version 8,is accessible. GW Micro took Apple where no other AT company has been able to lead them. It is a wonderful success and a gift to blind people everywhere.

Us blind folks are tough critics and the ink will be hardly dry on the announcement before people will be griping that the new Ipod doesn’t do one thing or another. Hush. Something more important than features happened here. Thanks to GW Micro, Apple made the digital lifestyle accessible. In doing so, Apple recognized that accessibility is not about compliance. It’s not about some minimal legal requirement to grudgingly make it possible for a blind person to have some small taste of what’s available to the general public. It’s about making fun accessible. It’s about eliminating barriers and making fun an eyes-free experience.

Think about it.

Ipod is the ubiquitous companion of the young and the young at heart. It is everywhere. In just a few short years this device has completely disrupted and reinvented the music industry; it has added a huge new dimension to social networking; it has become a delivery mechanism for information and entertainment of all kinds.

And now it’s accessible. Now it speaks and you can find what you want and enjoy what you want to enjoy without looking. As the New York Times describes it: “The Nano can now speak its menus, song names, and on-screen messages as you navigate. That should assist anyone who’s blind and anyone who insists on fiddling while driving.”

Let me add: “Or while jogging or biking or reading a book or painting a picture or…the list goes on.” Anyone whose eyes are otherwise occupied is no longer hampered in finding the tune or other feature she wants to hear.

What do you think our multi-tasking kids from grammar school to graduate school are going to do with that capability? I’ll bet they spend half of their navigating time eyes-free.

This one announcement is a giant step towards full, ubiquitous accessibility. Because if we can find our tunes eyes-free, we are going to want to do many other things eyes-free. And that means a future where blind people like you and me no longer have to struggle for accessibility just moved a whole lot closer.

GW Micro did the spade work, Serotek and hopefully other AT companies will pile into the hole and start shaping it into something bigger and better. I know we are on that path. Our upcoming product release will be just an opening salvo. Now that GW Micro has broken ground in the Apple space we’ll all be there competing for the Ipod user’s attention. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it better. That’s what competition is about. You’ll be the judge. But let’s all admit we wouldn’t even be on this playing field without GW’s heroic work.

GW Micro and Apple have combined to make every blind person’s future brighter. As a competitor I salute you. As a blind man, I thank you.

7 comments:

Jacob Schmude said...

Please don't give GW the credit they do not deserve. They did make iTunes 8 accessible in Windows, yes. However, Apple has hardly ignored the need for accessibility. Remember guys, Apple is *not* an accessibility company. This, coupled with them playing their cards very close, seems to give people the impression they aren't committed. While I don't always enjoy the fact that they don't reveal anything about their future products, I take that over being promised a feature and not having it, as happens all too often in the AT community. Most of iTunes has been accessible for a while for us Mac users, the store being the only area that needed fixing--which has now ben fixed. So Apple concentrated on their own products first. Hardly a surprise, and a logical business move. With the iPod--yes, it took them a while to do it. But it was clear they had the intent to do it for a while now, we just didn't know when it would happen.
So, give credit where credit is due. GW deserves credit for helping Apple with iTunes for windows. Give Apple credit too, though, for doing as much for accessibility as they have, first on their computers and now broadening that to their iPods. Name another mainstream company that has done this much.
And btw, how very convenient that you moderate comments. Is something implied in this?

Mike Calvo said...

Actually Jacob we moderate posts because of spam. You can review our blog and see that we post both good and bad comments.

As to your comments about Apple, I will agreeably disagree with some of your observations but let's not cloud the waters today. Apple has done good and I hope to one day see an accessible Iphone, Apple TV, and other devices. I know that many AT companies including Serotek have attempted to work out some kind of deal to explore accessibility in Apple consumer products. We have met closed doors at every step. So again thumbs up to GW.

G. M. Kearney said...

I would like to point out that iTunes on the Macintosh platforms has been accessible for over a year now with the built in, and free, screen reader VoiceOver.

Buddy Brannan said...

Of course GW Micro deserves credit for working with Apple to make
iTunes accessible under Windows. However, in spite of the obvious
slant of Mike's post (this is a blog, after all, not a news report,
and a slant based on an opinion is certainly OK), Apple should also be
commended for finally making iTunes accessible under Mac OSX. I mean,
and I should say, *fully* accessible. Since at least iTunes 6, there
has been some degree of accessibility, although there were notable
exceptions, like the iTunes Store, until the most recent version. Does
that mean Apple isn't committed to our needs? Far from it. How do we
explain the support for more braille displays, displays added between
Leopard's initial release and its most current updates? There was no
minimal program to meet some standard there. That Apple doesn't
release its plans until they're done isn't surprising--that's how they
work. Do I agree with all of Apple's decisions? Of course not. Do I
wish they'd do something about the iPhone, Mac TV, and
others...yesterday? Of course I do. But like all companies, they have
to prioritize. The fixes to iTunes, I gather, took significant
updating, as the code base for it, not to mention for iWork (for
instance) required updating itself from older standards to newer, more
accessible ones. Apple did this. Good for them, and good for them for
working with GW Micro to make the accessibility fixes work across the
board. C'mon Mike, can we be fair about this?

fastfinge said...

The itunes accessibility under windows seems to just use MSAA. The fact that GW is taking all the credit, and that they're getting all the credit, while pretending that Window Eyes is the only screen reader that can be made to work with itunes on Windows, is vaguely offensive. Let's not buy into the GW ad machine, folks. Apple used standard Windows accessibility techniques in most places to make itunes accessible, explaining why it mostly works with other screen readers that correctly support them. I've got it working under Jaws 9 and 10, and it nearly works with NVDA other than frequent crashes that I can't seem to track down. I suspect it would even work with System Access, but I don't use your product because I can't afford either the time or money (and time is money) changing screen readers would cost right now.

lonejedi said...

You guys drive me crazy! I would like to quote as follows:

"Us blind folks are tough critics and the ink will be hardly dry on the announcement before people will be griping that the new Ipod doesn’t do one thing or another. Hush. Something more important than features happened ``here."

Or, in this case, it's an issue of credit? Give me a break! What Mike had to say about eyes-free-access is huge; one day, the sighted will want to use their eyes differently than they do now , which will undoubtedly give us some edge. Did Apple work on its products first? You bet. As one person said already, it makes sense. But keep in mind that the average blind user prefers not to use Apple products because of limited accessibility (and I'm not commenting negatively on the preferences of those who do prefer Apple). So JFW works with I-Tunes. That's excellent. But keep in mind that GW did do the initial work on Windows screen reader accessibility (with Apple's help, so they do deserve some credit) which benefits all Windows screen readers because the basic perameters for accessibility are essentially the same no matter what you use.

Here's one more thing to consider. Remember what Mike said about the young and young at heart? The I-Pod is a big deal for young people, and now blind kids and youths have the same access everyone else has, and they'll finally have a piece of technology that doesn't look weird to everyone else which means not only access, but acceptance in the fullest sense. Yes, we blind have our technology, but the fact is that we're often separated from the sighted because either it's weird to them or they're so interested in our technology that they sometimes bipass the person using it; it's kind of like the guide dog thing where people will say hi to the dog before the blind person.

Way to Go Mike! Blog on my friend!

toonhead said...

I'm jjust happy that iTunes is accessible under Windows. Yes, I know all you Mac users, I know, I know. iTunes has been accessible for over a year and that's fantastic. But for those of us who don't have the means of getting their hands on a Mac of any kind, this is a huge step in accessibility. Like it or not iTunes is ubiquitous. It's gotten to the point where the standard term for any mp3 player out there is an iPod. It's the standard. For myself, I far prefer the Creative Zen Stone and VR stream, but for those who want an iPod Nano, it is finally finaly accessible! Thank you GW Micro and Apple for making this possible, and let's hope for better access to come in the future. The possibilities ar endless.