I just purchased an iPhone. I paid the same price as any other person -- $299 for the 32 gigabyte version plus tax. Like anyone else I had to subscribe to AT&T’s network – at least for a couple of months. We can see about changing phone networks later.
VoiceOver, the screen reader which has shipped free in every Apple computer since 2005, is built right into the iPhone 3G S. There’s nothing extra to purchase or install.
All I need is the iPhone 3G S, iTunes 8.2 or later, and a Mac or PC. I can activate my iPhone and enable VoiceOver without sighted assistance using iTunes with a compatible screen reader like System Access to Go free on a PC or VoiceOver included on the Mac. When I activate iPhone using iTunes, I can enable VoiceOver on the iPhone to start using it right away.
In other words, this is a high-demand consumer product developed by a mainstream company that is accessible out of the box.
Where is everyone else?
This phone not only speaks; it speaks 21 different languages including three dialects of Chinese, two flavors of Portuguese, two flavors of Spanish, Russian, Norwegian, Japanese, Korean, German, Dutch, Italian, Polish, Swedish, two flavors of French, Finish and both the Queen’s English plus good old American English. It has voice recognition for dialing, selecting music from your tunes list, and otherwise controlling the iPhone. It understands 21 different languages. The iphone is globally accessible.
Where is everyone else?
I don’t want to detail all the features, functions and benefits. I’m not trying to sell iPhones, though I think every blind person in the world should celebrate having the choice to own one.
I just want to point out that this is the future. An everyday, super-fun product that is accessible out of the box.
Why is Apple there first?
In my opinion Apple is here, not because they are altruistic and not because they are afraid of being sued. They are here because they understand consumers. They know people want functions and fun. People don’t really care about how something works. They just want it to work and to be easy. Accessibility is easy. It is easier than being not accessible. This is something Steve Jobs has always understood and he has created a culture at Apple that lives it.
Apple could easily have dismissed the idea that blind people would be interested in using a device with a touch-screen interface which is inherently visual. The company could have continued to develop its products without a thought for accessibility and left it to AT manufacturers to make them accessible after the fact.
Instead, Apple has given consumers, blind and sighted alike, the ability to use their devices in whatever manner they choose – voice, touch, sight. Apple has embraced the idea of universal design. Apple understands that accessibility should be about far more than developing custom solutions which pay lip service to the idea of accessibility but detract from the out-of-box experience enjoyed by everyone else. For Apple, accessibility is not about catering to a particular subsection of the market. Rather, it is about ensuring that products are usable by a diverse group of people in a diverse variety of situations.
This approach to accessibility benefits everyone. It benefits the sighted person who wants to browse his Itunes library for some great content without taking his eyes off the road. It benefits the person who has his hands too full to dial, but can still make a phone call by using his voice, regardless of which language he speaks. And it benefits the blind person who wants to enjoy all of the incredible productivity and digital lifestyle features that have made the iPhone so popular to begin with. So, while I wait to get my hands on a device which is sleek, stylish, feature-packed, relatively inexpensive, and just so happens to be fully accessible right out of the box, I will continue to ask the question: where is everyone -+else?