Blind iPad Review

Cheree Heppe is a Ziegler reader and she decided to send me her fantastic review of the newest product from Apple, the iPad.  Thanks for sharing, Cheree!  Enjoy.

I actually did it! I took the light rail to the Apple store and saw one of those iPads in the flesh on the Saturday morning that it went public. For me, the pictures do nothing to allay my curiosity, since I am totally blind.
Portland, Oregon boasts both corporate and non-corporate Apple stores. The Apple store I visited was a corporate one.
That whole up-scale inner city mall was jumping with people, so it was no problem finding directions down to the Apple store.
When I got off the escalator, there was this incredible double line nearly to the escalator. The line reminded me of a snake dance, except most of the would-be customers were keeping their excitement under tight rein and were standing still, maybe afraid to dance while being videoed by the TV station.
Someone saw me on TV because the Apple store crowd was being panned by the TV station reporters. I wasn’t dressed for TV photographing, just my hair swept back with a silver headband, long, wool, cranberry cloak and jeans and Kili, my black and tan German shepherd dog guide in her white harness.
It was busier in that apple store than at a Vegas casino!
There were Apple staff outside the store directing traffic. One of these guys escorted me inside and arranged for me to see the demo model with it’s case on, but the demo model which came newly unpacked ran out of charge and the Apple rep and I moved to the display tables to continue my examination of one of the plugged-in models.
I have been stopping by the Apple store, dipping my figurative big toe into the stream for months now, wanting to migrate from the Windows based platform with its third party accessibility to the integrated Apple platform, but hadn’t felt Apple systems welcomed blind users sufficiently to be fully accessible until now.
The iPad feels about like a MacBook Air in thickness; it feels slimmer than my NetBook. The glass is flat to the edge of the horizontal surface with a circular, concave Home button embedded flush into the face of the glass very near the bottom middle of one short side. The active portion of the screen starts maybe a half-inch in from its edge.
The Apple rep explained how the icons are arranged on the screen. This is standard and once you get the feel for the gaps and positions, it all stays the same. That’s what he told me. There is a physical volume toggle switch near one end of one long side. No fiddling with screen settings for volume, just handily bump the toggle up for loud or down for soft. The earphone jack is on one short side near a corner, flush with the metal side but easily recognized by touch and out of the way. The sound is good and the jack would hold earphones solidly so they wouldn’t fall out while being ported or moved. There is a physical switch near one end of the long side of the iPad to lock it into whichever position, portrait or landscape, the screen is oriented.  There is a recessed connector on the opposite short side of the iPad from the earphone jack to charge it or interface it with a computer. This is apparently called a doc connector. The on/off switch is located on the edge of the iPad, but I can’t recall exactly where. The back and sides are metal and the sides are curved inward from their widest point where they interface with the glass to where they taper in a rounded way to the back side. The back side felt flat with no features, but I didn’t look really carefully and the case covered the back of the device.
Even while not being facile with Voiceover or the tap and flick finger navigation motions, I got the iPad to go on to a website, to go into E-mail and apps store, and to read a book.
The iPad can interface with a Windows based or Apple based computer.
The cover or case that it now comes with is the first cover before everyone else makes something. It looks like the outside of a thin notebook without the binder rings. It opens from the long end and the flap tucks behind the iPad with the bottom edge tucking into a built-in slot in the back of the case. This allows the iPad to sit at a comfortable slant.
Apple plans to have a dock for a keyboard if the user remains stationary. The Apple guy suggested getting a wireless keyboard and Bluetooth to pair the two if one plans to be mobile.
The iPad should not be thought of as a tool solely for low vision people. I’m a no-vision user and can work the iPad well, for being a new user and having no experience with configuring the Voiceover settings.
To use the iPad well, a blind user should have a strong spatial sense. I mean that the touch method for the screen depends on knowing where the icons reside in space in relation to other icons on a flat glass plain.
I speculated that if a blind user wanted to use a certain app a lot, such as the typing virtual keypad feature, a tracing could be made of the positions of the icons and someone could cut out an overlay of light plastic, like a glorified check writing guide or a stencil. That way, a blind user could tactilely locate the positions quicker. Imagine a sheath of light plastic overlay cut-outs the shape of the screen for different standard uses, such as typing or web surfing, carried in a sleeve or pocket inside the front cover of the iPad case. This idea is based on knowing virtually nothing about how the icons refresh or whether they change position, etc.
What a gadget! Accessible right out of the box. If Apple can insist on accessibility across the entire platform as standard foundational basics for any app developer, blind consumers will have a lot of amazing possibilities with this device and won’t have to be shunted off to the separate-but-equal, but not quite accessible, side of things.
Apple has caused a totally unexpected paradigm shift with this iPad, at least in my thinking.

5 Comments

  1. Regarding your comment on finding the icons. With the iPad as with the iPhone you don’t need to know the position of the icons to find them. You can just swipe left and right to scroll trough them and find the program you want.
    You don’t need a stencil or anything like that. The VoiceOver system by Apple has some need tricks to make the iPhone and the iPad accessible and more information on how it works can be found on the Apple-site

  2. This is a very interesting and thorough review–I’ve been waiting for a blind user to review the iPad since it was announced! However, I’m concerned that you may be giving too much credit to Apple. It sounds like many of the accessibility “features” are sort of accidental. I love your idea about the cover to help you find regularly used apps, and I wish that Apple were more actively coming up with ideas like that to help more people be able to get full use out of it. I have not seen the iPad myself, so I’m in no position to argue, but I wonder if you could comment on other ways that you think Apple could improve the iPad for blind users, and maybe particularly for those that do not have as strong a spatial sense. I am glad though that it seems to be working for you! Did you buy one?

  3. Odd thing about my Mom’s new iPad: Most keyboards have a ridged line or a raised dot under the “F” and “J” keys, so blind people can orient their fingers while typing.

    The keyboard on this iPad is flat, and only appears onscreen when you need to type something — but, the “F” and “G” have little grey lines under them anyways.

    Can these flat lines on the keyboard be of any help to the blind at all? Or did some engineer just put them there, not knowing what they are for?

  4. Sorry, I meant “F” and “J” in the second paragraph, NOT “F” and “G”. Typed it on the iPad, what can I say…

  5. First I would like to introduce myself. My name is Marco Midon I work for NASA as a radio frequency(RF) engineer. I recently lead the completion of the Lunar Reconesence Orbitor Ground station and the Solar Dynamics Observatory ground Stations. During the course of my work I perform many taskswith technology. These include working with documents, web sites,specialized instrumentation, and spread sheets amung others. If you are blind and you need someone to tell you where the eyecons and controls are the device is not accessible. I have been going to CSUN and other conferences for years and Apple has allways clamed they were accessible, but unfortunatly it was all jus smoke and mirrors. For a device to be truely accessible it must be designed that way. Without haptic that is tactile feed back the interface will be slow and unwealdy for tasks which require any kind of complex interaction with the device. If you just want to read e-mail and a web page this type of interface might work, although it would be verry clunky and inefficient at best. If someone has to manufacture a keyboard overlay the device is not accessible. Going back to windows 95 microsoft made a commitment to accessibility by providing APIs and beta versions of windows to third party developers. The accessibility may not be perfect but its quite good. It helped make it possible to enable me to help the Russian Space Agency with their Soyuz Spacecraft using it. See the following http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2008/soyuz_reentry.html Lets stop pretending that apple cares about accessibility. If you just want to be kool or fit in or what ever, or you hate windows then get an ipad, but you won’t be doing any useful work on it anytime soon.