Behind the Hype: Is the iPad a Boon for People With Visual Impairments?

Photo by: dvxfilmerdoug

Probably no company is better at inspiring excitement and devotion than Apple Computer. Although never the PC market-share leader, it has certainly managed to corner the market on devotion with innovative, well-designed products like the Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone.

And, of course, it was hard to miss the April debut of the iPad, which got a build-up worthy of a Hollywood summer blockbuster.

Although Apple says initial demand for the iPad exceeded its expectations, only time will tell if the company has succeeded in redefining personal computing with its new tablet. In the meantime, we’ve been wondering if the iPad is, as some claim, going find a niche with people with visual impairments.

Even before the introduction of the iPad, Apple had earned a lot of goodwill among accessibility advocates for the features it builds into its computers, iPods and the iPhone that make them more usable for people with impaired vision and other disabilities.

And right out of the gate, Apple made it clear that they had not overlooked people with disabilities when it designed the iPad, boasting on a page devoted to iPad accessibility that the device “comes standard with accessibility features that help people with disabilities experience all that it has to offer.”

One of those features is “VoiceOver,” a technology that enables audible control of every menu the user encounters, even those included in third-party applications. In addition, the iPad’s zoom feature allows users to magnify the entire screen of any application up to five times normal size. There are other built-in visual aids and also features that make using the iPad easier for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The inclusion of VoiceOver with the iPad was commended by the National Federation of the Blind, which said in a statement that, “By integrating accessibility into its products, Apple is setting an example that we believe the rest of the electronics industry should follow.”

Some reviewers have termed the iPad as essentially a larger version of the iPod Touch, but according to The Wireless Review, a website that assesses technology with the disabled community in mind, that’s a good thing for people with visual impairments. “The Touch’s touchscreen and overall user interface design are intuitive and visually accessible. The much larger screen on the iPad…should improve accessibility for people with low vision and other partial vision impairment.”

But the same review also decries the lack of a camera with the iPad, noting “cameras are increasingly used in conjunction with GPS functionality by software applications for augmented reality, mixed reality and location-based services.”

Whether or not the iPad proves to have staying power, either with electronics consumers in general or members of the disabled community, I think it’s great to see Apple making what looks like a genuine attempt to make their products as accessible as possible. That’s good business—and good for their business.

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