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iPad with iOS 7
Apple iOS 7, which comes preinstalled on all Apple devices, brings new features and functions for the visually impaired. With iOS 7, you can press and hold the Home key, and tell Siri to enable some accessibility options such as VoiceOver, Inverted Colors, Assistive Touch, and Guided Access. The user will simply say, “turn on VoiceOver” or, “turn on Assistive Touch” to access these features. At this time, the Siri feature does not appear to open other accessibility features, such as Zoom or Hearing Aid mode. You can also tell Siri to go into the Accessibility Settings menu by saying “open Accessibility Settings”, where the user can access these, and other helpful features. In order to use Siri, a data connection to a cellular network, or Wi-Fi, must be available. The Triple Click Home function can be used without an Internet connection, and is another way to quickly toggle some accessibility features on and off.
A mainstream feature that some may be concerned about is the automatic updating of apps; by default, this feature set to “on” in iOS 7. As anyone who uses applications (or apps) can probably tell you, developers sometimes unintentionally break accessibility when updating various parts of their apps. A solution is to turn App Auto Updating “off” in Settings.
Gesture commands with VoiceOver continues to improve with each major release of iOS. One new gesture in iOS7 is the four finger double tap that enables VoiceOver help from anywhere. Instead of navigating the Settings menu, the user can now use this command from anywhere, and then use gestures and keyboard commands to find out their functions.
It is important to note that VoiceOver gestures are disabled by default and needs to be turned on. Another new function, in iOS 7, is Sound Effects. With this feature, you can enable and disable the VoiceOver-specific sound effects when navigating through iOS. VoiceOver sound effects now have their own toggle. This is particularly helpful for iPod users who utilize Braille displays with speech muted. It is also great for iPad and iPhone users who want to hear system sounds but not the clicks and beeps of VoiceOver. This setting can also be turned off and on in Settings.
One of the new features in iOS 7, is the complete visual redesign of the platform. Apple is now using bright, almost pastel, colors, light fonts, and translucency effects to give iOS a new “fresh” look. Unfortunately, many of the design choices made by Apple are likely to make using iOS more difficult for users with visual impairments. For example, the Notification Center, Siri, and Control Center, pop-up over the home screen with a translucent, frosted glass, effect behind them. This makes everything on the screen much harder to see. The new "improve contrast" feature flattens this translucency to a matte background, which is sometimes beneficial, such as in Notification Center and Siri where a user will see white text on a black background. This is generally helpful for many low vision users as it has very strong contrast. However, the Control Center becomes light gray. Some controls are black which has passable contrast, but selected controls are white which is rendered nearly invisible by being overlaid on the light gray background. Furthermore, the invert contrast option cannot be used to fix issues of contrast on the device. Many apps, such as notes, iTunes, Calendar and Reminders main screen, are rendered with black text on a white background. This general inconsistency of the interface along with the Control Center's contrast, means that depending on which applications a low vision user wishes to use, invert colors will invariably help with some, make others far worse, and will not improve a third class of applications no matter what state the invert colors setting is set to.
Dynamic Text size in iOS7 replaces the Large Text option that was offered in iOS 6. The purpose of these settings is to increase the size of the text in iOS. This behavior is similar to when a low vision user increases the size of text on a Web site. If the site is designed to support it, the text will grow larger, but if it is not, the text size will not increase. For example, in the Email and Notes applications, the content text was increased, but the lists of messages and Notes were not affected, which are important if you plan to see and access any of them. At this time, the number of applications supporting this functionality is low, so it will only be of use with a few apps. System messages and most other text on screen is not affected. Large text in iOS 7 is almost exactly like dynamic text except that dynamic text actually will increase the text size more than large text will.
The text in iOS 7 consists of very thin fonts, both within apps, and on the Home screen icons. This makes it very difficult to read; even with the new font size set to 100%, letters are very narrow and thin. The letters also appear to be somewhat cramped, or run together, despite an otherwise cleaner interface. Bold Text has been added to accessibility settings in an attempt to improve the new appearance of iOS 7 for low vision. While offering a bit in the way of making icons and system text stand out, this setting may not be enough for many low vision users.
There are many great enhancements to iOS 7 with respect to accessibility and to the general layout of the operating system. For example, you can put up to nine pages of applications in one folder. Also, from a visual standpoint, it would seem that the new operating system could be a significant challenge to those who need a high degree of consistent contrast. iOS 7 is a free upgrade and is available for the iPhone 4 and newer, the iPad 2 and newer, as well as the iPod touch 5th generation.