April 12, 2010
Benjamin Clymer is a freelance writer and founder of HODINKEE.com.
Ask any PC-loving computer nerd why Apple products have become the de facto
choice of the masses, and you’ll likely hear something like, “People buy
Apple products because they’re pretty.” That may be true for many, but one
group of consumers who care little for Apple’s prodigious aesthetics are the
They care more about how Apple products actually work. And while the iPad
may be Apple’s most controversial launch in recent memory, the blind
community is unanimous in its support. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) even released a statement last January praising the device.
What are they so excited about?
First, consider what an e-reader represents to the blind community. The concept of an affordable, portable device that allows the visually impaired
to consume media easily and without special consideration is an exciting proposition, but one never fully realized. In fact, Amazon’s Kindle, which
until the iPad’s release was the most acclaimed and full-featured e-reader, had high potential for capturing the hearts of the 314 million visually
impaired persons around the world. Instead, Amazon failed to fully consider what would be required for a blind person to successfully navigate the
Kindle’s menus without assistance. While magazines, books and newspapers had full voice integration, allowing easy listening of all text, Amazon provided
no way to enter a publication from the Kindle’s home screen. What good is a
reader to someone who is blind if it requires a seeing person to get to the
first page, let alone turn that page?
Both the NFB and the American Council of the Blind have lambasted the Kindle, filing a lawsuit against Arizona State University, which had been
part of Kindle’s pilot program to replace textbooks with the e-reader, and sending a formal complaint to the Justice Department insisting all Kindles
be removed from five other universities testing the Kindle with their student body. Two other universities, Syracuse University and the University
of Wisconsin at Madison, had previously told Amazon they would not order any
Kindles until the text menus were fully accessible to the blind. Amazon has since released a statement saying the Kindle will be blind-friendly by this
summer. It’s too little, too late.
In stark contrast, all iPads have a standard application called VoiceOver, which allows for audible control of every single menu, even those included
in third party applications. NFB has commended Apple for producing a device
that is usable right out of the box for both seeing and the visually impaired alike. The NFB statement even mentions that the touch-screen “need
not be a barrier” to the blind.
Computer nerds, tech columnists and the general public may not know where the iPad fits into the existing media consumption landscape–but the blind
and visually impaired see it as the only e-reader worth owning. Call it further proof that Apple is more than just a pretty face.