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Apple puts eye into iDevices

Date

Garry Barker

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David Woodbridge relies on apps such as VoiceOver and Light Detector at work and home.

David Woodbridge relies on apps such as VoiceOver and Light Detector at work and home.

Mobiles and Macs lead the way in providing accessibility for the visually impaired.

DAVID Woodbridge is an Apple addict. In his house there are four iPads, four iPhones - ranging from the 3GS to the 5 - a MacBook Pro, an iMac, a MacBook Air, a gaggle of iPods - including a Shuffle, a Nano and an iPod Touch - and an Apple TV.

Oh yes, and he is totally blind.

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Born prematurely, he was put into a humidicrib where the oxygen level was too high. The result was damage to the blood vessels in his eyes and fairly rapid deterioration of his sight until, in his early teens, he became blind.

Yet, through the accessibility technology Apple has made available with little or no fanfare since the II in the 1970s, in more than 30 years he has built a busy and fruitful personal and professional life.

Woodbridge's grand collection of i-gear is distributed among himself, his wife, who runs a business from the iMac and the Air, and two young boys, but it all started with his needs at home and in his job as technology manager for a large non-profit organisation.

Apple has for years led the general computing industry in building software that allows disabled people to work and play on almost level computing and communications fields with the rest of the community. The revolution caused by the arrival of touchscreen technology on mobile devices has not changed that policy of providing accessibility for all. Indeed, Apple has enhanced it by providing, and encouraging the building of, a huge range of apps to help the disabled, along with a variety of accessories such as styluses for users with motor problems and inductive ear loops for those with seriously impaired hearing.

For people such as Woodbridge, one of the biggest Apple inventions has been VoiceOver, which arrived in the third version of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system released with the iPhone 3GS. It is a vocal screen reader that makes it easy for those with impaired or no vision to navigate a touchscreen to find and use almost any app.

Tap on an iPad app icon and VoiceOver describes it. Double-tap to open the app and VoiceOver guides you through its use.

''With VoiceOver I can support not only myself but also my boys and my wife,'' Woodbridge says. ''I press the Home button on the iPhone three times to turn VoiceOver on or off when I need to help them. For example, if my wife gets an SMS when she is driving I can call up VoiceOver on her iPhone to read the message to her and we can reply using Siri, which is one of the great iOS developments, getting better all the time.

''Or, say an app on one of the iPads is not working properly. I use VoiceOver to shut the app down from App Switcher, relaunch it and triple-click to hand the iPad back with the app running as good as new.''

VoiceOver covers most things that can be done on the touchscreen.

''VoiceOver also gives me a talking interface on the Apple TV so I can browse and select movies and TV shows for my boys to watch,'' he says.

''We all have our own favourite apps, movies, music and so on, but for me one of the apps I really like is Light Detector, which allows me to make sure I have turned off all the lights before I go to bed.''

At work, Woodbridge uses a variety of software, helped by the accurate keyboard skill he has developed since his teen years. VoiceOver reads back the text of his emails and documents and guides him through sending or printing them.

''I use Find My Friends to tell me when my wife is near my office so I can go out and meet her,'' Woodbridge says, ''and the Remote app for the Apple TV lets me check on our boys when they tell me their TV program is 'almost finished, dad'.''

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