Snow Leopard and Accessibility

Apple VoiceOver logoI’ve admitted numerous times that I’m an Apple devotee. So maybe I’m biased when I laud their efforts in the accessibility realm. However – and perhaps it’s in part because they have always done a good job “getting it” when it comes to creating software and hardware that are both well-designed and easy to use – they seem to at the very least take accessibility seriously and continue adding or bolstering accessibility features in their products with each release.

Mac OS X Snow Leopard is slated for a September 2009 release. As with most of their products, they have an accessibility features page for Snow Leopard and the OS X platform in general.

Among the heralded Snow Leopard accessibility enhancements:

  • More robustness to the built-in VoiceOver capabilities, particularly for web browsing
  • Major enhancements to their trackpad – which will represent the active window, enabling users to hear what item they hover over, as well as to discern and navigate through multiple items on the screen through finger movements
  • Support for over 40 plug-in Braille displays
  • The rotor capability – an enhanced capability of the trackpad to enable users to use a “dial” motion for cycling through text word or character at a time, and also to navigate a web page by common items, such as headers, links and imagery
  • Technology that to a degree overcomes sites’ accessibility shortcomings by assigning “auto web spots” denoting important elements of the site. One can, for example, assign certain areas of a regularly-frequented site so that, in the future, VoiceOver can skip right to those elements first.
  • VoiceOver Commanders – a new enhancement to the VoiceOver admin utility that allows for greater automated actions and keyboard shortcuts

Many of these features, on the surface, promise to offer greater ease of use, particularly for the visually-disabled — from all-around usage of your Mac to web surfing specifically. How effective they are, of course, remains to be seen when Snow Leopard arrives. Also, with just about all the enhancements directed towards the visually-disabled, how will Snow Leopard work for those with other disabilities, such as limitations of motor skills and hearing problems?

4 thoughts on “Snow Leopard and Accessibility

  1. Ben Sweetser

    Very interesting. Braille displays are intriguing. I’m always interested in the ways these types of accessibility enhancements work their way into the “mainstream” interface. Do you see this enhancing general user experience?

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  3. Steve Post author

    Heya Ben!

    Definitely — since accessibility at it cores is making a site more usable for everybody, not just people with disabled. Sites that are constructed with clean, semantically correct coding, logical layouts, etc — are sites that work better for all people, as well as yield better search engine results.

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