Accessibility For Lion
Today Mac OS X 10.7, named Lion, became available to users. You can download Lion for just US$29 and Lion will run on most Intel-based Mac computers.
To check whether your computer will run Lion click on the Apple shaped icon at the top left of your screen, then choosing "About This Mac" from the menu. The information you need is in the line labelled "Processors", and your Mac must have an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor to run Lion.
Remember to check the compatibility of ALL essential hardware and software before you decide to upgrade to Lion. Some programs and devices may not be compatible yet.
Lion is the first version of OS X which can be downloaded by users from the Mac App Store, which should save you a trip to the store or a shipping charge if your internet connection is good enough to cope. The download is about four gigabytes which could take several hours even on a fairly fast broadband connection. But if you can't afford the time or money it would cost for you to download the upgrade, you can download Lion at Apple retail stores. Later this August, Lion will also be made available on a USB thumb drive through the Apple Stores.
So what's new in Lion from an accessibility perspective? Apple's web page listing new features in OS X Lion seems to list a lot of things which have actually been available to Snow Leopard users for a while now, but I'll try to let you know which is which.
Note: I haven't upgraded to Lion yet so I'm going by what's on Apple's web pages and documentation writing this article. I'd appreciate comments and feedback, especially if I've got things wrong!
- OS X More Like iOS
- This isn't specifically listed on Apple's page but it's been observed my many people: OS X Lion on your Mac now behaves more like iOS does on the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. The two are far from identical but OS X now has more features that iOS has including: more multi-touch gestures, full screen apps, the app store, and 'suspend' for apps. I think having the two systems becoming more similar is an overall win for accessibility because many of us use a Mac and an iPhone or iPad and the more similar they are the easier it is to learn and remember how to use them.
- More Multi-Touch Gestures
- Some multi-touch gestures, such as 2-finger scrolling, have been available for a while to Snow Leopard users with a laptop, Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse. New gestures mimicing iOS gestures include tap-to-zoom (as in iOS's Safari) and swipe-to-navigate (like how you turn pages in iBooks). OS X also has some new gestures not found in iOS including ways to switch between apps using just gestures. The support page OS X Lion: About Multi-Touch Gestures lists the gestures with descriptions and pictures, or if you've already upgraded to Lion you can open the Trackpad and Mouse panes of System Preferences to see videos of each gesture. Multi-touch gestures can be great for some people with limited movement but awful for others, depending on each person's specific limitations. At the moment it looks like all of these functions can be triggered via the keyboard as well as via multi-touch so they can be also be customised to be triggered via on-screen keyboard, switch, etc. - that's something that I'm sure accessibility teams will keep an eye on in the future!
- Mac App Store
- I believe that the Mac App store is definitely a win for accessibility - it makes it easy to search for access-related programs and takes the fiddlyness out of buying them. Not all Mac programs can be found via the Mac App store though which makes it significantly less useful than the iTunes App Store for iOS, but this should change over time
- Versions and Auto Save
- Auto Save is just what it sounds like - there's no need to remember to "press save", the Mac will do it for you. And Versions, a bit like Time Machine, will automatically save old versions of your documents and help you compare the old and new versions. These will be an especial help to those with memory or attention problems, as well as saving all of us when our memory or attention spans fail.
- VoiceOver and Braille Languages
- OS X now comes with voices in many languages for VoiceOver users and braille tables for a wide variety of languages too. Previously OS X only shipped with text-to-speech voices in English and other languages had to be purchased at additional cost - it's great to see this accessibility more widely available.
- High Resolution Cursor
- Previous OS X users who increased the cursor magnification, such as myself, will have been frustrated at how pixelated and "blocky" the cursor looked when its size was enlarged. Lion's cursor finally fixes this problem!
- Picture-In-Picture Zoom
- Getting "lost" at high levels of zoom has always been a problem - it's not always easy to keep track of which bit of the zoomed screen you're viewing. The screen zoom feature in Lion offers a picture-in-picture view, allowing you to see the zoomed area in a separate window while keeping the rest of the screen at its native size. Choose to have the window follow the cursor, or keep the window in one place to show only areas you navigate.
- Improved Auto-Correction
- Another area where OS X and iOS are converging, auto-correction in Lion displays suggested spellings below the word. Press Return to accept the change or click the X to keep the current spelling.
There are lots more new features - you can check out Apple's What's New In OS X Lion page yourself.
A smoother cursor is a small thing but I think it's the accessibility feature I'm looking forward to the most - that blocky cursor really has driven me crazy! The Picture-In-Picture zoom also has exciting potential because it's something I could use a lot. What are you most looking forward to in OS X Lion?
- Ricky Buchanan