Accessibility for Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.6, is due to ship in September 2009. The upgrade is being billed by Apple as being a smaller upgrade than the jump from Tiger to Leopard, as reflected by the US$29 price tag. Snow Leopard's changes will be mostly "behind the scenes"; things which make the operating system run more efficiently and open up technical possibilities for the future. So does this mean that there won't be many enhancements for Universal Access users in Snow Leopard?
With the usual caveats that anything may be altered before shipping - which does occasionally happen - these are the advances in Universal Access that Apple is currently announcing for Snow Leopard:
- The Trackpad Is The Screen
- For VoiceOver users using a MacBook with a MultiTouch capable trackpad, this makes the trackpad work similarly to the screen of the iPhone 3GS with VoiceOver. The trackpad surface represents the active window on the computer; touch to hear the item under your finger, drag to hear items continuously as you move your finger, and flick with one finger to move to the next or previous item. Jump directly to an item just by touching the corresponding location on the trackpad.
- More Braille Devices
- Drivers will be included for over 40 models of Braille displays, including wireless bluetooth displays.
- Braille Mirroring
- Braille Mirroring allows more than one USB braille output device to be connected to the same computer. It's aimed at classroom settings where a teacher can lead the class through a lesson even when the students are using different models of braille displays.
- Improved Web Browsing
- VoiceOver users will be able to fully browse HTML tables without dropping into a 'table' or 'forms' mode, using the same keystrokes as VoiceOver always uses. There are also other improments for web browsing including customisable summaries of pages and VoiceOver automatically starting to read new pages when they load.
- The Rotor
- This is a new gesture available on multitouch trackpads again, a movement of finger and thumb as if you were twisting an imaginary circular dial on the trackpad. It seems to have several different uses in different VoiceOver contexts including switching between text settings and navigating web pages.
- New VoiceOver Quick Start Tutorial
- This tutorial automatically starts the first time you use VoiceOver on a new computer. It teaches the keys on the keyboard, basic VoiceOver commands, and gestures, and it provides an environment where you can learn at your own pace and practice your skills.
All of these advertised accessibility features are for VoiceOver users, but the general Snow Leopard advances will also help those with disabilities. For example, iChat will have a higher resolution mode and be more reliable - great for those using iChat for sign language conversations; easier PDF text selection will aid those who use digitised documents instead of physical print; faster wake from sleep will be great for those who use laptops for AAC or other situations when they need their device available quickly at any time.
For accessibility at Apple, it seems that recently almost all of the news is good! What are you most looking forward to with Snow Leopard?
- Ricky Buchanan