Highlights of 2013: Accessibility in mainstream devices

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Wednesday, 4 December 2013 17:57pm

In 2013 people with disability have been offered more choice in smartphones and tablet computers. While Apple still dominates this market, this year saw its competitors offer affordable and accessible alternatives. Here, Media Access Australia looks at a selection of mainstream electronic devices and how they have been improved for accessibility.

Samsung Galaxy S4

In March this year, Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S4 smartphone which introduced some features with access potential such as ‘S Voice’ a voice assistant which allows you to navigate the smartphone through voice commands, and ‘Smart Scroll’ which tracks eye movements that can control video playback. The Galaxy S4 was released with the Android operating system which also came with its own accessibility features including a screen reader, screen magnifier and gesture mode.

Lower cost smartphones

With the Android operating system now becoming a more viable option for those who need assistive technology, users have a wider range of cheaper smartphones to choose from. One notable example is the Motorola Moto G which costs under $200. The phone is currently available overseas and we hope that it reaches Australia early 2014.

Amazon Kindle Fire tablets

Amazon introduced two new tablets this year, the Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HDX. After a number of advocacy groups pressured Amazon, the company released tablets with improved accessibility. The Fire tablets run on the Fire 3.0 operating system (a version of Android) and come with a suite of accessibility features including Voice Guide, Explore by Touch, closed captioning support and a screen magnifier.

Apple updates

While Apple has not introduced any new devices other than updates to its existing range, its iOS 7 (for iPhones and iPads) and OSX Mavericks (for desktop and laptop computers) operating systems have improved the accessibility of the iPhone, iPad, Mac and Macbook. The first devices that came installed with updated Apple operating systems shipped in September this year and the updates are now available to install on compatible devices.

These updates retain the accessibility features of previous operating systems, including VoiceOver, Zoom and Siri, but have also introduced new features to assist users with disability. Both iOS 7 and Mavericks provide greater support for closed captioned video and a very important new feature, Switch Control which is software for switch devices. This is a form of assistive technology that enables a person with impaired mobility to control an interface through a single button. It is often used as an alternative to a keyboard or mouse.

Microsoft Windows 8.1

Windows 8, released in 2012, it was Microsoft’s first operating system that was accessible to users who are blind or vision impaired out of the box. Its upgrade to Windows 8.1 in October 2013 improved the accessibility even further. Media Access Australia’s review of Windows 8.1 demonstrates it is the most accessible operating system Microsoft has released to date. Improved features include the Windows Store now allowing users to filter out inaccessible apps from search results.

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