September 26, 2008

Accessibility and the 4th Generation iPod Nano

I have a cousin who is legally blind and multi-handicapped. One of the things he loves is listening to his music. He still listens to music on cassette tapes.

I know, I know, it's the 21st century, so why is he still using tape? Well, a long, long time ago he learned how to insert a tape into a tape player. Also, generally tape players have nice big buttons that are easy to push. Since he can't see well and doesn't have great dexterity in his fingers, these factors make it difficult to try something else. He's tried to learn how to use CD players, but generally inserting a CD into a machine is more difficult and usually the controls are just not as friendly.

But it is the 21st century. That means tapes are on their way out. CD's may not be far behind. A digital media player would be the way to go. But, have you ever thought about using an MP3 player with your eyes closed? Although I never thought about it, most of them are designed specifically for sighted people.

I thought that perhaps all was not lost when I read a blog entry at the American Foundation for the Blind(AFB) entitled, "This News is Music to My Ears…" by Darren Burton. In that article, Mr. Burton says, "Apple announced that the new iPod Nano 4th generation will have talking menus, so people with vision loss can independently find and listen to music and other content on their iPods." while Mr. Burton says there will be an upcoming review in AccessWorld, I happened to be at Target today so I picked up a 4th Generation Nano and decided to try it out.

I guess before I go any further, I should say that I am sighted. To try out the Nano, I just tried using things with my eyes closed. My computer is not configured with any sort of screen reader so I cannot comment on the accessibility of iTunes 8.

One of the first things to know is that the talking menus are disabled by default. To turn them on, you have to check the checkbox entitled, "Enable spoken menus for accessibility" on the iTunes display. I don't know easy that will be to do for a non-sighted person.

Unfortunately, the first time I did that, it did not activate any talking menus on the iPod. I had to scratch my head and go out to the web to find out what I did wrong. It seems that I needed to choose a voice in the Speech control panel of Windows XP so that iTunes could generate the talking menus it would download onto the iPod.

I have mixed feelings about the speech synthesis system the iPod uses. On the one hand, it's great that it uses the local computer to generate the names of artists and songs. Still, I sort of wish that I could browse through a number of audio profiles on the iTunes Store to choose a voice I like and download that to the iPod? Heck, that voice could even be done by a voice over specialist rather than a computer generated voice. This voice could be used for the standard menus and messages in the iPod while the generated voice could be used for artists, album names, song names, etc...

The next big complaint I had is that there just don't seem to be enough depth to the use of voice. For example, on my iPod I didn't have any Movies or TV Shows. When I clicked on those menu choices, the screen displayed the message, "No Movies" or "No TV Shows" but did not speak anything to me. While I had my eyes closed, this made it very difficult to know what to do next.

Lastly, I don't think my cousin would be able to use the Nano. Due to his dexterity problems, I don't think he'd be able to handle running his finger around the dial to adjust the volume and I'm not even sure he would be able to learn how to find the different functions (menu, rewind, fast forward, pause/play) that are around the center button.

While I was writing this entry, I came upon the AFB's Now Playing: A Review of the Accessibility of Digital Audio Players, Part 1 which talks more about accessibility of mainstream audio devices.

I've also found the Vi-Player device which looks interesting although it's not even available until November 2008. It looks particularly interesting since it has larger, raised buttons for the functions.

I also encountered the VictorReader Stream which seems to be popular for digital books and MP3's.

Posted by rob at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)