This was an important week for blind people. Apple, a company that has long ignored the need for accessibility in it’s consumer devices brought out a new 4th generation version of the Ipod Nano that, when combined with Itunes version 8,is accessible. GW Micro took Apple where no other AT company has been able to lead them. It is a wonderful success and a gift to blind people everywhere.
Us blind folks are tough critics and the ink will be hardly dry on the announcement before people will be griping that the new Ipod doesn’t do one thing or another. Hush. Something more important than features happened here. Thanks to GW Micro, Apple made the digital lifestyle accessible. In doing so, Apple recognized that accessibility is not about compliance. It’s not about some minimal legal requirement to grudgingly make it possible for a blind person to have some small taste of what’s available to the general public. It’s about making fun accessible. It’s about eliminating barriers and making fun an eyes-free experience.
Think about it.
Ipod is the ubiquitous companion of the young and the young at heart. It is everywhere. In just a few short years this device has completely disrupted and reinvented the music industry; it has added a huge new dimension to social networking; it has become a delivery mechanism for information and entertainment of all kinds.
And now it’s accessible. Now it speaks and you can find what you want and enjoy what you want to enjoy without looking. As the New York Times describes it: “The Nano can now speak its menus, song names, and on-screen messages as you navigate. That should assist anyone who’s blind and anyone who insists on fiddling while driving.”
Let me add: “Or while jogging or biking or reading a book or painting a picture or…the list goes on.” Anyone whose eyes are otherwise occupied is no longer hampered in finding the tune or other feature she wants to hear.
What do you think our multi-tasking kids from grammar school to graduate school are going to do with that capability? I’ll bet they spend half of their navigating time eyes-free.
This one announcement is a giant step towards full, ubiquitous accessibility. Because if we can find our tunes eyes-free, we are going to want to do many other things eyes-free. And that means a future where blind people like you and me no longer have to struggle for accessibility just moved a whole lot closer.
GW Micro did the spade work, Serotek and hopefully other AT companies will pile into the hole and start shaping it into something bigger and better. I know we are on that path. Our upcoming product release will be just an opening salvo. Now that GW Micro has broken ground in the Apple space we’ll all be there competing for the Ipod user’s attention. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it better. That’s what competition is about. You’ll be the judge. But let’s all admit we wouldn’t even be on this playing field without GW’s heroic work.
GW Micro and Apple have combined to make every blind person’s future brighter. As a competitor I salute you. As a blind man, I thank you.