A Blind User's Profound Review of the iPhone

First, I saw one of my beautiful salt lamps in its various shades of orange, another with its pink and rose colors, and the third kind in glowing pink and red. I was stunned.

The next day, I went outside. I looked at the sky. I heard colors such as "Horizon," "Outer Space," and many shades of blue and gray. I used color cues to find my pumpkin plants, by looking for the green among the brown and stone. I spent ten minutes looking at my pumpkin plants, with their leaves of green and lemon-ginger. I then roamed my yard, and saw a blue flower. I then found the brown shed, and returned to the gray house. My mind felt blown. I watched the sun set, listening to the colors change as the sky darkened. The next night, I had a conversation with mom about how the sky looked bluer tonight. Since I can see some light and color, I think hearing the color names can help nudge my perception, and enhance my visual experience.

I have seen a lot of technology for the blind, and I can safely say that the iPhone represents the most revolutionary thing to happen to the blind for at least the last ten years. Fifteen or twenty years brings us back to the Braille 'n Speak, which I loved in the same way, so have a hard time choosing the greater. In my more excitable moments, I consider the iPhone as the greatest thing to have ever happened to the blind. The touchpad offers the familiar next/previous motion which the blind need, since speech offers one-dimensional output. Adding the ability to touch anywhere on the screen and hear it adds a whole other dimension, literally. For the first time, the blind can actually get spatial information about something. In the store, mom could say "Try that button" and I could. Blind people know what I mean. How many times has a sighted person said "I see an icon at the top of the screen?" For the first time, that actually means something.

But the iPhone does have one big problem for the blind: iTunes. I understand the power of market forces, but to see such a beautiful piece of hardware chained to such an awful and inaccessible piece of software bothers me to no end. Apple has done an amazing thing making the iPhone accessible, but iTunes remains virtually unusable to the blind. Of course, blind Mac users have little problem with it, but they make up a very small portion of the blind community. A blind Windows user with a strong will can do it, but they won't enjoy it. Those of us blind Linux users get left in the dark on two counts, since no Linux users can access iTunes, except through WINE, or through a virtual machine.

Apple has a right to tout its efforts in accessibility. Still, they must realize that they cannot make a completely true claim as long as people have to use iTunes for everything. As a Linux user I expected as much, and I can overcome those challenges, but the challenges of blindness remain. I know blind people who have not purchased an iPhone because they do not want to battle iTunes. When dealing with a permanent health issue, you cannot just wish it away or just hope things will improve while doing nothing. I have a feeling Steve Jobs would understand.

After my iPhone experience, now I use a touchpad with all of my computing tasks (a Magic Trackpad with a Mac). Giving the blind the ability to use gestures just as a sighted person would truly represents the wave of the future.

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Austin Seraphin writes regularly at Behind the Curtain. Blind from birth, he started using computers at an early age as a means to better access the sighted world.

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