Good news for dictionary devotees: American Heritage Dictionary 5th Edition is accessible

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

***Note: This post was written in 2012. Unfortunately American Heritage Dictionary 5th Edition became totally inaccessible in July 2016. So what you read below is no longer valid and only reflects history. To see what happened to this invaluable app and how it became inaccessible again, please visit this page. Thanks.


If the new features in iOS 6 didn't excite me at all, Enfour's dedication to accessibility did. It was almost 7 months ago that I posted my first article about the inaccessibility of major English dictionaries due to their utilization of hyperlinks to make it easier for users to look up words inside definitions. After that I approached Enfour which provides a wide range of Reference-oriented applications on the App Store and, much to my surprise, they wholeheartedly manifested a vestted interest in accessibility.

A little background information

While Enfour was willing to make AHD 5 accessible, the path was tortuous enough to have required a full 7 months. First, Enfour had no experience in offering accessible applications so they had to devise their own approach. Second, though they were committed to accessibility, they didn't want to alter the smooth experience or kill that nice hyperlinking feature for their sighted users. Third, Apple's occupation with iOS 6 and the iPhone 5 meant they couldn't provide Enfour engineers with the required information as promptly as possible. At any rate, Enfour has managed to release an elegant product which will be fine-tuned as time goes by.

After this rather verbose introduction, what to expect now?

If you purchase American Heritage® Dictionary, 5th Edition and activate it via its "In-app purchase" option, you can go to the "Settings" window from the About tab and enable "Accessibility" there by flicking right a couple of times. For the record, "Accessibility" is misspelled there so I hope you ignore that faux pas from the providers of one of the best English dictionaries!

Having enabled Accessibility and having saved that change in the Settings window, you can start using the app by going to the Search tab or the Index tab to look up words. Once you look up a word and the Definition window appears, AHD 5 automatically pronounces that word using the Audio pronunciation option as if you pressed the link near the headword to hear the pronunciation. I hope this is changed to a toggle as I don't like words to be pronounced each and every time I look up a word. At any event, you can move around in the Definition window by flicking left and right. Each flick covers a paragraph which oftentimes contains a definition sense and its accompanying examples. It can't get simpler than that.

Like the hyperlinking feature? It's usable.

Though Enfour had to disable hyperlinking in the Definition window in order to provide VoiceOver with a better navigation option, it doesn't mean you can't use hyperlinks. First and foremost, even if you don't enable "Accessibility," you can use the dictionary like sighted people by flicking left and right, knowing that each flick moves the focus one word at a time. However, the surprisingly fantastic point is that if you start continuous reading in the Definition window via a "two-finger down" gesture, VoiceOver reads definitions as if hyperlinking were disabled and Accessibility were enabled. So nice, isn't it? So in effect you can stop continuous reading, find the word you want and double-tap on it in order to look it up quickly. Also, unlike what you encounter in other dictionaries which have hyperlinking, AHD 5 doesn't force VoiceOver to announce the word, "Link," whenever such words are reached -- kudos to the developers. Of course, to make VoiceOver capable of treating your double-taps as a link-activating gesture, you should disable the "Use link menu" option in the Settings window. By default, it's enabled.

Back to our hyperlinks, the fun doesn't end here. Even if you enable Accessibility, you can use hyperlinking in the Definition window albeit not on each and every word. With Accessibility set to On, AHD 5 keeps the hyperlinking option active for important words. For instance, if you navigate around the definitions for a word and reach a phrase like "See synonyms for XXX," you can double-tap on that "XXX" part to look it up quickly. Also, words which contain synonym-discriminating senses have hyperlinking enabled for all of those synonyms. It's easier done than said, so once you use it you'll instantly get what I mean. Just don't forget to disable the "Use link menu" option in the Settings window if you want to use hyperlinking with VoiceOver regardless of the status of the Accessibility setting.

What else does that Accessibility setting give me?

Other than enhanced navigation, enabling Accessibility allows you to hear derivatives in a smooth way because when this setting is disabled, AHD 5 displays derivatives as if they were represented with pronunciation symbols. And, while we're at it, the Access mode doesn't display pronunciation symbols for headwords as VoiceOver can't read them properly. Moreover, with the Access setting enabled all definitions will be numbered and all definition subgroups will use letters like "A" and "B" to make reading and digesting information easier.

What should be fixed or changed?

So far I've just detected a small list of minor problems. Apart from the misspelled "Accessibility" in the Settings window and the automatic activation of the human pronunciation which interferes with VoiceOver, if you look up a word which is an adjective, the word "Adjective" gets misspelled and appears as "advective." Also, though haven't thoroughly looked at it, I think the Appendecies should be further optimized as it's apparently difficult to navigate around the "Roots" sections. Finally, currently the Access setting forces AHD 5 to use the wword "Example" and the phrase "EndExample" before and after examples. This is true for quotations as AHD 5 uses "Quote" and "EndQuote" to indicate their presence. I thought they could be verbose, but am beginning to like the extra explanatory touch added for us. However, I wish we could turn each of these on and off separately. As such, in general I'd like to see an Accessibility area in the Settings window which would allow me to turn important settings on and off such as the display of inflected forms, the display of example and quotation markers, the complete disabling of hyperlinks, and so forth.

A glimpse into the future

Enfour will definitely enhance the accessibility experience based on user feedback so in case you had a suggestion or wanted something modified, consider contacting them. The nice point about this commitment is that once the Accessibility module for AHD 5 becomes mature enough, it'll be applied to other Enfour reference titles.

If you're still with me, I have a lagnappe for you: even now you can buy other Enfour dictionaries as VoiceOver does handle them very well in continuous reading without the Accessibility option -- they don't have that setting now. I've tested it with iOS 6 and can't tell if the same is true about iOS 5, but my tests indicate that continuous reading in Enfour's Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE-5th) works properly as if hyperlinking were already disabled. Of course, the Access setting, when applied to this and the Oxford Deluxe, would be horse of a different color.



Submitted by sockhopsinger on Friday, July 15, 2016

Why are you reposting this now? I guess I'm at a loss. Some people may be reading the subject line and not reading the article and will think that it is now accessible again. Just curious.