Bottle Rocket Apps Accessibility Efforts
Submitted by Doug Russell on Tuesday, March 22, 2011.
App Development and Programming
My name is Doug Russell and I am a developer at Bottle Rocket Apps (http://www.bottlerocketapps.com/) We are primarily an iOS shop and are currently at work establishing a baseline for best practices in supporting accessibility. We have a solid bead on what features the platform supports but are seeking input from actual users as to their experiences using our and other apps. I have been combing through this site and will continue to do so, but wanted to make my self available for comment on the features that you as a community feel are critical. Feel free to contact me here, via email: email@example.com or via skype: doug.russell.br
Hi Doug, Welcome to the AppleVis site and forums. There are many visually impaired iDevice users who really like apps that Bottle Rocket has developed, such as Voxie Pro Recorder and the NPR app, and it's really great to see a developer effort to establish and promote best accessibility practices. Quite a lot of the active discussion about app accessibility takes place on mailing lists (e.g. viphone and macvisionaries on Google Groups, aiphone on Yahoo Groups, mac-access on mac-access.net, macvoiceover on the freelists, and others). These tend to be very high volume, but also have a lot of details of what did or did not work for users. I think your effort is particularly timely because a lot of apps that are transitioning to the iPad, especially the new subscription-based media apps, are losing accessibility. NY Times on the iPhone and iPod Touch works much better than their iPad effort. The Washington Post iPad app is problematic. And, for your interest, in a recent discussion thread started by someone who was disappointed in the PBS app accessibility, Bottle Rocket's NPR app was referenced. The discussion had run along the lines that "public" organizations would surely work to improve the accessibility of their apps, witness the accessibility of the NPR app. However, in many cases organizations don't have the expertise in house to develop apps, and outsource them. So there's this great line from NPR's blog about how they chose Bottle Rocker as their developer, and how one of the things that factored into their choice was how the CEO or Bottle Rocket carefully listened to their ideas and then convinced them that everything they thought they knew about the iPhone was wrong, and that they should use the standard user interface. Since you asked for feedback, I'll state that at a basic level, some apps simply can't be navigated at all with VoiceOver. The controls are not exposed to VoiceOver announcements, so there is no feedback. (This was the state of the NY Times iPhone app when the iPod Touch 3G was released -- it went from accessible to completely unaccessible in one version, and statyed that way for a couple of months until the next version was released). Other apps have a "You can't get there from here" aspect -- some cotnrols require an action that VoiceOver can't perform to navigate. Or else, you can try to toggle VoiceOver off and move -- as in the case of scrolling panes in the BBC iPad news app -- but then you get no feedback, and don't know where you are or have moved to when you toggle VoiceOver back on. Still other apps either don't label buttons, mislabel them, or else use labels that seem to bear no relation to the control function. So there's a full range of these, and other, issues. On top of that, there's the question of good human interface design for all apps, which is separate from the accessibility: how many steps does it take the user to perform the operation he or she wants? Are the main controls easily accessed? Does the process seem intuitive? Is it tolerant of the errors or problems in usage? From our end, we're curious about how to best achieve accessibility improvements in different situations. Many individual developers are very responsive to requests, but insights into how best to approach large companies, or to affect the decision of how outsourced apps can be improved would be very welcome. Best, Esther
Bottle Rocket in conjunction with the National Science Foundation has recently release a new app called Science 360 that we are quite proud of. We've worked hard to make the app fully accessible and would love feedback from this community. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/science360-for-ipad/id439928181?mt=8
Most developers who aren't creating accessible apps are simply unaware that they are doing so. Start by checking the developers website for contact information, but if that doesn't pan out, it's often worth trying to reach out to a company or their staff via social media. Asking a company on facebook or twitter is a surprisingly good way to get an actual person to notice you. As always feel free to reach out to me if you have any feedback on iOS apps that Bottle Rocket is responsible for. via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via skype: doug.russell.br