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Analysis

Mac accessibility improved in Lion, the latest OS X
Peter Abrahams By: Peter Abrahams, Practice Leader - Accessibility and Usability, Bloor Research
Published: 21st June 2011
Copyright Bloor Research © 2011
Logo for Bloor Research

Apple has announced the next version of OS X, the operating system for Macs, called Lion. It has 250+ new features, including 11 specific accessibility features and several more that could have accessibility benefits.

OS X ships with a built-in screen-reader, VoiceOver, which has been extended to:

support more languages, provide higher quality voices that can be downloaded from the web, support different preferences for different activities, fast for scanning websites, slower for reading on-line books provide single-letter navigation in web-pages

In previous versions you have been able to increase the size of the cursor arrow but when you did this the arrow became pixelated and the edges were rough; a small improvement in Lion is that the larger cursors remain crisp and sharp. I have my cursor at a medium size, it makes it easier to find on a large iMac screen and I look forward to this small improvement.

Another feature I use quite frequently is screen zoom. If there is something on the screen that is small, some text or often an image, I zoom the whole of the screen so I can see the relevant section blown up. The problem is that I lose the rest of the screen. Lion will offer a function to have a section of the screen in a separate window and to zoom on that. This is the best of both worlds with magnification of the bit of the screen of interest whilst still being able to see the context of the rest of the screen.

Lion improves Braille support with support for more languages and more control of the verbosity.

A significant usability feature is that for existing OS X users Lion will be downloadable from the Mac App Store. The advantage being that there will be no distribution of CD and installation from CDs. For people with disabilities this should be a welcome improvement, just a couple of clicks to download (see my article Usability and Accessibility of Apple Mac App Store) then a few more to install.

FaceTime, the video calling facility built-in to Lion, provides high-definition video which should make it possible for deaf people to use sign-language when communicating remotely. Lion improves and extends the support for full-screen apps. Full screen applications are beneficial to people with vision impairments as the content can be bigger and also there are no distractions. Full-screen should also help people with dyslexia, and some cognitive limitations. With Lion you can have multiple applications open in full-screen mode and you can navigate from one to another using a gesture.

Preview is the tool for looking at images and PDF documents. Lion provides a magnify feature to enlarge specific text or images.

Safari, the built-in browser, has some new features that will benefit people with disabilities.

Double tap to zoom in on a column or an image. Pinch in and out to zoom more precisely. Swipe to navigate, use the swipe gesture to smoothly move to next page. Private autofill, enables standard fields in forms such as surname or address to be autofilled on demand. This is a major benefit to people who find typing difficult or slow.

The Screen Sharing feature enables one Mac to observe or takeover control of another Mac. This provides an excellent remote user support facility. Many users with disabilities will find this useful as it means that small issues can be diagnosed and resolved quickly and effectively by a remote friend.

And finally you can resize a window from any side or corner.

Lion will ship in July and is great value at £20.99 in the UK ($29.99 in the US). I plan to upgrade as soon as it ships as the accessibility benefits are significant as well as many other of the 250 new features which will improve my usability and general user experience.

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