7 December 2005

Voicing the visual [Metropolis Magazine]

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Voiceover
With the help of screen-readers–programs that speak the text on the monitor–and magnifying and contrast-enhancing features, the approximately 260,000 blind and 10 million vision-impaired people in the United States have a way to access the Internet, which has become critical in obtaining goods and services without having to navigate the physical world.

This spring–21 years after the Mac’s debut–Apple presented VoiceOver, an integrated screen reader that promises to shift expectations for how nonsighted users interact with a computer. Amid the hubbub surrounding the release of Tiger, the current version of Mac’s operating system, few in the press noted its existence–but in the accessibility world it was huge.

While the leading Windows screen-reading programs, such as JAWS, cost about $900, Apple began building a full-fledged reader into the operating system. VoiceOver refuses to abandon the graphical interface. Instead of stripping the text from its spatial situation, the program suggests how it looks on the screen by acknowledging the arrangement of windows and frames, and the difference between menus and content.

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