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"Hear" Flipboard

"Hear" Flipboard


Although the law requires that people with disabilities have equal access to public spaces, there are no legal protections for them in the digital space. However, as the online content grows exponentially, blind and low vision (BLV) users also need access to news app like Flipboard, which provides contents from certified outlets according to the topics that they like. The current iOS provides VoiceOver mode that allows them to navigate the app but an issue arises: "flipping" is a tricky gesture in VoiceOver while it’s the main navigational tool on Flipboard.


According to Census Bureau surveys, nearly one in five Americans reported having a disability in 2010 and among them, more than eight million Americans are visually impaired.

What people with disabilities want is the same thing people without want: the information. Everything else is just dressing. (Geoff Freed, director of technology projects and Web media standards at the NCAM for Nieman Reports)

There are a few reading apps that are specifically designed for the visually impaired. Voice Dream Reader, however, costs $14.99 to download on iPhone and Sero only features contents from The New York Times, Wall Street Journals and USA Today Weekend and cannot be sorted based on topics. Other reading apps, including DAISY and Audible cannot be used to read news since they only provide books.

Among tools that allow BLV users to read online contents, both JAWS and NFB-NEWSLINE are only available for the web and not mobile-friendly. Even on the web, JAWS reads every single word on the page, including ads, and results in unsatisfying reading experiences.

Flipboard, however, is free, customizable, mobile-friendly and has unobtrusive ads and therefore has a great potentials to be a reading app for the BLV users. The company has a guide on how to turn on VoiceOver before using the app for the visually impared.



In Flipboard, users normally use the swipe up motion to browse articles. However, when turned on the VoiceOver mode on iPhone, in order to swipe up, user has to hold and swipe. This motion can easily be mistaken with the "Rotor" function of VoiceOver. "Rotor" allows users to use a few functions such as read headings, or find containers. If "Headings" option is chosen, for example, user can find headings by swiping up.

If I didn't hold long enough before swiping up to browse articles, VoiceOver sometimes understands the gestures as a "rotor" function. In the video on the right, it mistakenly announced "Heading not found" while I was just trying to flip the page at 0:18 and 0:32 mark.

In other cases, when I hold too long before swiping up, Flipboard mistook that gesture as a 3D touch and another set of options populates the screen (see 0:44).



Instead of the swiping up motion, Flipboard could assign a different gesture to browse articles when the VoiceOver mode is turned on. Flipping the device could be the new gesture. It's on-brand, simple to use and will not be mixed up with other gestures.

Most importantly, it's hands-off and users will not need to pay attention to where they touch on the screen.



Most accessible apps for the BLV users are hands off, i.e. BlindSquare or requires very minimal touch, i.e. Seeing A.I.