1. Accessibility of Math Applications on iOS Devices and Related Observations
  2. Graphing on iOS

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1. Subject: Accessibility of Math Applications on iOS Devices and Related Observations

Roopakshi Pathania
Fri Dec 31 2010
Hi all,
So these days I’m busy playing with my new toy: a shiny squeaky new iPod Touch and a plethora of accessible apps that can be downloaded.
Naturally, after a few days, my interest shifted to the discovery of accessible science and Math based apps. I downloaded a few, but they weren’t accessible enough to satisfy me. I have recently found my first fully accessible Math app for iOS devices. It’s called Equation Genius. The app solves equations for you: it can solve quadratic and cubic equations as well as system of linear equations up to 3 unknowns. The fields are labeled with the coefficients you need to input. Once you start editing, the labels disappear, or at least they are not announced.
It is free for now.
Besides this, the default calculator on iOS devices is completely accessible. If you turn your iPhone or iPod into the landscape mode, the regular calculator becomes a scientific calculator.
Coming to some of my gloomy reflections, experimenting with the iOS ecosystem has strengthened my belief that the future of accessibility of productive applications on Windows in particular looks quite bleak from where I stand. The reason why I’m referring to Windows is because this is presently the main platform used in corporate environments around the world.
The ultimate purpose of studying science or math based subjects, according to me at least, is to work in the same field in future. Unless you plan to teach, in which case, you can skip the rest of my diatribe. All technical fields today depend on specialized software to perform particular tasks. For a number of reasons, many of the software applications available have little to no built-in accessibility.
Software for data analysis, computer simulation and modeling, business intelligence tools, cloud-based office applications, financial accounting, report designers and generators, trading platforms, mind mapping, some of the developing environments and many other categories- are not usable right out of the box.
Of course, there are accessible software applications as well, but those are just a handful.
Not to mention that companies quite frequently use in-house software which is rarely accessible.
There is life beyond Microsoft Office. And even if we consider only MS applications, accessibility issues crop up especially while trying to use advance features. I can attest to that fact since I use Excel regularly. Have a happy new year


Vincent Martin
Fri Dec 31 2010
You are so correct when math and science are concerned in the business arena.  I have had a little more success in certain situations with my MAC. I am still annoyed that I have to go between Linux, MAC, and Windows in an attempt to keep up with everyone and then many things are still not accessible.  Fortunately, my supervisor at work does have a MAC and A windows machine and only turns his Windows machine on just to check his Veterans Administration specific e-mail.
The sonnification lab at Georgia Tech where I do my school research is primarily a MAC lab as well.  I absolutely love being able to just move around the lab at will and make any computer talk with a combination keystroke.  I still wish Apple would just lower the cost of every MAC by about 200 dollars and watch their sales skyrocket and watch Microsoft squirm.
With the Windows 7 mobile phone platform not being accessible and will never be, it is quite obvious where we stand with Microsoft.  It seems as if MS Windows is reasonable accessible and their other item of interest is making sure that you can use the features in Office that everyone else uses.  Other than that, we are in deep trouble.
I know I get truly sick and tired of writing scripts for a new program and I still need sighted assistance to write the scripts.  Using three different screen reading programs in Windows, using my MAC, and also Linux from the command line and with the Gnome desktop, I keep such a plethora of information in my head that it usually makes my colleagues head spin when I "change" to a new platform or different operating system.
With all of that being said, I still love my MAC and the other Apple products I own such as my Nano and iphone.

Birkir Rúnar Gunnarsson
Fri Dec 31 2010
Hey guys
I only got one chance at exploring a spreadsheet application on a Mac, the numbers app for iWorks, and I found it highly frustrating. I could not read whether content was a formula or not, I could not list cells with data in them, moving around the spreadsheet was a major hassle, I could not read cell comments, I could not see if a spread sheet had graphs or other objects (important when I have written scripts and have buttons that can run them). How is Excel for the Mac in terms of accessibility is it much better and can you do these things there? I was not overly impressed with Voiceover on OSX, the fact it's there and it's very workable is awesome, but I feel it still has a way to go to reach Windows quality in some areas (understandably, I am not saying it won't happen, but it has not yet). Their work with the iPhone is fantastic and by far the most accessible phone out there, I bought one and I like it a lot, minor inconveniences and annoyances with phone calls and the proximity sensor issue but upgrading IOS to 4.2 helps a lot in that area). But, bottom-line, I could not do some more advanced spread sheet work with VoiceOver and I am wondering if I just lack experience, if Numbers was not a good application to try, or if Apple still has ways to go to make this app accessible. Yes, an article was written in Accessworld that basically states WP7 is not accessible and will not be and Microsoft just said "oops, sorry", so no respect to them in that area. There is also precious little happening in accessibility for Android and Chrome, at least from Google, though I remain hopeful that we'll see something from them in 2011. Apple is clearly the leader and innovator, along with NVDA, so I hope we'll see these guys do even better in the coming year. Cheers =B

Roopakshi Pathania
Sat Jan 1 2011
Hi Birkir,
You are right, VoiceOver with Numbers is not just there yet. But Apple's accessibility team is extremely responsive. I don't have a Mac, so from time to time I check the Mac visionary Google group to find what kind of new stuff is happening. You'll be able to find more there.
As far as Excel is concern, commercial screen readers have invested a lot to provide additional accessibility.  Even with that, I can't interact naturally with VBA created controls. Last year (2010), I was playing with spreadsheets that had check boxes and scroll bars, and I couldn't determine if I was checking or unchecking those boxes, or even what happened when I supposedly clicked on those scroll bars.
You might also like to try IBM's Lotus Symphony office package that uses iAccessible2.
One thing that I have realized which might be true for other visually impaired people as well: in learning to interact with an application by using a screen reader, I pay far more attention to different aspects of the application than others do. I usually confirm this by returning to the support forums and going through the posts to see what kind of question people are asking about the application.  If there are inaccessible controls or other inaccessible features, I can't truly specialize in using that application.
That is the case most of the time.

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2. Subject: Graphing on iOS

Roopakshi Pathania
Thu Jan 20 2011
I use Wolfram Alpha on the web, but never thought to look it up in the apps store. As I had written to this list before, I'm looking around the store for accessible apps for Math and other technical stuff. Equation Genius was my first accessible Math app discovery.


Alex Hall
Thu Jan 20 2011
Hi, I will have to look into these apps. However, one major shortcoming of today's notetakers is the lack of a way to hear a graph. The old BNS could do this; give it a function, like x^2, and it would produce an audio clip that traced the line, using beeps for the axes and pitch to tell you if the line went up or down. Is anything like this available on iOS? If I had a Mac and $99 per year I would write one myself, but I am on Windows and do not have the money to spare.

Sean Tikkun
Thu Jan 20 2011
Frankly... There's money available from National Science Foundation and I'm sure NFB would be interested!  Lord knows the tactile display technology is always going to hit the financial feasibility wall until haptic bluetooth can link to mobile devices. Which I think will get us there....

Rasmussen, Lloyd
Thu Jan 20 2011
Have you looked into the vOICe from There is a PC program and also an app for Android.  These programs are for sonifying images, which can include graphics files or parts of a PC screen. MathTrax, a Java-based NASA project, may still work on PC's; I'm not sure.   Lloyd Rasmussen, Senior Project Engineer National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Library of Congress 202-707-0535
The preceding opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Library of Congress, NLS.

Alex Hall
Thu Jan 20 2011
Yes, I know about the vOICe. However, it does not run on iOS, and Peter (the creator) has said that he is not currently willing to pursue this due to the cost (the program is free) and some other factors. Also, this sonifies the entire image; I would want a program that could take a function and sonify the resulting graph, providing me with where the axes are as well as more advanced tools, like moving along a given axis one square at a time to hear the line, sonifying one row or column at a time, and so on.

Roopakshi Pathania
Thu Jan 20 2011
Hi Alex, Believe or not, I'm also trying to get such an app on the store. I'm a huge believer in data sonification and love MathTrax. In fact I use MathTrax's descriptive feature to understand patterns on financial charts that I use for my trading in the stock market. A major advantage of iOS devices and VoiceOver is that when you tap on a point, VoiceOver will announce the exact value/ label associated with that point. This has never been available in the traditional PC environment. You can find this feature in the preinstalled stock application on your device. Another advantage is that iPhone (not other iOS devices) has a vibrating motor that can be used in conjunction with the previously mentioned feature to provide additional tactile feedback. I'm trying to look for researchers willing to work with the iOS environment to come up with a fully accessible interactive charting app. Regards

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