Helping blind users read their email

Lots of people said this app would be great for blind people so we have been working with the blind community to make Speaking Email accessible using VoiceOver.

I’m pleased to announce that Speaking Email is now fully accessible with VoiceOver, the screen reader that blind people use to interact with their iPhone. We’ve been reviewed as a fully accessible app on AppleVis, the online community for visually impaired iPhone users.

We’ve had a lot of enthusiastic and supportive feedback from blind and visually impaired users, which makes this effort really feel worthwhile:

“I just wanted to say this app is awesome! It makes reading emails a lot easier.”

“Your app is one of a handful that could assist people with visual problems and I strongly support your efforts.”

“I want to thank you for this app because my 93 year old mother is almost blind from macular degeneration. She can now listen to her emails without needing someone to read them to her”

“The accessibility is awesome”

In the process we learnt a lot about making HTML5 apps WAI ARIA compliant, and some of the challenges around swipe and slide interactions using VoiceOver. A big problem is that VoiceOver takes over the swipe gestures, and a fundamental part of our app is what we call the “email slider” where you navigate emails by swiping left and right.

We managed to solve this by presenting the email slider as an ARIA “tabset”, which is a component that happens to be navigated by swiping left and right. We named the tabs by the title of the email (eg “Email from Fred Flintstone”) so the user can quickly flip between emails and hear VoiceOver read out the email title. A couple of seconds after the user stops changing tabs (ie swiping left and right), we then trigger our own text-to-speech engine to read out the email content nicely as usual. So we managed to present a swipe left and right interface using VoiceOver and WAI ARIA standards.

We got some amazing feedback from our beta testers during this, and their feedback helped drive this effort.

Stuff like this made our day:

“Speaking Email totally rocks! The accessibility is awesome!”

Check out Speaking Email at – also usable while driving (or doing anything else).