Apple Announces Education Initiatives

Today, Apple Inc. held an event in New York to announce new education initiatives from the Cupertino, Ca.-based company.

Apple has released iBooks version 2.0, which includes support for interactive textbooks. In an effort to improve the learning experience, Apple is providing textbooks through its iBooks platform. To start with, there will be a focus on high school level texts. Apple touts the portability, durability, and instant updating nature of electronic textbooks, and has already gotten the top three textbook publishers in the United States onboard with the program.

Interactive textbooks for iBooks can include images, videos, links, and other media and learning tools for the student to interact with. However, the obvious advantage for students using VoiceOver is that iBooks are accessible in the vast majority of cases, and we see no reason why textbooks would be an exception. Given the difficulties for visually impaired students to obtain current textbooks in an accessible format and in a timely manner, this has the potential to dramatically improve the learning experience for them. Additionally, images can be enlarged on the screen, making it easier for low-vision students to see illustrations, diagrams, etc, without having to resort to CCTV monitors, scanners, or photo-copiers.

Next, Apple took the wraps off of iBooks Author, a content-creation and publishing tool for Mac OS X, which radically simplifies the creation of books suitable for the iBooks platform, including allowing authors to create interactive components for their books. The application is available from the Mac AppStore today, is free, and our initial examination of the product indicates that is in fact accessible with VoiceOver as well. With the book, you can export to PDF or iBooks formats, or publish directly to the iBooks store, if you are registered with the iTunes Connect program for publishing books.

Finally, Apple announced a new iTunesU application for iOS. The app provides online courses from a variety of universities, complete with course materials, quizzes, assignments, and more. The courses are available for free. Our first-look at the iTunesU app also indicates that it is fully accessible with Voiceover. iTunesU is available now from the iOS AppStore.

All in all, these were impressive announcements, and have the potential to have a significant impact on blind and visually impaired users of Apple’s products. By providing textbooks and other education tools to students in an accessible format, we might be at the beginning of a new renaissance for visually impaired students and their technology.