Music lovers who are blind or vision-impaired can now enjoy iTunes and iPod nano in an entirely new way thanks to the latest version of iTunes and the new iPod nano (4th generation).

iTunes 8, which is screen-reader friendly for both the Mac and the PC, provides compatibility with VoiceOver in Mac OS X Leopard and Window-Eyes 7.0 for Windows XP and Windows Vista. And since the new iPod nano (4th generation) has optional spoken menus, you now can easily find and play the music you want to hear while on the go.

Introducing Spoken Menus on iPod nano (4th generation)

The new iPod nano (4th generation) — the world’s most popular music player — introduces spoken menus that let visually impaired music lovers browse and select songs without viewing the screen. Instead, you’ll hear a synthesized voice speaking the names of menus, songs, and artists.

To take advantage of spoken menus, you will need:

  • iPod nano (4th generation)
  • iTunes 8
  • Mac OS X v10.4.11 or later
  • Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (Service Pack 3 or later)

Enabling spoken menus

4th generation iPod nano preferences in iTunes 8

When you connect the iPod nano (4th generation) to your Mac or PC with iTunes 8, you’ll find a new option in iTunes to “Enable spoken menus for accessibility.” When you sync, iTunes 8 creates spoken descriptions for the contents of your iPod nano using the text-to-speech engine on your computer (in Mac OS X, Windows XP and Windows Vista) and then syncs them to your iPod nano (4th generation) along with your music.

iPod nano (4th generation) speaks volumes

In Mac OS X, you can choose from a variety of natural-sounding and novelty voices, including Alex, the amazing new English-speaking voice available in Mac OS X Leopard. Using patented Apple speech technology, Alex closely matches the nuances of human speech and can deliver natural intonation even at extraordinarily fast speaking rates. Learn more about Alex. You can also purchase additional English and non-English voices separately. Contact third-party voice providers for further details.

In Windows, iTunes 8 uses Microsoft’s Speech API (SAPI) compatible voices to generate spoken menu descriptions. Be sure to enable Text to Speech and choose a voice in the Control Panel in Windows XP or Windows Vista before you enable spoken menus in iTunes 8, since speech may not be enabled by default.

Adjusting the speed of the computer’s voice changes the way spoken menus sound on iPod nano (4th generation). In Mac OS X, you can adjust the speaking rate for Alex and other Mac voices in the Speech pane of System Preferences. In Windows XP and Windows Vista, you can adjust the speaking rate for voices using the Text to Speech Control Panel.

For more information about setting up spoken menus on iPod nano (4th generation) see “Enabling Spoken Menus on iPod nano (4th generation).”

4th generation iPod nano settings

Large Font on iPod nano (4th generation)

The new iPod nano (4th generation) introduces a font size setting that lets you choose a standard or large font size. You can enable the large font in the Settings menu.

High Contrast Screen and Backlight

iPod classic and iPod nano feature high-resolution LCD displays with adjustable brightness settings that make them easy to read even in low-light conditions.

iPod touch features a large, high-resolution 3.5-inch LCD display with adjustable brightness. There’s even an Auto-Brightness feature that continually adjusts the brightness automatically — using an integrated ambient light sensor — for optimal viewing even in very high and very low lighting conditions.

iTunes icon

Accessibility in iTunes 8

iTunes 8 is screen-reader friendly. On a Mac using Mac OS X Leopard, it’s compatible with VoiceOver; on a PC using Windows XP or Windows Vista, it’s compatible with GW-Micro Window-Eyes 7.0.

Screen Reader Technology

For those who are blind or have a vision impairment, screen readers provide spoken descriptions and full keyboard control as an alternative to using a mouse. Screen readers use a speech engine to synthesize spoken descriptions that explain what’s taking place on the computer screen. While customers using Windows PCs typically purchase screen readers separately, on a Mac both Mac OS X v10.4 Tiger and v10.5 Leopard include a full-featured, built-in screen reader called VoiceOver.

Universal Access icons

On a Mac, iTunes 8 works in conjunction with VoiceOver to provide full keyboard control and spoken audio descriptions. iTunes also works with the other built-in Universal Access features of Mac OS X Leopard, including Zoom, Sticky Keys, and Mouse Keys. The Universal Access features of Mac OS X work in conjunction with VoiceOver to suit your specific needs.

Thanks to its support for Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), iTunes 8 for Windows can also be used with screen readers for Windows, but to take advantage of the support, screen reader manufacturers may have to update their applications. Apple recommends using GW-Micro Window-Eyes 7, which is sold separately, on Windows XP Service Pack 3.

iTunes Store

With iTunes 8, you can use a screen reader to browse the iTunes Store and shop for music, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, free podcasts, and other content. A number of areas in the iTunes Store have been enhanced for accessibility, including the iTunes Store home page, iTunes U, Podcasts, Music, Audiobooks, Movies, TV Shows, Music Videos, and iTunes Latino, among others. On the home page, you’ll find links to the Top Movie Rentals, Top Movie Sales, Top Songs, Top Albums, Top Audiobooks, and similar content. And since even the sign-up process is now accessible, you can create an iTunes account without sighted assistance.

To make browsing with a screen reader easier, the iTunes Store uses headers, links, and form controls, terms and landmarks you’ve already become accustomed to while browsing web pages.

iTunes Store Search

If you can’t immediately find a song, album, or artist you’re interested in, you can use the search feature on the iTunes Store to find and display a matching list of songs, movies, TV shows, and other content based on the criteria you enter. For more complex searches, use Power Search, which lets you enter multiple search criteria at once.

When you find content you like, iTunes 8 makes purchasing that content easy. Use a simple keystroke to purchase and download all media types, including individual songs, complete albums, movies, TV episodes, Season Passes, audiobooks, and podcasts.

iTunes U album artwork

iTunes U

iTunes U also features enhanced accessbility for those using screen readers. As a result, everyone with access to the Internet, including those who are blind or vision-impaired, can enjoy great educational content. iTunes hosts content provided by participating colleges, universities, K12 schools, museums, public radio stations, and other educational organizations. That means the content is always available, easy to find, and even easier to download and play. On iTunes U, you search, download, and play course content just as you do music, movies, and TV shows.

Apple works very closely with participating schools and organizations, encouraging them to provide descriptions for images and other information they upload to their web pages to make sure their pages are accessible to those using screen readers.