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Siri, will Apple's App Store lock out blind people on iOS 6?

New fears that upgrade knackers VoiceOver support

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A website has broken the wall of silence surrounding version 6 of Apple's mobile operating system iOS - and alleged blind people will struggle to use the App Store software in the new build.

iOS 6 rolls out tomorrow for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches - but it has been in the hands of selected developers since July, allowing them to adapt their apps ready for the big launch.

Now a writer for AppleVis.com, which covers software for visually impaired users, has reported problems with the upcoming iOS 6 release.

Developers reading the article are warned that "posting specific and detailed information about iOS 6 before it is released to the public on 19 September would in most cases be a breach of [Apple's Non-Disclosure Agreement], and could place you at risk of legal action by Apple".

But in the blog post dated 16 September, the AppleVis writer, who identifies himself only as David, said he dropped the veil on iOS 6 for good reason. The post "A Warning to VoiceOver Users Ahead of the Release of iOS 6" claimed that blind or visually impaired Apple users may be cut off from the App Store software in the next iteration of iOS.

According to AppleVis, tweaks designed to make the new App Store more visually appealing have left it incompatible with VoiceOver - the speech-driven user interface with which punters control their gadgets. The website alleged that problem occurs with VoiceOver on the iPhone, but could not verify that there was a similar issue with the iPad.

The post claims a compatibility problem with VoiceOver means that search in the App Store will not work, pages shown will not match what is being read out, and that visually impaired users will be more or less cut off from using the service.

AppleVis took the position that people should be warned:

We have been alerted to a significant accessibility issue that is likely to be present in iOS 6, and we believe that with the public release just a few days away, we would be failing the community if we did not issue a warning.

The post explains:

At the time of writing, the App Store app is virtually unusable with VoiceOver on the version of iOS 6 that was released to developers last week. This release is commonly referred to as the Gold Master, and is effectively the final version. This problem has been reported and replicated by several iPhone users. We are unable to confirm whether the same problem exists on the iPad.

AppleVis said it was hopeful that a fix would be issued before the release. David added that the changes required would be relatively simple - as the App Store is not hardcoded into the OS, but dynamically served up from Apple servers.

The Reg asked Apple for a comment on both the breaking of the non-disclosure agreement and the unsuitability of iOS 6's App Store for blind and visually impaired people, but has yet to receive a reply on either count. ®

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