Many dedicated BlackBerry® smartphone users and Inside BlackBerry readers may not be aware of the Accessibility team at Research In Motion (RIM) or what they do. I can attest to the fact that I didn’t know they existed at all, but hey, I’m still new to RIM.
So when I was given the opportunity to talk to Greg the Accessibility Product Manager about his team, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I learn a lot about the team, but also a bunch about some very cool features on your BlackBerry smartphone right now that you might not be aware of. Check it out!!
Readers might not be aware of Accessibility team at RIM. Can you give some insight on the history and goals of the team?
I joined the Accessibility team at RIM as the Product Manager three years ago. The majority of my focus has been devoted to improving the accessibility of the BlackBerry Device Software platform and device applications, to help ensure that BlackBerry smartphones can be used more easily by people with disabilities. In addition, we also work with third party vendors to help enable the creation of external hardware and software solutions for people with disabilities. In some ways, I propose and help deliver universal design changes for BlackBerry smartphones that help to improve device usability for all customers, including customers with disabilities.
In addition, our team collaborates with industry associations to participate in the review of accessibility-related legislation around the world so that the need for mobile phone accessibility is reflected wherever possible.
So what exactly is your role as an Accessibility Product Manager?
My role is pretty standard from a Product Management perspective. Specifically though I need to understand the wants and needs of our customers, roadmap and then drive accessibility features and solutions for BlackBerry smartphones and BlackBerry Device Software, enable third party developers to create mobile applications that are accessible by customers with disabilities, support our large customers and Carriers in the area of accessibility, support our ISV members, collaborate with the disability advocacy organizations and generally participate in the Accessibility community.
Can you name some of the additions to the BlackBerry Device Software the Accessibility team has helped to bring about?
- In BlackBerry Device Software v4.6 we added the Reverse Contrast, Grayscale and Grid Layout features.
- In BlackBerry Device Software v4.6.1 we added the Accessibility API to help developers utilize our accessibility features within applications
- In BlackBerry Device Software v4.7 we added the ability to extend vibrations from 1, 2 and 3, to 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10 vibrations with Short, Medium and Long durations
- In BlackBerry Device Software v4.71 we added Event Sounds (i.e., on and off, battery full or about to die, USB/audio jack connected or disconnected)
As I said before, these features are the types of things that are useful to many users, but may be particularly helpful to people with disabilities. For example, the Event Sounds feature provides a non-speech audio tone when your battery is low and needs a charge to retain radio network access. This is useful to someone who is waiting for a phone call and needs a little reminder that their battery is low, as well as being useful to our customers with visual impairments who may find it difficult to see the battery indicator on their device screen.
Talk to me about another feature that was recently added: closed captioning.
We have recently added the ability for customers to display closed caption content on their BlackBerry smartphones. Like you might have seen on your television at home, support for closed captions enables viewers to watch a video and read the accompanying transcribed text at the same time on the screen. This feature is most useful for our deaf and hard of hearing customers who rely on closed captioning for viewing multimedia content, and is equally helpful for customers who do not have hearing loss but want to watch a video without sound for security and/or privacy reasons.
Of course, our support for closed captioning does require content authors create closed caption multimedia content, so we’re excited to work with the Inside BlackBerry blog to raise awareness. All content creators have to do is transcribe their content, time align the text to the corresponding video point using the standard 3GP Timed Text format, and export it into either 3GP or MP4 file formats, which are industry standard supported audio formats.
(Note: stay tuned for an upcoming post on the BlackBerry Developer’s Blog for more info on closed captioning, and using the Accessibility API).
What BlackBerry smartphones currently support closed captioning?
Support for closed caption playback is available on BlackBerry smartphones running BlackBerry Device Software v5.0, like the BlackBerry® Bold™ 9700 smartphone.
Where can people go to learn more about RIM’s accessibility initiative or for contact information?
http://www.blackberry.com/accessibility is the place to go. We will be updating this microsite with more information in the new year as well.