iOS 7 is making life more difficult for blind Arabic speakers

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Mike Wehner
October 7, 2013 6:30 PM
iOS 7 is making life more difficult for blind Arabic speakers

When it comes to accessibility options, Apple's iPhone has traditionally done a rather good job of being as all-inclusive as possible. For blind Arab iPhone owners, iOS 7 changed that, and now they are begging Apple to change it back.

For the visually impaired, the iPhone's (and iPad's) VoiceOver feature is a godsend. Using gesture controls, blind users can navigate their devices the same as anyone else, relying on a built-in voice to tell them exactly what they are doing. It's a system that has worked well for many iOS generations now, but with the upgrade to iOS 7, something happened to the familiar "Majed" voice that Arabic speakers were used to: it disappeared.

In its place is "Tariq," a different -- and by many accounts, inferior -- voice that appears to be not only a lower quality, but also quite buggy. The new Arabic VoiceOver option frequently adds random syllables to words, making it difficult to comprehend, and also has a nasty habit of leaving spaces out between words. Mohammed AlWahhabi (his blog, in Arabic, here), an Arab iPhone user that originally pointed out this glaring problem to me noted that, at times, the voice assistant will speak an entire sentence as though it were one long word, with no pauses whatsoever.

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Then there's the issue of the "Enhanced Quality" option that iOS offers for the various languages VoiceOver covers. The vast majority of the high-quality language options take up more than 250 MB (all the way up to 340 MB for German) of on-device storage, producing extremely clear dialogue. Toggling this option for Arabic takes up less than 60 MB. After listening to a handful of sentences, it is apparent that the voice, even in its highest quality, isn't close to ideal.

No amount of tweaking to the VoiceOver speed or quality options seems to help much, and users desperate for their iPhones to return to normal have even taken to YouTube to voice their displeasure with Tariq. "We hope that you find suitable solution either by improving the current voice [Tariq] or by retrieving the former voice [Majed]," reads part of a lengthy plea on the video site, listing names and offering testimonials on how broken the new VoiceOver option seems to be.

AlWahhabi told me that after contacting Apple multiple times for a solution, he was told that if enough individuals take issue with the change, it may be addressed. I am neither blind, nor do I speak Arabic, but this seems to be an issue that deserves to be corrected sooner rather than later, as I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to have a device become practically unusable thanks to a software update.

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