Is Apple News+ the most accessible way to surf the news?

This week's Apple event has certainly helped bring a wide range of news sources into one, accessible app. What we now know, however, is that the accessibility of each individual news item or magazine article will actually depend upon its publisher.

A plea for inclusive newsNews+ app in use on an ipad showing selection of magazines available to read

There's no doubt that Apple's News app has always been yet another example of their commitment to accessible, inclusive design - and the new update is no exception. What the new design has brought, however, is a much increased range of magazine and news publications in all their glossy glory that will be well and truly hit and miss when it comes to access for readers with disabilities.

Whilst the app's ability to search and sign up for publications or individual stories is as accessible as ever, the articles themselves are very often simply PDFs of the magazine pages - with all the inflexibility (and often complete inaccessibility) that PDFs entail. 

Apple's choice of leaving it to the publishers to provide their pages (with those pesky PDFs being the inevitable default) rather than requiring that they submit the text and the images for Apple to better present on screens of different sizes - the far more 'Appley' thing to do to ensure a consistent, optimal experience - means that readers will get a less seamless service for their subscription. Of course PDFs can be made quite accessible – but this takes work and awareness and still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of flexibility of formatting.

As a result, disabled readers who need to be able to change text and background colours for ease of reading, increase font sizes without having to zoom in to be left with a fraction of a page, or have text spoken out using built-in screen reading software, will have to play a (frankly newsworthy) version of Russian roulette on each and every article or publication they've gained access to with their hard-earned rubles. Actually, Apple News+ isn't available in Russia yet, nor Europe, China or the UK - it's currently only accessible in The US and Canada. When I say "accessible"...

Another great, accessible not-so-new choice

A couple of years ago I wrote an article about how you can use a wide array of RSS readers (apps like Feedler or Newsify for iOS and Feedly or GReader on Android) to avoid the potential dangers of relying on others choosing what you read on your Facebook feed or search results and help you get less fake news. In the light of Apple's announcement I thought it would be good to remind readers of RSS once more - not because I don't trust Apple to avoid the worst of fake news but this time because RSS is simply so good at providing accessible information directly to your 'news in-box' on only those topics and from only those publishers that you've chosen. Let's keep algorithms and AI out of the loop until both trust and accessibility are guaranteed.

Sorry - wondering what RSS is and how it relates to Apple's news-collating app? Well that article explains that too, but in essence it's a way to set up searches on topics (such as tech or the lesser-spotted Amazonian tree frog) or all the articles that publications (such as AbilityNet or the BBC) post each day, and have them come to you simply by opening up the app. Not only that, the app then strips out all the ads and other junk and serves up a clean, uncluttered copy of the article's text and pictures in a format that's customisable and super-easy to read. Grabbing news in this way is fast, flexible and free.

My top tip for grabbing the newsLire app logo

I've mentioned a number of RSS newsreaders for both Android and iOS above, and there are many more for mobile, desktop and your browser, but I wanted to finish off with my top tip for accessible news delivery; Lire. Lire happens to be for iOS, is well worth the circa £6 price tag and is  crammed full of features aimed specifically at the disabled user. Make text larger, change colours and, as a blind VoiceOver user, choose exactly what you want spoken and in what order as you swipe down through the articles that have landed in your reading list. I've liaised with the developer several times throughout the app's lifetime and across each update and I can wholeheartedly endorse Lire as being in a league of its own.


Related articles: