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Visually impaired users say iOS 6 App Store redesign is a downgrade

While Apple's new iOS 6 operating system packs a number of enhanced features for disabled users, the redesigned App Store, iTunes Store and iBookstore have been called a step backward for the visually impaired.

Reader J. P. Shandra contacted AppleInsider this week to explain how the new layout in the iOS App Store has caused problems for him. In particular, the redesigned horizontal interface for listing the top apps, books and music is said to cause problems with those who use the VoiceOver feature in iOS.

Also with the iOS 6 update, Shandra said that VoiceOver can no longer read application ratings. Previously, he was able to have his iPhone tell him the average review score of content sold on the App Store and Apple's other digital storefronts.

Shandra noted that iOS 6 has a number of improvements related to accessibility, for which he believes Apple should receive credit. But he's been frustrated by the newly redesigned storefronts.

Apple has proven to be very receptive to input from disabled users over the years. Prior to the release of iOS 6 earlier this month, the company made a number of last-minute accessibility fixes that received praise from users.

The website AppleVis, which advocates for blind and low-vision users of Apple products and applications, noted that a number of other major problems associated with the App Store in the Golden Master build of iOS 6 were fixed by the time the final software was released to the public.

Prior to the changes, the website called the new App Store in iOS 6 "virtually unusable with VoiceOver." Those reliant on audible feedback from their iOS device said that search did not work in the App Store, and pages shown did not match was was read out loud.

But those more serious issues, which went well beyond the complaints Shandra still has, were addressed before iOS 6 was released to the public. "Our thanks go to everybody at Apple who has been busy working on these last minute fixes," author David at AppleVis wrote.

iOS 6 also enhances accessibility with support for new "Made for iPhone" hearing aids. Apple has said it is working with top manufacturers to deliver new hearing aids that will be compatible with iOS devices.

The software update for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch has also added VoiceOver support to Maps, AssistiveTouch and Zoom, giving the screen reader even more functionality in iOS 6.

Another major feature in iOS 6 is Guided Access, which aims to make it easier for people with vision, hearing, learning and mobility disabilities to use their device. With Guided Access, the Home button on an iOS device can be disabled and touch input can be restricted to certain areas of the screen, allowing students with disabilities, like autism, to remain on task.