Are there any good portable MP3 players for blind and visually impaired people?
I am a blind young woman who absolutely loves listening to music. Does anybody out there know of any lightweight, blind-accessible alternatives to the iPod Shuffle? I have a first-generation Shuffle, which I purchased in 2008, and the battery dies after one hour. I want something that can be compatible with iTunes Music, especially .m4a files, that can store lots of music, and most important of all, that has an easy way to replace the battery. Also, I don’t want it to be too spendy, as right this moment, I don’t have hundreds of dollars. Annabelle
Apple has discontinued the iPod Shuffle, but there are still lots of them available from other sources. Many are advertised as being brand new and still sealed in their boxes. Your simplest and least disruptive option is to buy a more recent Shuffle, or two, either “as new” or little used. Given that your last Shuffle lasted around nine years, this should also be a reasonably cost-effective option.
Alternatively, you could get someone to replace the battery in your current Shuffle. Unfortunately, iFixit says this is “very difficult” with a first-generation version, so I don’t recommend it in your case.
However, iFixit also shows how to replace the batteries in later versions of the Shuffle, and this could influence your choice of a new model.
Replacement iPod batteries often ship with the small tools required, and there are usually demonstration videos on YouTube. You may have a friend who is happy to do this for you, should the need arise, or a local repair shop that can do it cheaply.
Consider an iPod Touch
The iPod Touch is the only surviving member of the iPod family, and it’s much like an iPhone without the phone. You might dismiss it for being a touchscreen player or, more likely, because it’s expensive at £199/£299 or $199/$299. However, it does have a number of features that may make it usable by blind and visually impaired users. These include the VoiceOver screen reader and Voice Control, which recognises command such as shuffle, pause and next song. See Apple’s help page, Use Accessibility features on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
Better still, the latest iPod Touch has Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled digital assistant. Experiment with Siri on an iPad or iPhone to find out if you can operate an iPod Touch successfully.
A new iPod Touch may be a bit spendy at the moment, but you may be able to afford a second hand or refurbished one.
Either way, as an iTunes user, sticking with Apple is the simplest way to maintain your current set-up.
MP3 players for blind users
You would think there would be a huge market for cheap, easy-to-use MP3 players suitable for blind and visually impaired users, and for older users whose fingers are not as nimble as they used to be. If there is, suppliers don’t appear to be addressing it. There are products such as the Victor Reader Stream, which is a Daisy-compatible talking book and media player, and the Plextalk Pocket Daisy player, but they generally cost £300 [$300] to £400 [$400] or more. (Daisy is an acronym for Digital Accessible Information Systems, and it’s an international standard for audio publications such as “talking books”.)
In the UK, the RNIB sells Sovereign and Sonic portable USB players that enable blind users to play music from flash drives. But they have built-in loudspeakers so they’re not as portable as a Shuffle or similar MP3 player.
The affordable alternatives are mostly MP3 players that target the gym bunny and exercise markets, which probably includes the Shuffle. People who are doing physically strenuous things don’t have time to look at tiny screens or mess about with complicated interfaces. The SanDisk (Sansa) Clip Sport and Clip Jam are among the most popular examples, but both have screens. However, there are a few that don’t. Have a look at the AGPTEK G02 and the Philips GoGear SoundDot and FitDot, for example. (The original Creative Zen Stone is long gone.)
Some MP3 players are designed for swimmers. Examples include the waterproof Sigomatech swimming MP3 player, the AGPTEK S12 and the Exeze Rider. There are also “head hugging” all-in-one MP3 players/headphones such as the Sony NWZ W273A (discontinued) and the (current) NW-WS413 and NW-WS414 Sports Walkman models, for general exercise including swimming.
I haven’t used any of the exercise-oriented MP3 players, so you will have to read some reviews to see if there’s one you think might work for you.
Based on Amazon reviews, the 8GB AGPTEK G02 looks a good bet at £17.99/$19.99 except that it only supports MP3, Microsoft WMA (Windows Media Audio) and WAV files, not Apple’s AAC files. This is a problem with many cheap players, and it may not change in a hurry because MP3 is now licence-free (the Fraunhofer Institute’s patents expired) whereas AAC still requires fees. You can convert AAC files to MP3 in iTunes but it might be a lot of work and it won’t improve the sound quality.
Note also that non-Apple players will not play old music files that have Apple’s DRM (Digital Rights Management) copy protection, ie m4p rather than m4a. You could either upgrade them via iTunes or, if there are not too many of them, burn them to CD and re-rip them.
A note on Rockbox
One of the geekier options is to install the open source Rockbox software to improve or replace the operating software in a compatible MP3 player. Only a small number of – usually, older – players are compatible, but this does include many SanDisk models, as well as Cowon, Philips, Samsung, Sony and other players.
The benefit is that Rockbox provides support for blind and visually impaired users, including voiced menus. Rockbox has an FAQ and an index page for blind users. The major drawback for you is that Rockbox doesn’t work with iTunes. (It has its own database system.)
Also, I expect someone would have to install Rockbox for you. If so, you should both read the installation instructions very carefully before buying a player.
Alternatives to iTunes
Most people only use iTunes to manage music on iOS devices, though DoubleTwist provides a useful way to sync Android devices.
However, most MP3 players now plug into a USB port, where they appear as external hard drives. That means you can simply drag-and-drop music folders to your player. (This is the same as setting an iPod to “Manually manage music and videos”, which also avoids importing files into iTunes’ library.)
Unfortunately, that still leaves you with the problem of finding an accessible MP3 player that supports AAC or making MP3 versions of all your music. If you have a Mac running MacOS 10.10 or later, you could use Doug’s Convert and Export script or M3Unify to create MP3 copies in a separate folder or on an SD card or USB drive, then copy them to your MP3 player.
Windows users may be willing to put some effort into escaping from iTunes, especially as there are now so many alternative sources of music, including Amazon.
However, I think you’d be better off sticking with iTunes and iPod Shuffle for as long as they are viable, while thinking about an iPod Touch when funds are available.
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