Apple Shares Information on its New Accessibility Events Feature; Most Notably that it's not Enabled by Default

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In the latest versions of iOS and macOS, Apple introduced a new setting called “Accessibility Events” for users of assistive technology.

This new feature tells websites when an assistive technology, such as a screen reader, is being used by the site visitor, enabling developers to customize the behavior of the website accordingly. One example would be to ensure that any custom controls such as custom web sliders are accessible by users.

For blind web users, this should have been received as a positive step towards enhancing the accessibility and user experience of the content on the web.

Unfortunately, the actual reaction of many was far from positive, as Apple's launch of this new feature left a lot to be desired:

  • There was minimal documentation provided on what Accessibility Events is and how it works.
  • The setting is somewhat ‘buried’ in the OS settings, where many users would likely never stumble upon it.
  • The setting appeared to be enabled by default.

It was the last of these which caused the greatest consternation, with many people arguing it shouldn’t be on by default as they don’t want websites or their developers knowing they are blind.

Today, Apple has published a Knowledge Base article about Accessibility Events in which it addresses people's concerns and provides more information on this new feature.

Probably most significant in this article, is the clarification that Accessibility Events is in fact not enabled by default:

While the Accessibility Events control is on by default, the feature only functions when the AOM setting is enabled, which is a developer feature that is off by default.

Essentially, there is a second setting even more buried away in the OS settings which is disabled by default, and needs to be enabled in conjunction with the Accessibility Events setting before your Mac or iOS device will tell websites that you are using an assistive technology.

Accessibility Events is a sub-feature of the Accessibility Object Model (AOM) project, which “aims to develop additions to the web platform to allow developers to provide information to assistive technology APIs, and to understand what information browsers provide to those APIs.” It is a joint W3C effort by Apple, Google, and the Mozilla Foundation.

In its Knowledge Base article, Apple stresses that Accessibility Events is part of the company's longstanding commitments to both accessibility and privacy:

The Accessibility Events feature does not allow websites to specifically query whether individuals are using a screen reader or other specific assistive technology, nor does it provide information about a user's ability or disability. However, web developers might be aware that assistive technology is active on a device, in order to deliver a website that is compatible with the assistive technology.

The information now provided by Apple on the Accessibility Events setting should go a long way towards addressing the legitimate concerns that many had about this feature - most particularly those of us who believed that Apple might be sharing our blindness status without our knowledge or consent.

What are your thoughts now on the Accessibility Events feature? Are you reassured by the information that Apple has made available? Or do you still have concerns? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Enable Accessibility Events

On iOS:

  1. Go to Settings > Safari > Advanced > Experimental Features.
  2. Tap to turn on Accessibility Object Model.
  3. Tap Settings > General > Accessibility to make sure that Accessibility Events is turned on for VoiceOver and Switch Control. For VoiceOver, tap VoiceOver > Web > Accessibility Events. Or for Switch Control, tap Switch Control > Web > Accessibility Events.

On macOS:

  1. Choose Safari > Preferences.
  2. Click Advanced, then select Show Develop Menu in menu bar.
  3. From the Safari menu bar, choose Develop > Experimental Features > Accessibility Object Model.
  4. Make sure that Accessibility Events is turned on in  > System Preferences > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Open VoiceOver Utility > Web > General > Accessibility Events.



Submitted by alex wallis on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Personally the idea of this setting didn't bother me in the slightest, but having now read this article I wonder why apple doesn't actually have some text beside it that says this other setting under safari has to be enabled to get it to work, as otherwise what's the point of it given that the setting it needs is off by default.
actually now having gone to safari and enabled the other setting that is needed for the first one to work there is a hole bunch of other settings under experimental features, which I certainly don't begin to understand, some are on, some are off but I would very much like to know what all these settings do, and in fact I don't particularly like the idea of being used as a guinea pig without giving my permission, and without clear explanations as to what all these things under experimental features do which actually I didn't know existed under safari settings, I thought apple was all about being in favour of privacy and transparency doesn't feel very transparent to me, and this setting doesn't feel well thought out either given that the setting it needs is off by default.

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The fact that it is buried so deeply means that it isn't going to be accidentally turned on. Also, it's specifically within experimental and developer features.

If it helps with web accessibility in the long run, cool. Personally I think people are getting their knickers in a bit of a twist over nothing. Apple haven't betrayed our privacy here and as it is an experimental feature I don't really blame them for lack of instruction on it.

Submitted by Rocker on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Whilst apple bumbled their way through the implementation of this Service , I sincerely believe that the collaborative approach to this should make things better for web accessibility! I had a real laugh out loud moment after reading the out rage from several blind people on various forums! In most cases, the posts made or membership there in on these forums relinquishes your privacy already! Amazon, Facebook, reddit, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat, you name it! Kids! my google bunnies, you are already done! Conscientious developers have been doing this for years! If you go to with a screen reader enabled the website automatically recognizes that you are a screen reader user and presents and option accordingly! Like for the last 10 years! Well done I say WestJet well done! Who the freak is going to target you as a blind consumer oh dear, you will receive targeted ads from who? Humanware? Give me a break you privacy paranoias! As always though, why why am V

Submitted by René Jaun on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Just to clarify: NO; no website you mentioned detects automatically that you‘re a screen reader user. And NO, it‘s not just screen reader users who get to see that link you mention. In fact, In Theory, everyone gets to see that link. It is however formatted in a way that only screen readers will tell you it‘s there, while not disturbing anyone else.
And Apple did make it sound as if, for the first time, the internet browser would directly communicate with a web server informing them that a screen reader is running. And for a company that prides itself on their high privacy standard, this would indeed have been disastrous.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Did not have problems unlike some. Now that we know more, I was correct. Sometimes people do not think and let their emotions manage them. Those tend to create more problem than solutions.

Submitted by LaBoheme on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

i knew all along it was part of AOM, that's why i didn't want to say anything. i was wondering why apple chose to turn on only part of AOM and not the entire thing, now it's clear.

i don't think this is a big deal, but you do need to understand one important point. the module tells the developers that visitors are using access technologies suc as special switch, screen reader or the users seem unable to interact with a mouse, etc, but most developers will still know or assume the user is most likely blind, why? i don't think i need to elaborate, blindness is, well, let's just call it a very special kind of disability.

so like i said, it's really no big deal, but one does need to know the fact of life and deal with it accordingly, whether one choose to turn this feature on or off. but really, even if you keep it off, knowledgeable developers can still infer your disabilities based on how you use their sites, if that's what they want to do.

Submitted by eclectica on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I am not satisfied with this response from Apple. The Accessibility Events feature was not adequately explained when it was launched, and no choice was given as to whether the user would like to enable or disable it. Even though they say it is not enabled, the wording in VoiceOver settings makes it seem as if it is enabled. Also, who is to say that Apple is not going to enable the AOM feature in some future update without notifying us?

The main point, for me at least, is that this could allow screen reader users to be segregated to a version of the web that developers think is appropriate for us, and from what I have seen, supposed “screen reader-friendly” web sites are usually simplified and lack features that the “regular” sites have. According to many accessibility experts, it is best not to have separate sites for people with disabilities. Just think of all the people out there who use assistive technology, and therefore, how many different versions of a site a developer would need to create: Can you imagine the work it would take to maintain a separate site for people who are blind, people who have low vision, people with dyslexia or learning difficulties, people with motor impairments, and people with seizure disorders? It would get out of hand quickly. If the developer just makes the site accessible in the first place, there is no need for the Accessibility Events feature. If the Accessibility Events feature is truly only meant to change the behavior of non-accessible controls, fine, but I am afraid there may be some implications that have not been thought through thoroughly.

Submitted by LaBoheme on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

the point of aom is not to create a simplified version, but to make the site usable. example, some site need you to hold your mouse over something to display the appropriate contents, this is in most case not possible for screen reader users.

Submitted by alex wallis on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

also, even though the setting is enabled by default the setting which it requires in order to be useful under experimental features is off by default which in theory makes this setting utterly pointless given that its off, and there are no instructions in ios saying it even needs to be enabled.

Submitted by Missy Hoppe on Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I never understood why people were upset about this feature. I think it's fantastic, and now that I know there was a second step for fully enabling it, I have taken that extra step. I think we should celebrate any efforts being made to make web sites more accessible.

Submitted by DMNagel on Thursday, April 11, 2019

I didn't decide to engage in social networking just to become a ghost. Besides, I don't believe that anyone using the Internet is 100% anonymous. If they don't have information on you, then they will at least have information about your device.

Submitted by Elena Brescacin on Thursday, April 11, 2019

as inclusive design analyst and accessibility consultant, I have been happy about apple's new feature. For many years, my co-workers were asking me if there was a possibility for developers to know if an assistive technology was enabled or not, and answer was always no.
I think this is a positive development, as for example a website could bypass captcha's if an assistive technology is detected, or, could avoid photos and provide text descriptions -for example in e-commerce sites-.
I have no fear about privacy, as in real life people just see I am blind, when they meet me with white cane, there is no reason to hide it, it's not a fault, to fight stigma it's necessary to come out with no shame feelings.
But, my only fear regards development.
Modern W3C guidelines consider parallel websites, as a deprecated solution. I mean, those sites without any complex technology, in order to satisfy users with disabilities. It's better a completely accessible site for all, rather than inaccessible complex websites with a link to an easier site with less features and of course less frequent updates.
My fear is that, if devs can control whether or not one has an assistive tech, parallel website is shown automatically. So, you'll get the worst solution coming in from the window, when it has been thrown away from the door.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Thursday, April 11, 2019

Those who do not care about what apple did, are not going to change their mind. Those who think black and white create trouble in the world. Missy you are correct. I had use iPhone since the first iPhone had voiceover. To each there own. Long live the apple.

Submitted by Orko on Thursday, April 11, 2019

I have to agree with #7 (eclectica).

This idea of having a separate site for the visually impaired reminds me of the 60s and earlier when it was the standard to segregate different parts of the population, a practice which was eventually declared unconstitutional. Is Apple now telling us that they support segregating handicapped people from who they consider to be main stream? I thought discrimination against anyone for any reason was illegal.

If blindness or vision impairment was a skin color, we'd be calling ideas like having a different web site for the visually impaired or for users of assistive technology racist.

Submitted by sockhopsinger on Thursday, April 11, 2019

As long as I can do my job at the law firm, communicate with my friends, read my books, listen to my music, and play my games, I don't give a truck whether a website has the ability to tell when someone is using accessibility software. As long as it opens more doors, then I am all for it.

Wander if those who complain about apple, use special transportation. That is also a type of segregation. Not everybody is able to use regular transportation. We are blind and nothing is going to change that. How can a web developer will not know about blind accessibility they ask? Well like I stated as a formal sighted person, who did not know anything about blindness if I was creating a web page I would not know anything about. You can not have it your way all the time. Accessibility is about knowledge and wanting to make the changes to help those who are not able to use regular technology.

Submitted by René Jaun on Thursday, April 11, 2019

It‘s about forcing us to tell automatically.
I do gladly share the info of me being blind and using assistive technology. But I do not want my device to communicate this fact around to everyone.
It‘s about us deciding what we share and when we do it. Or not to share it. It is also my believe that it‘ll always be us actually talking to the web developers which will make them provide accessible services. No automatic screen reader communication in the world will change that.

Submitted by Ekaj on Thursday, April 11, 2019

I didn't have a problem with this either in the first place, but am glad they've clarified a few things. Regarding these experimental features, I believe I saw this setting once on my iPhone but didn't pay attention to it because I'm not a programmer by trade and didn't want to screw up anything. After all, i'm still learning my iPhone. But I somehow suspected that more info about this was on its way, and I'm most definitely going to keep "Accessibility Events" turned on on both my devices.

Submitted by Nicholas on Thursday, April 11, 2019

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

My two cents,

"While the Accessibility Events control is on by default, the feature only functions when the AOM setting is enabled, which is a developer feature that is off by default." Apple Knowledge base Article

Well, we got a response from Apple and the situation was addressed as best they could, for now. I believe my blog post was a part of this effort, along with all the great comments, plus some background communications at AppleVis. Whether one keeps this Accessibility Events thing enabled or not is a personal choice. My original disturbance with the whole thing was not with the feature itself. Rather it was with Apple's choice to enable it for me without my knowledge or consent. From my understanding of the knowledge base article linked to above, which was a very rapid response from Apple, another setting in the developer settings of Safari also needs to be enabled for this Events thing to make any difference. I am glad for the quick response from Apple, it still somehow seems that our choice was removed from the situation and all the decision power was given to the webmaster as to whether or not to enable a setting in Safari. Personally, I think the webmaster's setting should have been enabled by default and the blind community's setting should have been a choice. This would have made more webmasters aware of accessible needs while still giving us a chance to decide for ourselves. Maybe it's just me, but too many choices in life are already removed from my hands. Now that I have more info to go by, it still seems like I am getting thrown under the bus being driven by a bus-driver who may not even be aware. ie- a webmaster who may know nothing about accessibility.
For myself, this feature will remain off for now, but I'll follow it's progress for a bit and see where it goes. Keep in mind, in its current implementation, it does not make any webmasters more aware of accessibility needs. They would already have to be aware for them to turn things on from their dev side. It was a choice made by Apple on our behalf to be involved by having it enabled on our part by default. Alas, only webmasters who already know about accessibility needs would access this info to begin with. While at the same time, I was making this info available to every site I visit without my knowledge. This still seems like an all-or-nothing approach and the wrong side of the equation is taking all the risk. Maybe they should have implemented this feature in reverse? Webmaster's side on by default, blind side still given a choice. Nah!
One very gratifying thing came about from all of this, posting and commenting on AppleVis made a difference. Apple is listening, whether we like the response or not, they are paying attention. This is the Apple that I know and love. :-)
Some final points, to be grateful, Thank you Apple for the great hardware and software that allows me to complain and whine about it sometimes. I would not be typing this with such ease without all of Apple's efforts in accessibility. Also, thank you AppleVis for being here and making a difference in my digital life! Very cool!

Submitted by PaulMartz on Thursday, April 11, 2019

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

For many of us, the issue seems to be privacy. That's fine, but I have a different concern. For me, it's the principle.

If web developers can't make a web site accessible to everyone, I fail to see why they would take extra time and effort to create multiple code paths for users with ande without accessible technology enabled. The notion that this feature will suddenly make it easy for web developers to add alt text to images is preposterous, as they can already do that for all users by default. The notion that web developers are somehow held at gunpoint to make content available for mouseover only unless they have this extra bit of information telling them to make it available without a mouse is equally ludicrous.

I can be convinced, though. Someone show me a web page whose accessibility actually improves with the introduction of this feature. I'd love to see it and will happily sing a different tune.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Thursday, April 11, 2019

If apple did so, they would fix the bugs that we reported from the start of iOS 12. However they had not done so. If you believe that your post made a big different make a post about bugs that applevis has talk about and nothing has been done.

Submitted by Nicholas on Friday, April 12, 2019

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Just for clarity. I wasn't trying to say that my blog made the difference as much as all the great comments. I can not take credit for Apple's response, rather I think it was the response from the AppleVis community that made the difference. Anyone's blog about this topic would probably have gotten much the same amount of response from the AppleVis community. This was, in my mind, what made the difference. Maybe my earlier comment wasn't stated very well.

So, again for clarity, I believe it was the great response from the AppleVis community that made the difference. We, as a community, made a difference.

Submitted by tunmi13 on Saturday, April 13, 2019

Decided to drop by here and post...
But segregation? Seriously? I mean, not to be harsh but, come on. Let's realize what's going on here. This is a step moving forward, and it's just a mistake that Pple made, and now they have told us what was really going on, so now we know. It's not called segregation when we get an accessibler site than the sighted individuals. It's a way that we can utulize the site more efficiently.
On Windows, for example, when using a browser with apps such as Google Docs, Drive, Hangouts, GMail, etc etc, we aren't getting a separate website. All it's doing is making objects that were probably not accessible in the first place, and labeling them so they are accessible. I really don't understand how the whole segregation part got brought in here but, it may put some of us a little on edge.

Submitted by Ekaj on Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tunmi, you summed up what I've basically wanted to say for awhile. Like I've mentioned before, it appears some people just cannot be satisfied. What Apple has done is in no way segregation and they have even stated publicly their ongoing commitment to privacy and accessibility. I'd write more but my neighbor across the hall is calling for me to go over there.

Submitted by OhioBuckeye on Sunday, April 14, 2019

Personally, like many others who have posted, I do NOT have a problem with turning on this setting. I am not concerned about my privacy being violated. In fact, I see this particular "event" as a positive for those who are low vision or blind. A website developer may develop several variations of a website. Maintaining several varations tells me that the're committed to making their site even MORE accessible by offering choices.
There is one website which will remain nameless, which utilizes mouseover quite heavily, because quite frainkly, it appeals to the masses. Their developers are reviewing this page, to get others feedback on "events" on the iOS devices.