Are VoiceOver Users on iOS Receiving the Short End of the Stick Compared to their Sighted Peers?

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Recently, Clara Van Gerven published an article on the National Federation of the Blind website entitled, “The Sighted Guide to VoiceOver”. In the article, the author, a sighted assistive technology specialist, undertook an experiment to use only VoiceOver on her iPhone for forty days. That any sighted person, even an assistive technology professional, would undertake using only VoiceOver for forty days is to be commended, as one cannot even begin to imagine the amount of frustration the author experienced being sighted but having to rely only on speech.

In the article, the author asserts that the built-in iOS keyboard is “a pain to type on,” even for expert users:

Let me start with one piece of advice that I would dispense to anyone attempting VoiceOver, blind or sighted: for the love of all that you hold dear, please use a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPhone (or Braille input, if you’re so lucky). I promise you that otherwise you will inevitably throw your precious device into the nearest hard surface. Reader, we don’t want to be held responsible for damage. Find a Bluetooth keyboard. Buy one. Borrow one. Because unpleasant fact numero uno of VoiceOver on iOS is this:

It is a pain to type on. Even for the experts.

The article continues, highlighting (among other things) issues with Safari, non-uniform speech feedback, latency, and inconsistent third-party app accessibility—all issues which affect VoiceOver users in varying degrees. The author then extols the benefits afforded only to VoiceOver users when compared to the sighted population, adding a nice sense of balance to the otherwise edgy piece. This is all fine and well, as peoples’ experiences with and perceptions of things are bound to be varied in life.

The article concludes with the author asserting that, in many cases, the iOS experience for blind users is not equivalent to that for sighted users:

As for the bottom line, is it as good as the experience for a sighted person is, the outcome is clear. Sometimes it’s better; often it’s similar; but quite often it is worse; and that’s a shame, because it’s not inevitable. Speech on phones has come such a long way – but it would be a mistake to take the current improved state of affairs for an equivalent experience.

So, what do you think? Is Apple providing an equivalent experience for VoiceOver users? Sound off in the comments!



Submitted by BigPawedBear on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

HI. yes i think they are. app accessibility cannot be guaranteed, and i think all app devs need to look at the comprehensive meaterials on app accessibility. Apple need to mandate accessibility into their pre authorisation testing I believe. otherwise, developers will become very lazy.

Submitted by Florian on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I must commend the author of this blog post. When I saw this post announced on Twitter, i was half-afraid it would be a direct reprimand of the Nfb post mentioned, turning it into some kind of blogging war about who is right. Instead, I find a neutrally written account of the existence of that other blog post and a request for opinions, which I like. Here goes mine, then :)
I think the author of the Nfb post actually brings up a few very good points. Touch typing has been fundamentally broken for the blind since touch screens were made accessible by Apple in 09. and that is by no means Apple's fault, so please don't start a linch mob for this. You will find the exact same experience on Android, probably even Windows on phones, and honestly I have no idea how you would make it better apart from simply using a physical keyboard. If we compare the speed a blind person can type on a touch screen to how fast they can type on a physical keyboard, or even a numeric keypad like the old Nokias we all know and love used to have, my point is illustrated all the more.
Does that mean an iPhone is unusable without a keyboard? No, I wouldn't say so. But I can see how the dramatic decrease in typing speed would frustrate a sighted person into thinking this is necessary. Do keep in mind that we started learning to type on these screens and gradually got faster, while a sighted person has always been pretty fast and now has been slowed down considerably after turning on VoiceOver. Imagine typing with a huge lag and the experience might be similar. I'm sure I'd complain if VO suddenly took over half a second to report what letter I've typed, this is essentially what's going on here.
As for all the other points brought up, honestly I can't disagree with most of them. Dynamic areas on the web are often indeed broken, safari in iOS 8.2 was indeed buggy to the point of frustration and a lot of other things this author has written are simply true. The only footnote I'd like to add is that I am in fact using the NetFlix app without too much trouble, so not sure whats going on there. Overall, I think the summary "the experience is sometimes better, often similar and often worse' is actually a very apt summary.

Submitted by Ken Downey on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I don't think many of us here really have the right to speak on this issue for one reason. Many were born blind, so we simply do not know, because we cannot compare. All we know is VO. Others lost their sight before they got a smartphone, so they don't know either. The only ones that can truly tell us are those very few individuals who lost their sight after using an iPhone for a while. I can say, though, that with the use of mBraille, I can type faster than most sighted people can type on a bluetooth keyboard so that's an edge in our favor lol.

Submitted by Clare Page on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hi! This was a very interesting post to read, and I can definitely understand the frustrations of the sighted user who tried using only VoiceOver for forty days: I can see far too little to read the screen with my eyes, so I have never used an iPhone like a sighted person, but it's bound to be quite a different experience to that of us blind people who have always used VO. For me, the iphone has been the most accessible mobile phone I have ever owned, but that doesn't stop me agreeing with some points raised by the sighted VO user( mentioned above. After more than three-and-a-half years as an iPhone owner, my typing speed on my phone's onscreen keyboard has gradually speeded up, and it's definitely faster than it was on the keypad of the Nokia phone I had before that: having a SpeedDots screen protector definitely helps me find the right letters more easily on the iPhone. However, I type faster with Braille Screen Input since that arrived in IOS 8, so I tend to mostly only use the onscreen keyboard for short typing sessions such as searches, using Braille Screen Input for longer sessions such as tweeting or writing a review or email; So, even though I bought a bluetooth keyboard a while back, i hardly use it now, and I didn't buy it till I'd got used to the onscreen keyboard anyway. I agree that Voiceover accessibility of apps is not guaranteed, and i've been occasionally caught out with that, but in each case I deleted any app I found inaccessible straight after installing it. I don't use Safari very much on my iPhone, I do most of my web-browsing on the PC where i'm writing this comment, so I can't give a truly informed opinion of whether it's frustrating for a blind person to use Safari with VO all the time or not. But it's good to know that the sighted VoiceOver user mentioned in the blog post above had some positive experiences with VO in spite of the frustration about typing, Safari, ETC.

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This is just like a sighted person placing a blindfold over their eyes and resolving to live for 40 days without sight. It's just not a fair comparison because the partially sighted or totally blind individual does not have the luxury of being able to revert back to normal sighted so we simply learn to deal with the frailties of our devices and go on with life.

Granted, there are some accessibility issues that need to be addressed but you couldn't pry my iPhone out of my hands. I remember the day when I had no accessible devices but the phone that hung on my wall and sat on my desk. I'll take my iPhone any day of the week. If there are accessibility issues then I'll learn to figure a way around them. If there isn't a way and I really want the app to work, then I'll contact the developer to see what we can do.

I commend Apple for all that they have done and continue to do for the accessibility features. Just take a look around at the other electronics in your life. Did your washing machine manufacturerer do anything for accessibility? I think not. Quite frankly, Apple isn't obligated to do anything in regards to accessibility. After all, they have made their place in history. But yet they have hired whole teams of employees whose job it is to bring accessibility higher. I commend them for taking note of a small population and resolving to make it better for them, as well.

The woman of the experiment did make some valid points but she is not "dependent" upon her device so of course she had more frustration, but for those who really need the accessibility feature set, we simply learn how to manage. I don't think she could really have had a fair experience.

Submitted by April on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Club AppleVis Member

Equivolent, no, not exactly, but better than anyone else has done at any point to date. Apple's efforts are appreciated and welcome.
I'm so accustomed to asking questions of companies and just not getting answers, or being told that fixing it for me would be too much trouble, etc. This has been a very different experience.
That said, yes, I wish someone had warned me about the keyboard when I got my phone. I spent my first month trying to touch-type everything, then I followed old advice and got Fleksy keyboard right when they turned awful, and thought the fault was mine...
Now I'm a much happier MBraille user, but what a learning curve, yikes!

Submitted by Florian on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I can sort of se how a sighted person wouldn't use braille input in their reviews :) As for me ...I like it and I don't, primarily because often circumstances force me to type one-handed, which makes braille input pretty much impossible :)

Submitted by Joe on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Club AppleVis Member

Couldn't one make this assumption about anything in life? I mean seriously? Where or when have blind people had an equal playing field? Jaws isn't equal to the sighted way. I mean at my job I don't have access to certain screens because there still written in doss but they have access to it. I think there are some points she doesn't really talk about how we had a solution in Fleksi but they turned there back on us. I'm just saying I don't know one part in life where I am on a equal playing field as a sighted counterpart. If you can name me one I'll listen. Thats just life and maybe we should focus on that.

Submitted by Joseph on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A very well-written blog post. As poster 5 said, how can the one who resolved to use VO for 40 days really know what it's like for a blind person? Simple, she can't, because she's never been in the shoes of a blind person. Yes, VO does have its quirks (every bit of software does) but for me at least, it's been a rather good experience. I remember when I got my first iOS device a few years ago. that was an iPod touch fourth generation, and now i have an iPhone. I wouldn't ever trade it in for any other phone, not even if someone offered me a million bucks. :)

As for app accessibility, as others have said, it cannot be guaranteed, ever. Nobody is perfect, and app devs are still humans, just like the rest of us. Some of them don't even know about VO, so they don't program to make it work with their apps. However, those that have done so have done so willingly, and I must say I'm very pleased that there are devs out there who're willing to do so.

All in all, I think that this blog post was well-written and that, while the nfb article does raise some good points, the comments here do so as well.



Submitted by charles on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I would think that slightly over a month would not be a long enough period of time to really get used to a new way of doing things on an iPhone, especially with the different feedback the author was getting when using only Voice-Over. As for whether we are getting the short end of the stick, in my opinion, VO is still a work in progress, and there are more apps being developed with audio in mind, so that stick is gradually getting longer as time goes on, so I'm not going to gripe all that much. My thinking is that we should focus on how much better we have it now compared to 10 years ago rather than how much we don't have. As for the typing issue, I learned to use the touch screen because I knew that there were instances where carrying a Bluetooth keyboard or using speech input would not be practical, but, for the most part, I do use an Apple bluetooth keyboard only because it is less time consuming. As for apps, I think it should be up to the developer to make them VO friendly if possible. Since VO is built into iDevices by Apple, they should make all built-in apps VO friendly.

Submitted by Toonhead on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I definitely agree with a lot of the points made here. The one thing I have to give them is that at least they used the phone with VoiceOver for that long. It's not a fare comparison for the reasons already stated, but lets face it, 40 days with Vo is better than none at all right? The other point I definitely agree with is the point about the Bluetooth keyboard. I have small hands and have never gotten good at touch typing, no matter how hard I try to. Typing on a Bluetooth keyboard, for me at least, is just plane faster and more efficient.

Submitted by Ken Downey on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I agree with all the commenters. What would really be nice is if we could get the megadevelopers educated about accessibility. It is these megadevelopers, like the ones who made the Unity engine, who we all need to contact. One dev changing their app could make hundreds of apps accessible. Will it ever happen? Probably not, but then there is only one way to find out.
As far as inprovement to VO itself, there are two major improvements I would love to see. First, it would be really nice if we could force VO into direct touch mode, so we can use that feature even when it's not coded for in, for example, music-making apps. So many of them are learning to use this feature, but not nearly enough.
The second development I would like to see is an internet database for user-labeled graphics. Find a cool new game but it's not quite accessible because no buttons are labelled? No problem, get help labeling them yourself, and now the whole VO community can play the game, with the graphics properly labeled.
Other than that, VO works pretty much the way it should. I remember that from iOS 6 on, how it used to jump around when trying to navigate by heading, and some other bugs too. I think the worst thing I encounter these days is that audio ducking doesn't always work right, and that's barely worth mentioning.
Now, we find out that Apple is not going to do any drastic changes to the iOS, but is rather going to focus on squashing bugs. While I'm a huge fan of innovation, sometimes evolution is just as good. I really can't wait to see what they come up with in iOS 9.

Submitted by splyt on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Kit francly the article is strange, to say the very minimum ...

It is so because:

1- The article leads to think tthat VO experience is horrible because of Apple. But if she tried windows, linux, walking on the streets, driving a car (each acompanied by the counter-part assistive technology if available) she would have the same kind of frustration and this happens for a reazon:
2- Sighted people have nothing to do with how blindness currently works. It'd be ridiculous to talk about accessibility without a deep knowledge of how assistive technology works in terms of dealing with information coming from a visual world translated into non-visual information. But, even more than that, trying to put yourself on a blind's shoes when you're not blind crosses every insaniity limits. If someone who just lost their sight were to try the life in general they would have this very same sensation of frustration with technology and also with other life aspects and this is noone's fault ... it's just the way things are ..... if AT is the best possible the experience would be horrible and if the AT is the worse possible the experience would be also horrible.

3- This is sustained by the following, among other, case ...

You bilieve me or not .... typing in computers is something originally planned to be non-visual. In fact, professional typists will not be allowed to look at the keys while they're learning how to type. Because of that, blind people have been able to write flowlessly in keyboards cinse they were originally made available for the public.
Again, think about it>: there are no assistive tecnology on jkeyboards, they need no adaptation at all and they never needed anything like this because they were planned and designed to be non-visual.
When typing was integrated to touch screens, obviously it became a visual dependant activity. Screen readers did what they could to help blind people to achieve the typing activity the best they could. Obviously the experience is not the way it is for sighted people because, again, touch typing keyboards are originally vision-dependant.
But Apple found its way through making this process accessible the best they could and now with braille natively supported blind folks are again paired to sighted people when they are typing texts.

This article would be the very similar to this fixional piece of text that would be written in the end of centure XVIII.

I decided to try and compare the experiences of readers using the method proposed by MR. Braille with experiences from normal readers, who read printed books

..... it was totally horrible. One has to feel dots with their hands, whichh clearly are not the best part of the body to aquire information. While the fingers tried to feel that group of meaningless, agressive dots, the brain could easily get distracted because the eyes were not focused on something relevant.
Clearly, books using MR. Braille method are big, ranging from one to several volumes, something that makes transporting the books with you something almost impossible. The read process is slow and fingers usually get tired after a time.


To sumarise: while I respect the article's author I really think that this kind of material should not be taken seriously. Access to visual information is something hard and complex and technology is always moving forward so not every piece of thing will be accessible unless they are planned to be cinse the beginning and they do not change. Apple and their fellow screen reader manufacturers need to change and fix several bugs and we are very aware of it, but to say that the best screen reader ever produced AKA voiceOver) gives a inferior experience to the blind than the sighted folks who don't need it is really not acurate. The experience of blind people living in a visual world is generally inferior and I doubt there's a way to fix that but given the circunstances I would say that access with VO for blind people and access without VO for sighted are nearly paired at this time.

Submitted by Scottsdale on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I'm quite miffed (though not entirely surprised) to be reading comments that criticize Clara's experiment. Having had plenty of firsthand experience of getting people with a wide range of vision up and running with the basics of VO in training sessions, some that last as little as an hour, it seems ridiculous to suggest that the experiment wasn't enough of an investment of time or effort. Firstly, we're talking about the user experience of a single device, not life as a visually impaired person. This isn't someone random putting on a blindfold for an afternoon, managing a successful jaunt to a shop to buy some milk, falling down a few steps along the way and declaring "ok, I understand everything about blindness now because I've lived it. Steps are dreadful, everything else is doable". This is someone who's already had much more contact with assistive tech than most people ever will deliberately putting herself in a tight spot at work for over a month in order to understand a little more about the user experience of the people she's instructing, writing about the experience, and concluding that "VoiceOver is user-friendly enough that even your average dense sighted user, i.e. me, can use it competently after forty days". I don't see how that can be anything other than a positive thing! I wish the word dense wasn't included (because it implies that blind people are somehow smarter by default), and I'd like to see this article spread far and wide (even though I don't agree with all of the conclusions she drew). Apparently, for some people, nothing will ever be enough. Boohoo, life is so hard. I mean, it's not like we're living in the most forward thinking period for off-the-shelf accessibility that there's ever been or anything...

I don't know Clara personally, but should she end up here reading this, I'd like to encourage her to accept props for having a crack at being a VO user for an extended period of time and to ignore the vast majority of the borderline bitter negativity above. It serves no purpose, for anyone.

Submitted by walkseasy on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I have been a sighted person for fifty years, and a blind person for seventeen years now. Even though the blind experience is seldom as good as the sighted with most thing, I prefer to think of how much worse it would be without screen readers like Voiceover. We would only be getting the short end of the stick if we did not have Voiceover or some other screen reader. I am happy with Voiceover, and thankful to have it.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Well we need to put things into prospective. Accessibility has come a long way and we know it need to do more. The perfect accessibility will be IE which will not happen in 100 years or more. We need to keep asking for accessibility to any product that is universal instead of getting thins just for us blinds. Apple is doing a good job with accessibility and yes they need to do more to make it better. I was also sighted and now blind. For those who never seen it is so different to compare one and the other. Just with a glance you can find something but with speech you have to move around it to find what you are looking. much different

Submitted by MsHollyWeezy on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hi. I read some great points on the article and here in the comments. Here's how I feel on this. Coming from a totally blind user, that had a phone before I had an iPad or iPhone and all i could do was text and make calls and add contacts with the voice command then going to an iPad and iPhone going to where i can text, play games, add contacts on my own and faster, with out voice command, reading and writing emails and the list goes on, having an iPhone is the most equal thing I've ever had thats equal to a sighted person. I give the writer in the article a thumbs up for just using VO for 40 days because I have friends and family that only can handle it for a few seconds lol. I agree using the keyboard is slow and although I got faster, I figured out how to use Braille screen input and thats what I use all the time. I can type and text faster then all my family and friends. As a matter of fact, I'm using Braille screen input to write this comment. Going online with an iPad or iPhone can be frustrating. I've had sites I've been on just freeze my phone but I've delt with it. But like I said I couldn't do this with the old phones and now I can play games and I feel more independent with certain apps I have on my phone. Some developers just don't know or understand what VO is or doesn't know how to make VO work with their apps. Yes it can be very frustrating. But I'm still greatful I can do so much more then I used to be able to do.

Submitted by Sebby on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mmm. Regardless of whether or not I agree with your general sentiment, it probably isn't best to pass conclusive judgement on the commenters you are disagreeing with unless you are, in fact, representing them (i.e., you're blind) and are therefore arguing a reasonable perspective rather than stating an opinion which would otherwise not be very credible. Full disclosure: I am blind myself and use VO full-time. FWIW I agree with you that it is a matter of basic humanity to allow for another person's understanding of our condition, just as we would strive to understand theres--and should do so. Nevertheless, there *is* some truth to the idea that a person who doesn't have choice in the matter has a longer and more exhaustive familiarity with their circumstances.

As to the posting itself, I agree with her ultimate conclusion, in general. I feel that Apple needs to reexamine some of the basic assumptions underlying VO; specifically, their insistence on having no hand-to-eye equivalence for a speech-only user by providing a two-step process for finding and then activating onscreen items. The keyboard is always going to be tricky, but I do think that some sort of activate-on-release gesture would go some way to redressing the general sense of lacking responsiveness, rather than completely changing the method of interaction. Ironically I got this idea from using Android for some time and becoming proficient with the onscreen keyboard, though this probably wasn't what Google intended.

Fair point Sebby. Full disclosure: I'm totally blind, have been since a very young age, and I use VO and iOS full time because right now I believe it's the most solid accessibility solution for pocket sized devices. That said, I've invested some effort into understanding the sighted user experience as best I can in order to be able to teach people who still have some usable vision. I don't claim to have a thorough enough grasp to feel confident that I could give a neutral and well informed answer to the actual question posed here though, which is why I didn't attempt it. It seemed more important to address the attitude on display, and I stand by my opinion that knocking someone who's put considerable effort into gaining some insight just because they're not blind and haven't suffered enough is a flawed tact to take. Particularly so in a world where - like it or not - sighted people still shape much of the future of the accessibility we're coming to depend on. Hopefully that puts your mind at rest enough for me to learn whether you agreed with the sentiment or not... :)

Submitted by rdfreak on Thursday, June 25, 2015

Haven't even read the article but I don't want too.
A lot of us realize that we live in a sighted world and it's just a fact that no matter how hard people try, they are not going to ever be able to get the experience to reflect that of the sighted user. I think anyone who expects otherwise is really overestimating things.
I mean, sighted people see the icons they wish to tap on and do so straight away without having to go through any other information to do that. How is this ever going to happen for a blind user?
And as far as the on screen keyboard is concerned, it took me aprob about six months to feel really comfortable and confident with the on screen keyboard so good on her right there for giving apple accessibility a bad name.
What are people expecting here? I'm certainly open for suggestions.
But as far as I'm concerned, Apple has done its best to implement accessibility for the blind, and in my opinion, Voiceover on the Mac is more powerful than any paid screen reader; it amazes me.

Thanks Scottsdale, I'm reassured. :) I just don't like it when people put prejudices over objectivity, no matter the temptation or convenience. Too much of that in this world as it is and it makes it harder for those genuinely seeking equality. Glad we've got that sorted out, and I agree with you 100%. She's an AT trainer and well within reach of an understanding of the issues, so I think this has been a worthwhile and balanced field trial.

Submitted by splyt on Thursday, June 25, 2015

activate-on-release .... what do you think professional typing is other than exactly this feature?

As for people claiming she's an AT experienced AT trainer I do not doubt that but even so saying that somethingg is bad because it does not give blind people the same experience level than a sighted person has is something I question and I will keep doing so ...

This is objectivity: if you can not come with a better solution then the solution others came with is the best possible solution.

Let's talk so about typing again: sighted people do not write generally braille. They don't, we are suposed to do because this is the standard way for blinds to type.
I won't compare the experiences .... this would be ridiculous ** a sighted person would feel really frustrated if they have to learn braille. But, even so, Apple gives us the option to write in braille, something that completely bypasses the onscreen keyboard limitations and enables us to type as fast or even way faster than sighted people. Now are the experiences comparable? They're not, bilieve me. Are they equivalent in terms of eficiency and easy of use? I think they really are so. Trying to make comparisons and find equal solutions to the visual and non-visual worlds is insane. Trying to build equivalences is desirable and definitly the way to go.
The virtual buffers windows screen readers implemented (look, I know what virtual buffers are and I also happen to be an experienced AT user / trainer, iiiupie!!!!!) enabled several people to use the internet, even giving them a completely different but pretty equivalent experience. In fact, even Apple has sort of implemented a similar concept in VO on 10.10.]
For me, being able to navigate through the same visual interface sighted people navigate in webpages on iPhone is sometimes good sometimes not. I will use whatever is more eficient for me in a given time but before I start to digress I still keep my point: claiming that experiences are different because of this or that is kind of a time loss .... the experiences are and will always be different and this is the way things are ..... instead of pointing fingers let's work and build a better way using what we have now as a basis to go.

A quick note for those not technical enough: it is very complicated to try to aquire information from a dynamic web context and present it in a reliable way. Not satisfied? Go ahead learn how to program and do a better hjob then. Just be aware that you're probably have to reverse ingineer several components of the operating system, the code of bbrowsers, the html code of every single webpage in the world that does not comply to standards and possibly also some screen readers code.
You will probably end up in prision if you do this, assuming you will do the work of years and years in only some days .... and in the best extent it would least until the nmext change was deploied to any of these systems. Not a good perspective I would say.

Submitted by peter on Thursday, June 25, 2015

I think that the bottom line is that the blind user will never have the equivalent experience to a sighted user when interacting with a technology that is primarily based on seeing. There are some things that vision enables that cannot be done as efficiently without sight. quickly scanning a page or documents, assessing pictures and the meaning of images, video, etc., etc.

That being said, it is great to see a sighted person put themselves in the place of a blind person as much as possible in order to understand what the experience is like when a blind person interacts with a primarily visual system. This enables developers to understand where barriers and inefficiencies might exist and then give some thought as to how to improve the experience for the blind person. It is only by asking these questions and noting the shortcomings that we can progress in making the experience for the blind individual as seamless and equivalent as possible.

As I tell audiences in presentations, being blind means that one of my five senses, i.e., vision, is not available to me. Thus when I interact with the world, I have to learn to compensate by using my other four senses. One can't entirely make up for the loss of one sense, but as we all know, there is usually more than one way to skin a cat and, indeed, blind folks can do nearly everything these days that sighted folks can. Does that mean that we're as efficient and versatile at performing some tasks as sighted users are? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no, depending on the task. Does that mean that modifications and/or improvements can't be made to make our experiences and access better even without the sense of sight? Certainly not. Technology moves on, folks find other ways of interacting efficiently, and people keep asking the hard questions like "why can't this be made a better experience for people without vision?"

If we're always satisfied with what we have we'll never progress to the next level. So I applaud the blogger pointing out the differences in access and shortcomings of the present technologies and keeping the fires burning.

One more note: I think Apple, on the whole, has done an excellent job with VoiceOver and supporting access. After all, why do so many blind folks have iOS devices? Kudos to the Apple developers!


Submitted by Sebby on Thursday, June 25, 2015

Imagine a mode entered by holding a finger on the touchscreen for, say, 500 ms. In that mode, you are free to explore, as usual, and then release to activate. This would give a tiny measure of the gratification that sighted people get from hand-to-eye coordination. Not much, but enough to make it potentially worthwhile for those who have good memories and spacialisation.

Submitted by sockhopsinger on Thursday, June 25, 2015

I've never used an Android device, so I fail to get the difference between touch typing on the iPhone and the activate on release. Would you mind clarifying? Thanks.

Submitted by Tim Schwartz on Thursday, June 25, 2015

I'm confused too. I understand wanting an activate and release method in apps for buttons, links etc. but we already have this for typing on the keyboard. Just switch from 'standard typing' to 'touch typing'.

I've tried the newer 'direct touch typing' but it just doesn't work well for me with voiceover.

Submitted by splyt on Thursday, June 25, 2015

When I say professional typing I mean touch typing. The incorrect term comes from the localizationt to my native language ***** I translated back the localized expression to english and ended up with that so again my question is like other's on this what is the difference between touch typing and what you just described.

Submitted by Sebby on Thursday, June 25, 2015

Yes, I was specifically talking about controls, not the keyboard. I only said at the time that I got the idea from the use of Android's keyboard, which at the time employed the activate-on-release method employed by iOS's "Touch typing". But I still prefer the "Standard" method on iOS; if I want to go fast I just use braille input now.

Submitted by splyt on Friday, June 26, 2015

That actually responded .... almost everything regarding this question.

It would definitely be cool to have a way where you explore the screen with a finger and when you release your finger the object whon voiceover cursor is on just would be activated.

Did you try the split touching which is if you touch the screen with another finger doesn't mather where while one finger is on the wanted object it will activate?


Submitted by peter on Friday, June 26, 2015

Folks suggested having a way to explore the screen while not having to take two actions to activate an item.

Perhaps if the next generation of iPhones and iPads have the touch features that are now available in the Apple Watch (i.e., pressing more firmly produces a different action than just tapping), this type of paradigm can become a reality.


Submitted by sockhopsinger on Friday, June 26, 2015

That begs the question then. Suppose you decide you don't want to open anything. How do you keep from opening something when you lift your finger?

Submitted by peter on Friday, June 26, 2015

I think that with the Apple Watch's multi-sensitivity feature (or whatever they call it) one action could be performed by touching while something different could happen with a harder press. At least that is my understanding.

Submitted by sockhopsinger on Friday, June 26, 2015

Sounds plausible. Maybe a light touch to explore and a harder one to activate?

Submitted by peter on Friday, June 26, 2015

Yes - That is what I am thinking. We'll see what happens. Access always seems to be improving and people keep coming up with new ideas and technologies.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Friday, June 26, 2015

OK. accessibility is good, being blind and cighted is so much different in getting info. As a formal cighted person, and now blind is so much different. We just need to adjust and keep making universal devices accessible so we can use the same thing that those who are not blind do. So we need to outreach those companies such as apple with comments instead of just complaining about it.

Submitted by Becca on Friday, June 26, 2015


I agree that this post was well written, but I would like to know what the poster of this blog thinks. I 100% commend Apple for all they've done regarding accessibility. I also agree that how can the person who wrote the article on the NFB website, but how can she fully know what it's like to use VO? I wonder if she knew the many shortcuts put in place for us VO users. However, sited users can simply turn off VO and use their Iphone normally. I, on some occasions, can do this, for example, entering my passcode, some text messages, typing on the keyboard with VO, and some other things. However, my vission is gtting worse and I don't go a day withhout using VO. I use it 99% of the time and wouldn't think of doing anything else. I think that regarding app accessibility is not guaranteed, but making the app devs doesn't hurt. I think the experience on IOS is very enjoyable as well.

I agree to this as well. I can do so much with my Iphone that I wouldn't be able to do on a little touch screen samsong phone. When I first got my Iphone 4 it was a major learning curve, but now I feel that I am great with vo.

Submitted by Becca on Friday, June 26, 2015

After reading the article, I think that some of the conclusions are true sometimes, but there are work arounds. As for typing, I feel that if you know where the keys are, you will do great. For safari I feel that most of the time VO works well. Yes, there are bugs in IOS 8, but that depends on what you use the device for. For example, there was a lot of issues with BT keyboards, and not everyone had them. So, I would say it depends on the situation and not all bugs affect everyone. As for the roder, I disagree with her point. In my opinion, don't care if someone looks at me twisting my two fingers on my phone to find what I'm looking for, but I'm also blind. This is all we know, and I think that the roder is awesome, the easiest thing in my opinion on a phone. I wished they had this on windows, because I was quite frustrated when trying to navigate by headings and links. And I don't think we get the short end of the stick and this is the best piece of technology in my opinion. I also think it depends on the app dev and I'm greatful to those that have tried their best to try and implimate VO. And look how far typing has come!! Remember when we had to double tap every character we wanted? It has come so far, it's amazing! Years ago we had to use phones that we were extremely limited on. And after reading this article**I commend the author for trying to learn more about VO, but I do not agree with everything she has said. I do agree that typing with a bt keyboard, especially on an ipad(that's what I do) is very useful.
Thank you.

Submitted by Lorelei on Monday, June 29, 2015

I'll start this off by saying that I'm totally blind and have been my whole life. I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere and had no computer, a phone that would grudgingly let me call people, and a notetaker. When I got my iPhone, it was really overwhelming and huge how many things it could do. Yes, VoiceOver has shortcomings. I agree with the commenter who pointed out that touch screens are iffy if you're blind no matter what primarily because they made typing in to such a visual thing. But if you're patient, you can get good enough at typing to suit most people's purposes.

Next, to address some apps not being accessible: Some are structured such that making them accessible honestly is way more trouble than a developer can handle. I don't like that, but I don't really blame them so much. And forcing developers to implement accessibility is the wrong way to go about things. It's the same principle behind the ADA. Yes, it was meant to give disabled people a leg up, but it sort of did the opposite because now companies are worried about discrimination lawsuits. Plus, no one likes being told what to do. The effort it would take to impose sanctions for not making an app accessible would be better spent increasing awareness. The number of developers who genuinely care and try to make their apps accessible is honestly very touching to me, and I'd rather have them and take my chances with maybe not being able to use some apps than limit other people's creativity for my sake. I know that's going to be an unpopular view, but it's what I feel.

Finally, I want to say that I commend this woman for trying this experiment. I value her insights from the perspective of someone who wants to help. But it's an unavoidable fact that her experience with VoiceOver will leave her with a worse attitude than most blind people's because of how different it is. Is it perfect? Definitely not. But I would bet there are equivalent problems with any device that have nothing to do with VoiceOver, so I don't really blame anyone. The best solution is just to keep a constructive dialogue going with Apple and third-party developers, and help make change without getting angry at anyone.

Submitted by Sebby on Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In reply to by sockhopsinger

Could be an option on current hardware, though I think Pete's right that "Press harder" would also be very attractive.

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hello Lorelei. Thank you for your perspective in regards to forcing developers to add accessibility features to their apps. It's an unfortunate reality, but the fact remains, not all apps could possibly be accessible to the VO community. It just is what it is and to impose undue pressures is not fair to the developers. I, too, am so appreciative to the developers who at least try to add VO features to their apps. Thanks for expressing your two cents worth.

Submitted by KE7ZUM on Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I had this discussion with someone on twitter today as well. A drawing app is not and should not be made accessible but apps like snap chat and other message apps should b e. If a dev how ever does not want to add accessibility we could always find other solutions and tell them why we are doing this. I've done this. I've also done the I don't care routeen about feature s I think are pointless on in my case, my websites. If I think a feature is pointless I'll tell them I'll think about it, but politely ignore them if they keep requesting it.

Take care.

Submitted by derek.riemer on Thursday, July 2, 2015

Typing on ios used to frustrate me to the end of my stick until ios 8 came out, when apple introduced direct touch typing into ios. It was a game changer to me.
Rather than having to leave my finger on the phone, I could simply touch the screen in the correct area, and it would just work. This was great for me, because autocorrect fixes most of the errors I make. I am typing about as fast as I used to on my old lg envy phone years ago for the first time, and it still isn't as fast as I can type on a regular pc, it is fast, and I don't have to carry around a keyboard. For those who know the keyboard layout well, try this option and leave it on for a while, because it takes getting used to, but once I got used to it, it was a game changer for my typing abilities on ios.

Submitted by ezcleg on Thursday, July 2, 2015

The thing that was over looked is dictation. I text constantly, and dictation has improved so much in the last few years. I am able to be as fast or faster than my sighted friends and co workers, and it is almost always correct.

Submitted by ftealucard on Thursday, July 2, 2015

Regarding the lady that wrote that post. I wonder if she has some or a decent amount of vision so is visually impaired instead of "sighted" as she puts it? I've worked for the NFB in the past and it is pulling teeth for them to even consider hiring a fully sighted person. So I don't see them hiring someone fully sighted especially for their technology team.
Just wondering since that changes most of the post because of her vision.

Submitted by Ken Downey on Friday, July 3, 2015

Education rather than regulation: that's always the thing. It's how I feel about drugs, and it's how I feel about accessibility. If Apple makes a law that says every app that can be made accessible shall be, then you'll just have developers resenting a small community for loading them with extra work, and they'll look for loopholes and do a shoddy job of it. On the other hand, if the same amount of work went into education, maybe we would still have a lot of inaccessible apps, but we'd certainly have higher quality in overall accessibility.


I believe that, unfortunately, both education and regulation are required.

Accessibility is ultimately a right. If we can get it voluntarily, then we should by all means. But, if we can't, we need rules to make sure it happens despite the whims of those who believe it is acceptable to exclude us.

Sadly, we will never have a significant amount of accessibility until it becomes the law of the land, not unlike the law that requires cars to be made with seatbelts.

We may want voluntary accessibility to work, and, sometimes, it does for a small number of enlightened developers, but, overall, it is my life experience that voluntary accessibility does not happen often enough to be a practical solution.