A new feature for VoiceOver users called "Accessibility Events" was introduced in iOS 12.2 and macOS 10.14.4 without any announcement or documentation. I cannot find any info about this feature on Apple's website. Even the installed Help files say nothing about it, so far. The only information given is a short description label in the Mac Preferences and IOS settings, shown below. To the best of my knowledge, which is quite limited at this time, leaving it turned on allows webmasters and anyone else who cares to know to discover if you have VoiceOver running.
"Accessibility Events allow websites to customize their behavior for assistive technologies, like VoiceOver. Enabling Accessibility Events may reveal whether an assistive technology is active..."
My own Opinion
Detecting Accessibility Events has been a hot topic of late, with many siding on one approach or the other. Most that see it as a benefit seem to be web developers. Most who think of it as a negative, seem to be the very people that it affects, the blind and visually impaired. After reading through many blog and forum sites, I can not decide how to feel about the situation. It seems that there are benefits and drawbacks to both sides. One aspect of it gives me apprehension, the unknown, unrequested gathering of information about me or my computer and devices, with the expectation that it will always be used for positive purposes. Browser cookies were meant to be this way also, yet in the past many spyware, malware and virus infections were spread through the digital world using cookies. Almost every new boon to the digital world has also been used for nefarious purposes by unscrupulous persons. Add to that the rampant hacking of businesses, agencies and their websites and databases and it can give me cause to pause. Even someone using my information for legitimate reasons can lose hold of that info. Do I now have to be concerned about Identity Theft as well? I believe my own choice would be for the web to have as little information about me and my devices as possible. The info about my digital life that is released to the world should be my choice. I am glad that apple gave me a choice by supplying a setting, but not happy that they made a decision for me with turning it on by default. Now that I consider it, I think I am siding with not being involved with the whole Accessibility Events thing.
Additionally, wouldn't this scenario depend on all web developers to be honest and trustworthy in their endeavors? Does this include anyone who can make a website or create individual web pages? Does this 'giving away of my info' include those scammers sitting in their living rooms in their pajamas? Perhaps I am being a bit extreme here, but let's face it, not everyone who can make websites are honest or trustworthy. Nor can every website creator be depended on to safeguard the information they gather about their site visitors. Can someone now not only find my locale through my router's IP address, which type of system I am logged on with, my screen resolution, but also the fact that I use a screen reader meaning that I am blind? Extreme or not, I have a junk mail box full of proof.
I can not imagine that Apple would place something like this on every Apple device that I own without a purpose. Perhaps they have future plans for it of which I am not aware. Maybe they are going to grow it into place to allow for additional features in the future. This is often the case with Apple's development paths. Mix that with the current efforts by them to better address the needs of their "pro" communities and the idea seems likely. Somehow I still end up feeling like someone at Apple really dropped the ball on this one. How could they possibly believe that gathering info that reveals one's disability without consent, in a somewhat hidden fashion could be a good idea? This should have been turned off by default. My disability is not a matter of statistics. It is a major force in my life, something that drives much of my motivations. It is so personal to me that this 'unwanted revealing' situation feels like an intrusion. Should I also wear a sign around my neck when I go out in public that says "Blind guy, please decide things for me!"?
Another point, why does this setting only apply to VO? They refer to it as "Accessibility Events" when it actually only applies to the use of VoiceOver. The setting itself only exists in the VoiceOver areas of accessibility. Why didn't they refer to it as "VoiceOver Events?" Is it because they felt like it would single out only the blind community? If so, maybe they should pay a bit more attention to those feelings, because it 'does' single out the blind and visually impaired communities in its implementation. It does not apply to all of the other wonderful accessibility features on my Apple devices. It seems like it should be put into the main accessibility settings. Yet, on all of the various Apple devices, it can only be found in the VoiceOver settings.
Accessing the Accessibility Events Feature
Apparently, even Apple knew that it was going to cause a stir in the blind and visually impaired communities. Otherwise, why would they give us an option to turn it off? It even comes with a warning label, as seen above. The feature itself is not buried deeply. It is in plain view, one of the first options available on the preference panel where it exists. Apple rarely does anything 'off the cuff' or without some plan in mind. So now I am back to thinking that there are future developments that await, other possible features or apps that will be making use of the same access that is being allowed by this Events thing. Regardless, I will turn it off for now on my Mac and all devices. Here's how.
Open the VoiceOver Utility by pressing Control-Option-f8. Include the fn key on a laptop. Then in the Utility Categories table, make sure the Web category is selected. Then on the General tab, find the Accessibility Events and check or uncheck the checkbox.
From the Home Screen, open Settings, then navigate down and activate Accessibility and open VoiceOver. Near the bottom activate the Web button and in the resulting screen, turn on or off the Accessibility Events.
Other Opinions on the Web
I am not the only blind person who has issues with the way this Events thing was implemented. Much of the blind and visually impaired communities find it to be intrusive. The following links contain just a small sampling.
Apple’s new feature a step towards digital apartheid
by Hampus Sethfors
Thoughts on screen reader detection
by Leonie Watson
Even with all of the opinions expressed above, including my own, I have a feeling of certainty that Apple will address this situation sooner rather than later. Going by over thirty years of experience with Apple products, they have a habit of addressing situations and glitches rather rapidly, for the most part. While I do not appreciate how this one occurred, I am going with the 'wait and see' approach. I am comfortable taking this viewpoint not only because I have faith that Apple will address it soon, but also because they gave me a way to turn it off. They could have easily hid it under the hood and I would never have known. Instead, Apple gave me a choice, a checkbox and a warning label. I still believe that something additional is coming in the future that will use this same functionality. A whole new interface of sorts? Better voice control? Eye tracking to interact? More SIRI integration in the accessibility features? Who knows? Apple is not normally one to hang something like this out there without some future plans for expansion. After all, this is where VoiceOver came from to begin with, right? So I will wait, though somewhat vigilant, for whatever is coming down the pipes. It will end up being some form of benefit to my life, as they usually are. Unfortunately, in this particular situation it should have been presented in an "opt-in" manner, not an "opt-out" one. However, sometimes it is a struggle to remember...
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