Five Apple Innovations that Impacted Accessibility

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

If you’re like me, there’s no way you can resist reading an article with a title like 5 TECH STANDARDS APPLE MURDERED AND 5 MORE ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK.

I found the five murder victims quite noteworthy. Some seem obvious, like the demise of the floppy disk and CD-ROM. Back in the ‘90s, PC manufacturers were a lot like lemmings that would’ve followed each other over the floppy disk cliff were it not for Apple’s bold leadership in this area. As for the five features on the chopping block, replacing the keyboard with some type of haptic hologram seems a bit far-fetched. But after Face ID I’m a lot less reluctant to dismiss crazy predictions about future Apple tech.

I was glad Apple’s commitment to accessibility wasn’t one of the predicted future murder victims. In general, Apple has a great track record for accessible innovations, though sometimes they can disappoint us. How has Apple impacted accessibility the most? With a nod to the Crixio article, here are my Five Apple Innovations that Impacted Accessibility.

Bigger is Better

Apple intentionally makes a lot of accessibility improvements. And sometimes they make them by accident.

The iPhone 6/6+ screen size was a response to the Samsung Galaxy. Fortunately, this purely marketing-driven screen size war produced accessibility fruit for the AppleVis community. The larger screen seems like a feature for the fully sighted, but low vision users benefit greatly from the reduced need for magnification. While my eyesight is too far gone to get much use out of the larger screen visually, even I can still discern larger icons and text. Many of my low vision friends rave about the iPhone 6/6+ screen size.

For those of us who depend on VoiceOver, there’s a big win in terms of gesture real estate. If you’ve ever tried to do a 4-finger tap on an iPhone 5, you probably had to contort your four fingers into a cramped diamond configuration to get them to all fit on the screen. And the problem is worse for those of us with really fat fingers. Try the same tap on an iPhone 6, and it’s like having a king size bed all to yourself. Spread out. Enjoy the room

Finally, the marketing-driven larger screen also has an indirect benefit. It allows Apple to stay competitive and make money, which should lead to more intentional accessibility innovation sometime in the future.

Talk To Me

I might be stating the obvious when I say that VoiceOver was a great Apple innovation that improved accessibility. But I think it’s important to not take VoiceOver for granted.

There was a time before iOS 3. It was a very dark time for a lot of us. If we had flip phones with voice dialing, we were thankful. I was one of the fortunate low vision users that was able to use my first generation iPhone visually. Others were not so lucky. Then, in 2009 VoiceOver changed our world dramatically.

We’ve all heard it said that accessible design is good design. I have to disagree, because I’ve seen a lot of apps and web pages that meet minimal accessibility standards, but are not well-designed by any stretch of the definition. VoiceOver, on the other hand, is extremely well-designed. It doesn’t feel like an afterthought, retrofitted into the OS like a barnacle on a ship. Rather, it feels like a first-class interface. It is both accessible design and good design.

Not all tech innovations are created equal. Like the screen size war, some are purely marketing driven evolutions of existing tech, rather than dramatic innovations. VoiceOver, on the other hand, is the best of technical innovation---something both novel and utilitarian, completely new and enabling something that wasn’t possible before.

Talk to SIRI

I could write an entire article (or ten) about SIRI as an accessibility feature, but I’ll keep this short. Aren’t the best accessibility features the ones that fully sighted people use on a daily basis without ever knowing they’re using an accessibility feature?

The Facelift

According to Apple, the headline feature of iOS 7 was the completely redesigned user interface. The interface would “still be instantly familiar to our users,” promised Craig Federighi, who apparently had not received feedback from low vision beta testers.

When the iOS 7 facelift hit the streets, the howls from low vision users was deafening. iOS 7 completely rearranged the furniture. The fonts were harder to read and the redesigned icons were unrecognizable. Making matters worse, it became apparent that many apps, such as Calculator, had no change in functionality whatsoever. iOS 7 seemed like just a paint job that made it harder for low vision users to use their phones.

The change disrupted the workflow of many low vision users by forcing them to abandon visual use and learn VoiceOver. In my case, my eyesight is progressively deteriorating, and I was going to have to learn VoiceOver eventually. But I resented being forced to learn it on Apple’s schedule rather than at my own pace.

Many in the AppleVis community sensed that iOS 7 was a failure on Apple’s part to recognize the needs of low vision users, somewhat surprising given that only one percent of the blind population is born totally blind and the vast majority of Apple’s vision impaired users are actually low vision.

Zoom and Invert Colors

If you’re a Windows user, perhaps you’re familiar with ZoomText. Among other features, this add-on software performs color inversion and magnification. Unfortunately, it does this on the CPU, which often compromises performance as your computer tries to balance running your applications with ZoomText’s video processing.

Not only does Apple include this functionality free with iOS and OS X, but thanks to their great engineering and design, the tasks of zooming and inverting colors are offloaded to the GPU or graphics chip, freeing the CPU to continue running your apps. The result is free, fast, and easy accessibility for many low vision users.

I Know I Missed Something

Was it all the great accessibility apps from the App Store? Large or bold text? The cool built-in flashlight? I’m just one blind blogger, and I’d much rather hear from you. Let me know how Apple has impacted your ability to live in the digital world. Please post in the comments below.

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4 Comments

#1 couldn't imagine

Hi!

I have a couple of things to say here. First off, I was always the one that said, `How the heck am I supposed to use a device that has no buttons, just a touch screen?!` Every one always called me Grandma even though I'm far from old enough to be a Grandma lol! I had heard about Voiceover a bit. However, I am a hardcore braille reader, so I prefer reading something rather than having jext spewed out at me. But then, my braille device was unexfectedly taken from me. And my parents got me my ipad. The guy spent over 90 Min. giving me a crash-course. I had to figure things out on my own! It was scary and fun for me as I am a tech nerd at heart. I got my 1st braillenote and I guess I got tired of being shown stuff, and at first tried seeing if I could do the things I had been taught without help. Then, I explored on my own! I have to say I am grateful for AppleVis. Before I heard about it, I was trying to look up tutorials on YouTube and written ones! I am and always will be forever grateful because I've had to rely on the kindness of strangers. I'm still a noob to Vo. though. And every time a new ios. comes, I become even more of a noob for a while.

But, I've got a couple innovations of my own! First, is dictation! I'm used to typing on a braille keyboard, so typing on a regular keyboard especially a touchscree keyboard can be quite daunting at times. I'll use dictation for pretty much anything from emails to messages on Messenger and even on search fields. I've felt happy, cracked up at the mishaps from autocorrect and dictation and even felt pretty embarrased a couple times! The 2nd, is an app from the app store. It's a free app called Braigo Companion. Before, memes were a part of my life, but were the baine of my existence. With Braigo, I can read them now! I've been able to see interact with and share memes on Facebook! And it's SOOOO AWESOME!!!! I also like using the image disscription feature in ios. 11. I think it could use improvement however. I used it on an advertisement to see what I could get and it said it was a sign and the text said free credit monitoring! I'm enjoying testing this feature out with all sorts of images in all sort of circumstances!

#2 Great post

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Paul,

Great post! Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this. Thanks for putting this together. Nicely done!
Best.

#3 Better .pdf Support and Image Descriptions

Hi Paul. This is a great post. I, too, am very happy with VoiceOver. I was at first a bit skeptical though. I'd like to back up several years here. Back in the day I used the Echo/Cricket. For those of you who aren't old enough to remember it, it was a speech synthesizer manufactured by Apple in their early days, and if I recall correctly it came with a little program called Textalker. Or perhaps Textalker was its own bundle. But anyway, it sounded very robotic but it was so much fun. I believe there's an Echo emulation thing out there somewhere, or at least that's what I read elsewhere.

Fast-forward to Christmas of 2013, when I got my first Mac. Actually it was 2 days after, but you get the point. Long story short, I've been a proud Mac user ever since. I think Apple's accessibility folks have done an excellent job with VoiceOver, and I love that it and all other access features are included at no extra charge. Two of my favorite features in High Sierra are the much-improved .pdf support and the image recognition. I was hoping for better .pdf support with no 3rd-party app, but I honestly didn't expect to get this image feature. I also like Siri. I honestly do not use it that much, but it's fun to play around with. I'm excited to get my hands on an iPhone hopefully on or before my birthday in January.

#4 My iPhone Experience Thus Far

I was searching for the Echo Emulator thingy, for a short presentation which I'm giving on Thursday. All I found on AppleVis was this blog post, so I'd like to say a few things about the iPhone Seven. I got one of these exactly a year ago as of yesterday. I'm still learning, but am super impressed. The main reason I ended up going with an iPhone was the talking caller ID, and this feature works really well. As a matter of fact, it even seems to work with VoiceOver turned off. I actually found that out sort of by accident, but immediately turned VO back on because after all, I cannot do much without it. In addition, I like how one can have different ring tones etc., for different people. I have assigned several, and the process is very simple once you get the hang of it. I've tried out most of the native iOS apps with much success, and I've since downloaded some truly great 3rd-party apps. I honestly cannot at this point say enough good things about the iPhone. I cannot stop talking about it, and I'm not the only one to say that either. It may not be the choice for everybody, but it certainly has been for me. I can't wait to really start traveling with it and using Microsoft Soundscape in conjunction with Maps. I took Soundscape for a brief spin just outside my building this morning, and it performed very well.