In her latest song, "Shake it Off," the country/pop artist Taylor Swift wrote, "...the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate." While I am sure that Ms. Swift was not referring to some peoples’ recent comments about Apple's commitment to accessibility when she wrote the song, the basic idea behind that particular phrase still applies.
When Apple’s iOS 8 operating system was released in September, it included a number of accessibility bugs for blind and low vision users. These bugs ranged from very minor (VoiceOver did not remember one’s typing preference when upgrading from iOS 7) to very annoying (the screen did not always auto-scroll to follow VoiceOver focus). To date, some of these bugs have been fixed—and some of them have not. And while I do not know when the bugs I would like to see fixed (mainly, the issues with Braille Screen Input) will be addressed, I have full confidence that they will be addressed—and that Apple is as committed as ever to making its products accessible to everyone.
Upon the release of iOS 8, I read a lot of comments from people who were, naturally, upset by the number (and severity) of the bugs in the new operating system. Generally, these comments took one of two forms: "iOS 8 is really buggy. All new software has bugs, and I really hope Apple addresses these bugs as soon as possible. That said, I really like the new features of iOS 8 and will put up with the bugs until they’re fixed."; or "iOS 8 has too many accessibility bugs; I’m staying on (or downgrading to) iOS 7.1.2 until some of these issues are worked out."
And then there was a third type of comment: "Apple does not care about accessibility! They must stop treating their blind customers like second-class citizens!"
While I can understand being frustrated with the number of accessibility bugs in iOS 8—I myself was quite discouraged—the logic behind the "Apple does not care about the blind community!" reasoning is totally beyond me, mainly because the available evidence just does not support any conclusion of the sort.
When iOS 7 was released, it contained several accessibility bugs for blind and low vision users—some of them rather serious. While Apple did include a VoiceOver sensitivity fix in iOS 7.0.3, a majority of the issues introduced in iOS 7 were not addressed until the release of iOS 7.1—nearly six months after the public release of iOS 7.
In contrast, Apple has already made significant progress towards addressing the accessibility bugs in iOS 8. In iOS 8.1, which was released just over a month after iOS 8, Apple fixed a number of accessibility bugs for blind and low vision users; iOS 8.1.1, which came out a couple days ago, brought with it even more fixes. Two months into the life-cycle of iOS 7, the hope of iOS 7.1 (and all the bug fixes it would bring) was just a faraway dream.
Though the argument could certainly be made that iOS 8 got out the door with too many serious accessibility bugs—and that the iOS 8 release supersedes any of Apple’s more recent efforts—it’s worth remembering that all users, not just those who are blind or who have low vision, experienced a higher number of bugs with iOS 8. If iOS 8 does in fact contain more bugs (I’m still not sure how such a thing would be objectively quantified, anyway), and if sighted users alike are also experiencing serious issues, should we expect that our needs would be prioritized over those of other groups of users? I don’t know about you, but I would be more than a little uncomfortable with the idea.
To those who say Apple is not committed to the accessibility of their software, my question is this: what would one call Apple’s recent efforts to correct the issues in iOS 8? Would a company who is uninterested in accessibility push major VoiceOver bug fixes in seemingly insignificant iOS point updates? For that matter, would an uninterested company even care to fix accessibility bugs at all?
The unfortunate reality is that people who are bound and determined to vilify Apple will do so, regardless of whether the company makes great efforts or does nothing at all. Apple could push a pair of updates out tomorrow that fixed 99.9% of the accessibility issues users are experiencing with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, and still there would be some who would complain that not enough was being done. And while I think an open, constructive discussion about accessibility issues is a very good thing, I am really getting tired of the constant negativity directed towards Apple.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that blind and low vision users should take the "We should just be grateful Apple includes VoiceOver at all" attitude. On the contrary, I feel that such an attitude leads to complacency and ultimately benefits nobody—least of all the person using the access technology. I think all users who are affected by accessibility bugs need to report them through the proper channels, and that honest, constructive discussions need to be had whenever software is released that has accessibility issues.
With that said, however, all of the vitriol (vs. constructive feedback) some have directed towards Apple’s Accessibility Team—especially in the last two months, when their efforts to improve the experience for blind and low vision users have shown in tangible ways—is neither helpful nor productive.
So, is your glass half empty, or is it half full? When it comes to Apple’s accessibility efforts, my glass is definitely half full.