As many of you will know from personal experience, there is a longstanding issue with VoiceOver on Mac where Safari may become unresponsive with VoiceOver repeatedly announcing the message “Safari not responding.” When this issue occurs, the user's Mac may become unusable for up to several minutes at a time. Sometimes it can be resolved by switching away from Safari. Sometimes restarting VoiceOver can resolve the issue. However, far too often, the user is unable to switch away from Safari or turn VoiceOver off, instead having to simply wait for their Mac to become responsive again.
This “Safari not responding” behaviour when using VoiceOver dramatically impacts productivity and overall usability of Macs for blind and low vision users. Furthermore, it appears that the issue extends beyond just Safari - many other common applications that utilise Apple's WebKit browser engine can also be affected by the “not responding” problem.
It is also important to point out this issue occurs regardless of the specification level of the Mac - it has been widely experienced on the latest Apple silicon-equipped Macs with 16GB or more of RAM, so even owners of top-tier new Mac hardware still face this crippling VoiceOver bug.
This critical problem has persisted for years across multiple MacOS versions without a permanent fix from Apple. Given the longevity and level of disruption caused by this bug across Safari and other applications, I can unfortunately no longer in good faith recommend Macs to anyone who relies on using VoiceOver unless they have a specific use case that only a Mac can satisfy. The impact of this bug when performing routine, and often critical, tasks in Safari and other applications simply makes macOS an unreliable and frustrating platform.
It deeply saddens me to feel compelled to say I can no longer recommend Macs to fellow blind computer users and that we deserve better from Apple. Macs have traditionally been popular within the blind community, and they offer some great accessibility features. I have proudly used a Mac as my primary computer for over a decade. However, frankly, Apple should be utterly ashamed that they have let this issue persist for so long without a permanent fix. It's a failing that raises serious questions about the company's frequently stated commitment to accessibility. There can be no doubt that if sighted users were to experience something similar, that it would receive significant media coverage and an urgent fix from Apple.
To be clear - in saying we “deserve better”, I do not mean we are entitled because we are blind or use accessibility features. Rather, we deserve better because we pay the same premium prices for Macs as every other customer. Yet unlike most Mac users, we are forced to accept that multiple times a day, our expensive devices may become useless paperweights for minutes at a time due to the “Safari not responding” issue. We deserve better because we are regular paying customers who have patiently tolerated an unacceptable problem impacting our productivity and independence for far too long. Our disability and use of VoiceOver does not lower the standard we should expect from Apple. If anything, it makes Apple more accountable to deliver an experience equal to what sighted users enjoy. We deserve better simply because we are valued customers of Apple.
I want to also note that I am sympathetic to the difficulties Apple's engineering team likely faces in resolving this issue. Based on user reports, there appears to be no consistent way to reproduce the “Safari not responding” behaviour - it can occur randomly and sporadically. The same web page may work fine multiple times before suddenly triggering a freeze. There are also inconsistencies across different users, machines, and configurations. I imagine these factors make it very challenging to isolate and fix the underlying problem. However, given the engineering talent and resources available to Apple, the challenge should not be insurmountable.
I believe we need to escalate our urging of Apple to prioritise and permanently solve the “Safari not responding” bug that has plagued VoiceOver users for far too long. To this end, I encourage those of you who use VoiceOver on Mac to directly contact Apple's accessibility team at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your own personal experiences with and frustrations about the “Safari not responding” issue. It is important we continue putting direct, polite pressure on Apple to prioritise resolving this problem. Please be constructive in expressing your concerns. Consider also copying Apple CEO Tim Cook on your email by using his publicly shared email address email@example.com to ensure he sees the direct impact this ongoing bug is having on Apple's blind and low vision customers.
I want to emphasise that the “Safari not responding” bug is far from the only issue effecting blind and low vision users on Mac. As our recent post on problems in macOS Sonoma and the replies outline, there are numerous other frustrations and failures impacting users. However, it has become a yardstick by which Apple's overall performance on and commitment to accessibility is being measured. It is a yardstick against which Apple has failed for some considerable time.
I know many of you share my frustration. I welcome your perspectives and discussion in the comments. Collectively, we need to apply consumer pressure by being vocal about this issue and not purchasing or recommending new Macs until the “Safari not responding” issue is fixed once and for all. Apple simply must do better and restore our trust that Macs provide a stable and fully accessible experience for its blind and low vision customers.