For the passed several years, we’ve gotten used to the new versions of iOs and OS X, as well as the inevitable infestation of accessibility bugs plaguing these releases. Most times, these issues are resolved promptly.
However, unusually, OS X El Capitan’s Voiceover bugs have not gotten much attention by Apple, even after four system updates. This is striking on multiple levels. Firstly, in iOs 9, many of the initial bugs have been fixed, and in the case of iOs 9.3, enhancements to Voiceover have been added. Also, with iOs 9’s and OS X El Capitan’s theme of improved stability, similar to OS X Snow Leopard in 2009, one would expect glaring accessibility issues to have been addressed by now.
The release of Snow Leopard may arguably have been the best release for Voiceover users. Although there have been changes and improvements since then, no version has really overhauled the experience like Snow Leopard did. Although it contained its fair share of bugs in its August 2009 release, most were promptly fixed by version 10.6.2, released several months later. This has remained the pattern for several iterations of OS X now, the, “.2,” update including fixes for Voiceover. This was seen with Lion, Mavericks, and Yosemite.
However, even after the release of OS X 10.11.4, the list of active OS X bugs on AppleVis has remained largely intact. The first update to El Capitan, 10.11.1, claimed to improve Voiceover reliability. From my testing and reaction from other Voiceover users, the only change noted was improved responsiveness of Nuance voices when switching apps. In 10.11.2, an issue with Voiceover not jumping to the message body when opening a message in Mail was fixed. In 10.11.3, there were no changes that I could see, and in 10.11.4, the only noticeable change I’ve found is the decreased occurrence of the click sound when navigating web fields.
Of note on the AppleVis website is a fix for a, “Speech loop,” in the AppStore. While there are many bugs in the AppStore that are difficult to reproduce, I have not noticed any changes in behavior when compared to earlier versions of El Capitan.
While these are welcome improvements, serious bugs remain. For example, the use of the caps-lock key as the Voiceover modifier, which could ease the switch from Windows screenreaders to Voiceover on the Mac, is infeasible for many users. Quicknav can’t be toggled in Safari, Voiceover behaves oddly in password fields, and enabling trackpad commander does not work reliably. A feature can only be considered an improvement to the software if it can actually be used to the satisfaction of the user, which is not the case for this. Still other issues include activities causing large delays when Nuance voices are in use, Voiceover getting stuck when interaction is disabled, another potentially useful new feature, and the, “Social,” widget not being navigable with traditional Voiceover commands; to name a few.
It is time for the OS X Accessibility Team, or whoever works on the engineering of these products, to respond to the feedback submitted by myself and other blind Mac users concerning the state of accessibility on the platform. While the current user experience is largely cohesive, failing to fix these problems could cause accessibility to greatly deteriorate in future releases of OS X. As blind users, we shouldn’t have to wait so long for a critical system component’s issues to be fixed; the very component that enables us to purchase, use, and recommend your products.
Let me know what you think in the comments.