How could Apple make Fitness Plus accessible to the blind?

Accessibility Advocacy

Hi everyone,

so with 14.3 came fitness plus. I was so excited about this, the prospect of something integrated with my Apple Watch, my Apple TV and my iPhone that could help me get into a better shape than I am now... Kind of a bean bag look...

I was disappointed then, as I tried the apps for the first time, that most of the workouts aren't very useful. I'd half expected audio description for movements but, after watching a little of the sessions, realised that this wouldn't work along side the dialogue of the trainers shouting "Come on!' and whooping... Man, they love their whooping.

The bike sessions and the treadmill sessions seemed the only truly accessible content as they work on the basis of changing intensity. Demonstrations of correct form may not be accessible but I've been enjoying some of the rides and powering through the high intensity parts.. Whoop!

Rather than be annoyed that apple, as with apple arcade, seem to have overlooked the accessibility of this feature, I thought I'd ask you all how you think apple could move forward in making this service more accessible to us?

Hopefully apple accessibility keeps an eye on these forums and might take some notes for the future.

Thoughts? Ideas? Feelings?



Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Saturday, December 19, 2020

This certainly makes a lot of sense and I imagine works well. I think the issue apple face is combining formats. With signing it is just another section of the screen, with AD or anything audio based, it is going to be competing with the main audio track which is already verbose.

Submitted by WellF on Saturday, December 19, 2020

In reply to by Oliver Kennett

Apple should make alternate audio tracks available. The way I think of it is that you would turn it on via settings, then you would download the described audio track automatically. not that hard for a big company like Apple.

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Saturday, December 19, 2020

This is a good idea. I think the problem is though, a picture, or so they say, paints a thousand words, so description of a complex compound movement, including form, is faster to show visually than describe verbally.

I think your suggestion could work well for familiar actions, EG "Prison squats for thirty seconds" etc.

My thought was a pop out menu with a text description, readable by VoiceOver, explaining each of the movements, or the form, for each included in the video. Having the alternative track just shouting out what the person is doing would work well along side this I think?

Submitted by Dave Nason on Saturday, December 19, 2020

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

A very interesting question Oliver. Like you, I'm not minded to be too critical of Apple here, as there isn't a simple and obvious solution. I wondered if maybe there could be an option to listen to or read a detailed description of each of the moves in a given workout, before you start its playing. I know a colleague of mine did that for me earlier this year when we were doing group workouts over Microsoft Teams. He emailed me detailed descriptions in advance.
That said, it's not always easy to explain these things in words, so you could still be doing it wrong without knowing. But I'd definitely be willing to try it.
There's also the question of the statistics about your heart rate etc. being on screen. How does it get those across to us.
Great to hear about the sign language. I wonder though is this just American Sign Language, or are the likes of British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language available too?

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Saturday, December 19, 2020

So, during the workouts, the ones I've done anyway, when the trainer calls for a heart rate check it flashes it up on the screen and VoiceOver reads it. This is actually very cool. It also has an effort bar which compares how hard you're pushing on the exercise compared with others so things like "Ahead of the pack" might pop up or, if you are me, "Are you even peddling?"

Yes, the descriptions of the movements is the way forward I think and with apples deep knowledge of media and excellent marketing, I'd assume that there would be writers who can clarify ideas into easily understandable sequences of movements, possibly describing the same action in several different ways letting you know where, for examples, elbows and hands should be at the start and end of a bicep curl, or where the hand should be at the top of a shoulder press compared with at the bottom, EG resting on the shoulder.

All very doable and, apple being apple, they want to get it perfect out of the gate. I've sent an email to accessibility talking about my concerns and making some suggestions, after all, as a premier subscriber, I will be paying for this service too and it really shouldn't be too hard to make something work. I'm hoping accessibility will grow in time. Apple arcade is understandable to some extent, they don't have direct control over what developers are creating, but fitness plus is in house, so I expect some typical apple magic.

Submitted by Squirrel on Saturday, December 19, 2020

My understanding is that it's ASL only, and is signed by the instructors themselves. This is taken from the article I linked to above:

ASL is used at the start and beginning of the Apple Fitness+ videos, regardless of their length. And according to Apple, trainers also utilize ASL throughout workouts as well.

“The trainers even learned American Sign Language (ASL), and you will see them use sign language in every workout as greetings, encouragement, and motivational cues. They appear in each other’s videos to add motivation, show modifications that can make the movement easier or more intense, and build enthusiasm.”

Submitted by WellF on Saturday, December 19, 2020

In reply to by Oliver Kennett

I suppose if you are doing a complex workout you're well familiarized with exercises. So has the movements get more complex you can use analogies or describe the main details so you can do them in a good form.
Having too much details can be bad, specially because a description can focus too much on the hands when we're talking about a squat variation, which focuses your lower body for example.
This all can be achieved if Apple wanted, they have money and resources to have people to describe and AD specialists to revise it.

Submitted by Beth Taurasi on Saturday, December 19, 2020

I agree with Oliver’s thoughts on this. The thing I’m concerned about is while they did include the deaf, I need to be able to know what the form is supposed to be for HIT (high intensity training), and I don’t have a treadmill or bike, we have no room for that stuff. Please, apple folks, if you are reading, I think it should be duly noted that 95% of blind folks don’t get the exercise they need, according to statistics. I don’t want to die of a heart attack or stroke or injure myself during exercise. So proper form is so important. Has anyone tried the yoga things? I love yoga.
As for the HIT training, I would need this because I want to do cardio workouts that do indeed pump my heart rate up, and all that’s needed is a bit of description to make it friendly for blind people. Apple should know that since so much of fitness doesn’t get to the blind, we need it more than ever now, especially this year.

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Saturday, December 19, 2020

I think this is an excellent point. We do rely on apple for so many things, the ability to socialise, to work, to play and now we need them to step up when we need to work out.

Maybe there will be other exercises in their library, thinking squats with a trainer talking through a simple exercise like that, and HIIT. I would like to think the catalogue of exercises expand to the elderly too, not just the moderately fit and sighted.

Submitted by Rashad on Sunday, December 20, 2020

Overall, the descriptiveness could be worse. I've found that vague descriptions are provided for most exercises, meaning that if you have a general idea about fitness you should be able to follow along. It's not perfect, and of course they could improve. For fun the other day I tried a Yoga workout because I have almost no knowledge of Yoga and was still able to mostly figure out what was happening.

To improve, though, They could start with basic things like making sure that the trainers clearly name each exercise they're doing, which they don't consistently do. If nothing else, that lets you google the exercise if you really can't figure it out. Even as someone who's done most of the HIIT and strength exercises at some point, though, sometimes I have no idea what's going on because all the trainer says is "we're all going to do this thing, watch me."

You could also have more complex solutions like providing textual descriptions through subtitles to be read out by voice over, but this is where you tend to hit a pretty big barrier. Many blind people have no basic knowledge about exercise, and wouldn't even know where to start with some more complex motions, no matter how you describe it because you tend to assume knowledge. say the exercise was mountain climbers. Most people would describe it by telling you to start in a pushup plank, but if blind person who's never been told what that is hears that, they'll already be lost. There comes a point, too, where you dumb down the description so much that it's just not practical for anyone other than the complete beginner.

I honestly don't know what a fully workable solution is for every level. It's really easy to do exercises wrong even with textual descriptions if you've never done them in front of someone that can correct you, E.G I'd have no idea how to begin describing a clean in a way where I was sure the other blind person was doing it safely.

Also, there are usually 3 trainers per video, each doing a different modification of each exercise, some harder and some easier. If you described everything, it would take way too long.

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Sunday, December 20, 2020

These are all really good points. I think the existing understanding of certain movement is the point here. In theory, a sighted person can do any of these exercises based on what is happening in the video and, yes, if they gave the name of the movement that would be helpful. There is going to be more of a divide of experience for the blind here than there is for sighted, but it's not incermountable. Over description is always going to be better than under description.

There is also a part of me that wonders if Apple hasn't avoided this, accessibility for the blind, to cover itself against injury that could quite easily be caused by improper movements if they have been misunderstood.

Submitted by Shane on Sunday, December 20, 2020

Club AppleVis Member

Hi just wondering to know how accessible is the bike exercise. Also I do not have an Apple TV in the room where the bike is and just wondering to know will my iPad work instead of the Apple TV thanks

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Sunday, December 20, 2020

I believe you need an Apple Watch so that it works but you can do the workouts with an iPad, iPhone or Apple TV.

The bike workout is very accessible, what I'd imagine a spin class to be like. They guide you through the session telling you the cadence you need to keep and how to alter intensity.

Submitted by Tim Hornik on Monday, December 21, 2020

In reply to by Rashad

Rashad nailed it. If you place the verbal/textual information within the session, you just lost the heart rate objectives. Frontloading the info would require a hefty portion of the warm up that it cuts into the rest of the flow. The best solution will be a series of beginner vids that goes through each individual activity one can watch on there own.. I cannot remember if Sufferfest or Peloton had this for some yoga poses and such, but it was a great way to introduce individuals to the movements. ultimately a sighted individual watching you go through the movements is the best thing you can do, since there are so many little micro movements or little angles that is the difference between isolating a muscle group or missing it entirely that nothing Apple might do can rectify it.

Submitted by gailisaiah on Monday, December 21, 2020

Where is this app on the iPhone? I'd like to check it out.

Submitted by Brian Giles on Monday, December 21, 2020

There's a dedicated tab for it in the fitness app.

I agree with most suggestions here. I wonder if there's a way the people who run AppleVIS could somehow get involved in making Apple aware that Fitness Plus is not currently accessible to us. Something like a campaign of the month if that's still a thing, or getting someone from Apple accessibility on an AppleVIS Extra podcast to discuss it. Something more than just hoping they read the forums here.

I do agree that modifications would have to be made, but I do think it could be done. It's disappointing that in Apple's marketing of Fitness Plus, they talk up inclusivity for everyone, yet it's not accessible for us. I think I read an article somewhere that featured some of the trainers talking about their backgrounds, and one of them is disabled. I can't find that article now though.

Submitted by CityWitt on Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Completely agree. I was very disappointed when I subscribed being blind myself, but it's honestly a simple fix. They just need to have highly detailed, 2 to 5 minute vids on each move they call out in the sessions so that if, for example, the trainer says "Hinge" we know exactly what that means and can do it in the workout. Simply saying "move your hands up above your head" or similar is just not good enough, there are a million ways to do that and only one has the desired effect.

Moreover, it'd be great for the fitness app to take a look at enabled accessibility settings, and provide these videos if VoiceOver was enabled, or automatically enable sign language only versions for people who have features for the deaf enabled.

Submitted by Adrianne on Tuesday, December 29, 2020

They should learn from Blind Alive / Eyes-Free Fitness! I've done several workouts from that website, including barre, which has lots of unique moves that require good form. As several people have suggested, they just have specific audio tracks describing each move. They also have those in text format, which is nice when you just need to scan quickly for a particular exercise. It would be easy to list the moves you would need to know for a particular workout, and then go learn those moves first. Yes, it takes more time than being able to watch someone, but aren't we used to that? I just got an Apple Watch SE for Christmas, and because it came from Best Buy, I get 6 months of Fitness Plus for free. I haven't activated it yet, but I'm looking forward to trying it!

Submitted by gailisaiah on Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Is the Fitness App or Fitness Plus inside the Health App? I couldn't find it in Settings and I even did a search on the App Store.
Side note: My favorite fitness app, so far, is Aaptiv. But unfortunately after your free trial, it's almost $100 per year.

Also too bad Blind Alive isn't around any more. I have a lot of their workouts and exercise descriptions on my Victor Reader.

Submitted by Dennis D on Monday, February 1, 2021

In reply to by Oliver Kennett

I have been using fitness plus on my iPhone 12 mini for the past 3 or 4 days. Fortunately I have been practicing yoga for 11 years which includes teaching for 9 years for the YMCA. Some of the positions are not familiar to me but about 90 percent of the practice is usable for me in real time. The instructors I have tried are very verbal. For more accessibility I would think that for any exorcise a list of positions or movements could be listed in a text document. The student could then look through the list and learn any new positions or terms. This would work as long as the instructor used names of positions instead of saying "do it like this". Fortunately the yoga instructors I have tried are very good at calling out the positions and more. It takes some concentration to follow because the classes move fast but I figure the same instructors would follow a certain pattern. So far so great.

Submitted by Jared on Monday, February 1, 2021

In reply to by gailisaiah

seconding a shoutout for Aaptive. It’s designed to be entirely audio anyway, everyone in this thread should at least check it out. It’s only $20/yr more than Fitness+ And if you wait a little while they’re always running discounts, I got my first year for $50. The UI could be a little better on the accessibility front but it’s workable.

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Hello Everyone. I just wanted to say that any fitness app can be accessible, as long as the UI works. If I don't know how to do a particular move, I utilize the internet and/or call on a sighted friend and ask them to view the workout and describe what it is. Mostly, however, I have found that I can find out how to do a move simply by researching online. I know this isn't a foolproof method but it certainly works for me. I encourage those of you who wish to use the Fitness Plus app or any other app to engage in a little self-education and then go work up a sweat. Let's not just sit back and wait on the devs to get it right. We can do this thing on our own.

With Aapptiv I find the monthly plan to be much cheaper than their annual plan one feature that sets peloton apart is the ability to take live classes this means while exercising you get real-time feedback on your form from a Peloton instructor

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Monday, November 22, 2021

It's been a while since apple fitness plus was released. I'm assuming there is a much bigger catalogue of exercises available. Has there ben any change in accessibility?

I'm, again, getting an Apple Watch, the 7 this time. I'm hoping the faster charging makes it less of a chore and I can get into some sort of schedule with it that allows me to track my terrible sleep patterns.

Thoughts? Feelings? There was mention of alternative fitness apps, do these work with Apple Watch?