Accessibility benefits of the Touch Bar on the new Macbook Pro?

Hardware & Accessories

Hey All,

It's time for an upgrade to my work computer. Currently, I'm running a 2013 MacBook Pro 13". The company refreshes us every 3 years, so I'm about 6 months past due. I've been waiting for the announcement of new hardware, and well, now it's here.

From searching around, it seems the new Touch bar is accessible, similar to an iPhone or iPad. My question though is, does it provide any enhancements to VoiceOver or Zoom access? Is there a benefit to blind mac users? Or, if it's all the same, am I better off with the MacBook Pro without the touch bar?




Submitted by Dalia on Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I guess that we won't really know until we get some hands-on time with the new Touch Bar. However, I do find myself occasionally sat at my Mac and wondering how my current use of the Function keys would translate to the Touch Bar. Maybe its just muscle memory talking here, but I am struggling to see how a switch from physical keys to a gesture-based touchscreen will be anything other than a hit on my current use case and workflow. I simply know now where all the keys are. I don't need to think about what keys might be available and where they will be located. I simply reach with the appropriate finger and tap. Having to tap, swipe and double-tap may be accessible, but it's looking like a step back for me right now. As I said, that might change once I see and test it in person.

Submitted by Bo on Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I agree, Dalia. I know where the keys are, and how that touch typing translates to a touch bar was my first concern on hearing about it. With that said though, this machine will be my primary for the next 3 years, hopefully significantly more, since I can make an argument to torque it out, being in a technical/engineering job.

If the touch bar presented benefits above and beyond straight function keys for a VoiceOver user though, and would become a benefit in other accessible applications then it would be a good idea to give it due consideration. Thinking of the future here.

I need to get to an Apple Store, see if they have any on display, get a feel for the new layout.

Then again, most of the time it's docked to a Thunderbolt display and external Apple keyboard anyway....

Submitted by Dalia on Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The dynamic keys which change according to the application you are using at the time will potentially offer some benefit to those who would typically access those controls by reaching for the trackpad; moving the mouse pointer to the menu bar; clicking; and then clicking again. However, my guess is that most of us on here already have the keyboard shortcuts for those commands deeply programmed into our memories. So, again, it's hard to see a real benefit.

However, as you suggest, it will be interesting to see if Apple or third-party developers can find a way of adding some extra and specific value to the Touch Bar for blind and low vision users.

One concern/question is whether we will find ourselves in a situation where the Touch Bar becomes inaccessible in some applications because the developer hasn't done whatever is necessary to make sure that they keys have clear and meaningful labels for VoiceOver users. Hopefully Apple will have added the ability to add custom labels to mitigate this risk.

Submitted by Scruffy Ted on Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Another question is how this Touch Bar will work out for low vision users who currently rely on Zoom to access their Mac (so don't use VoiceOver). Many in this situation won't be able to see what's on the Touch Bar. So, will there be the facility to enable VoiceOver for just the Touch Bar, or will it need to be enabled system-wide? If the latter, that would have significant use case implications. One has to assume that Apple is all over this and that there will be some way of using VoiceOver for just the Touch Bar.

Submitted by Bo on Wednesday, November 9, 2016

In my Google searches, I did find an article that says we can set the touch bar to just reflect function keys instead of app specific keys, so I think in those cases, the bar will remain accessible.

But to all those points, I don't think it's reasonable to wait and see if other benefits will be made. Since this is for work, and some of my tools are specific, it's unlikely they'll take advantage of the touch bar. Maybe Apple will come up with some creative ways to leverage it in the future, as it has with other innovations, but it's probably better to go with what we know, rather than bank on "maybe."

This has helped, thanks for the discussion.

Submitted by Jake on Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I don't think we'll know until we actually get to use one. So if it's time now, and you need it for work and they want to upgrade you right now, you might want to hold off on a touch bar. If you do get the touch bar though, and you find that you do need physical function keys, there is always an external keyboard. That being said though, it's unlikely that many programs will really use the touch bar to its potential for at least a few months even after release, and probably longer. It may not be worth it to sacrifice your physical keys just yet.

Submitted by kevinchao89 on Monday, November 21, 2016

1. I went to Apple Store to try out touch bar and keyboard
2. Using VoiceOver, the touch bar is less efficient, as we cannot quickly glance, and have to:
a. explore-by-touch, wait for VoiceOver to read icon, and move to different icon if it's not correct
b. double-tap on CORRECT ICON
3. Adjusting volume was less efficient (yes, I know about VO-+-, but that is 3-keys and 2-hands):
a. explore-by-touch to volume icon
b. double-tap to open volume details
c. explore-by-touch to volume up/down
d. double-tap
4. I'm not sure how VoiceOver commands are performed (e.g. VO-F2 for window chooser, VO-F8 for Utilities, etc.)
5. The keyboard was very flat, had very little travel, but I was able to type quickly-accurately.

Submitted by pointum on Saturday, December 24, 2016

In reply to by kevinchao89

You can also swipe left/right to navigate to adjacent items. And you don't have to double-tap the correct icon. You can double tap anywhere to activate currently selected item.