The recent Flipboard discussion and my ongoing issues with OS X Yosemite and accessibility brought to mind a piece I wrote for the dearly departed MacUser last year. It’s still very relevant (sadly), in part relating to major accessibility issues I’ve been writing to Apple’s accessibility team about since 2012, and so I’m republishing it here.
Apple might be a tech champion when it comes to accessibility, but it still has blind spots and a propensity to frustrate by using accessibility settings as a fix for contentious design
Perhaps the most laudable goal throughout Apple’s history has been a desire to make its products accessible to everyone who wants to use them. A combination of technological leaps and advancements in understanding wider user needs has resulted in astonishing accessibility controls lurking at the heart of OS X and iOS. Chances are, if you’ve poor vision, hearing or motor control, you’ll still be able to use Apple’s products. Given that you interact with an iPhone by pawing at a pane of glass, it’s quite something you can do so even if you’re unable to see the interface.
But for all of Apple’s success in terms of accessibility, the company still has work to do. It stubbornly retains an odd and frustrating tendency to erect barriers that make the going tougher than it needs to be for many users. It’s unclear why this is the case, but recent changes to iOS and OS X suggest a combination of ignorance and arrogance.
With iOS, Apple created a mobile operating system second-to-none when it comes to accessibility. A quick glance at relevant options in the Settings app compared to the equivalents in vanilla Android show just how far ahead Apple is. And yet when iOS 7 appeared, many users found it made them feel sick and dizzy, because of excessive zooming and swiping animations that could not be disabled; others complained of headaches, due to the brighter, starker interface.
On OS X, similar balance/motion concerns have existed since OS X Lion, and elsewhere the ‘iOSification’ of OS X has introduced further problems: ditching scroll bar arrows has made things tough for some people with motor issues; the upcoming OS X Yosemite includes transparency that dramatically reduces contrast for many interface components, bringing to mind ‘trendy’ (i.e. unreadable) grey-on-grey early-2000s web design; and several updated apps boast toolbars with tiny hit areas, meaning they can only be dragged if you have the dexterity to precisely aim and grab.
But perhaps the most disturbing trend is Apple’s inclination to seemingly use accessibility settings as a kind of band-aid for questionable and divisive design decisions. Not happy about iOS using a spindly font? Change that in accessibility! Hate the fact you can barely read menu items in OS X Yosemite’s dark mode? Change that in accessibility! And so on.
It’s hard to argue Apple should adjust the default state of everything that could potentially reduce accessibility. The swooping, zoomy nature of iOS 7 provides a sense of place if it doesn’t make you throw up, and Yosemite’s revamp has generally gone down very well (at least with anyone who’s forgotten about Mac users laughing at Windows Vista’s transparency seven years ago).
However, if Apple won’t make smarter design decisions and avoid giving into the temptation to sometimes push the shiny over the usable, it should make the means to adjust irksome pain-points more readily available and not bury them in a System Preferences pane or Settings section relatively few people are aware of. For remaining issues, Apple must be faster to address concerns. It’s great iOS now boasts a ‘Reduce Motion’ option, but unacceptable OS X doesn’t after several major revisions, nor properly old-school scroll-bars for those who truly need them.
If accessibility is a checklist, Apple still ticks more boxes than most, but the list is huge, and some of Apple’s nagging reminders date back to 2011. It’s time ‘access for all’ really meant that, especially when the changes would barely affect the majority yet improve the OS X and iOS experience for many thousands of people beyond measure.