As regular readers will know, I’ve been writing about Apple and balance accessibility for a couple of years now. Ever since I first realised OS X Lion’s full-screen transitions were making me dizzy, I’ve asked why Apple hasn’t done anything to cater for users with such problems. This was especially surprising given the company’s excellent work in vision, motor and hearing accessibility.
Everything came to a head with iOS 7, which led to me writing about the subject for Stuff and then The Guardian. With its latest mobile OS, Apple had ‘gamified’ the user interface. For many people, this provided an exciting animated experience, with a great sense of space in a virtual world. But for anyone with a balance disorder, the zooms, slides and bounces were too much, in some cases making the devices literally unusable. Several people told me they’d replaced their devices with models running iOS 6; many wrote to Apple, begging them for an off switch.
Such pleas were largely answered with Apple’s iOS 7.0.3 update, which I’ve today covered in a new article for Stuff. The update adjusts the Reduce Motion capabilities in the Accessibility section of the Settings app. Rather than just disabling parallax, it now also turns off some (not all) zoom effects, such as those that occur on opening or closing a home screen folder, or when launching or closing an app.
This is extremely welcome. People had asked me what sort of timescale I was hoping for regarding balance issues, and I generally said three-to-six months. Instead, this first major update arrived about a month after iOS 7, and judging by responses I’ve had on Twitter and elsewhere, it makes iOS devices usable for the majority of people who suffer from balance and related disorders.
I say first major update quite deliberately, on the basis I’m optimistic this will not be a full stop. My hope is that this is merely an initial step for iOS 7 and Apple regarding this area of accessibility and that other updates will be forthcoming. Here’s what I’d like to see in future versions of iOS 7:
More triggers addressed and made possible to disable
Zooms were the biggest, most widespread balance problem in iOS, but other triggers remain. Perhaps the most notable is the app switcher, with has a zoom-and-slide entry/exit animation and retains the subsequent zoom when selecting an app. Other triggers include full-screen slide transitions (which were also common in iOS 6 and earlier), bouncing UI elements (notably in Messages) and the Safari tab switcher.
Granular controls in Settings
With other fields of accessibility, you don’t just get a single switch. For example, people with limited vision aren’t forced to turn on every piece of vision-related accessibility in iOS—they can choose what they need. By comparison, Reduce Motion is currently all-or-nothing. If you’re fine with parallax but not zooms (or vice-versa), that’s too bad. Given the speed with which Apple responded, I think this is a suitable compromise for now, but I do hope future versions of iOS 7 will allow users to choose which types of animation they’d like disabled.
I’ve spoken to a number of developers about balance accessibility, and without exception, all were keen on Apple providing the means to hook into user-definable settings. Right now, they must roll their own. Their hope: if someone turns on certain settings in Reduce Motion, related animations in their own apps would be disabled or altered accordingly.
My other hope is that Apple’s accessibility team starts addressing issues beyond iOS. The latest version of OS X, Mavericks, recently arrived and it does nothing to deal with the issue I first raised with Apple two major releases ago. Full-screen transitions on large screens are major vertigo triggers, placing an big part of OS X off limits to certain users, primarily for the sake of aesthetics. That the animations can be overridden by TotalSpaces shows the code for doing so must be lurking somewhere, and it can’t be too much to ask for Apple to add a section to System Preferences for this problem.
Still, for the first time since I started writing about this subject, I feel truly positive, rather than like I’m just yelling into the wind (albeit more recently yelling into the wind with plenty of support). iOS 7.0.3 proved that Apple can make changes to cater for users with vertigo and balance issues, and so here’s hoping for more over the coming months.