I’m starting to feel like Apple has a vendetta against anyone with a vestibular disorder. Since OS X Lion, we’ve increasingly seen aggressive animations added to Apple’s desktop OS that can trigger dizziness, motion sickness, vertigo and related symptoms. These include slide transitions when moving between full-screen apps, the ‘morphing’ animation to and from full-screen apps, the slide between Launchpad pages, and entry/exit zooms for Mission Control. iOS 7 then introduced similar animations, along with parallax effects that made people ill. And now tvOS has followed suit.

iOS at least helped users, in providing a Reduce Motion option in the Accessibility section within Settings. Within six months, most of the worst animations were possible to replace with non-aggressive crossfades, much to the relief of vestibular disorder sufferers worldwide. But we’ve seen no such progress on OS X, and tvOS recently appeared with a ‘Reduce Motion’ setting so ineffective that it may as well have played a little sniggering noise when activated.

On the desktop, I’ve now, grudgingly, updated my main work Mac to OS X El Capitan. I’m not having fun.

The main reason is El Capitan kills the one remaining workaround I had that enabled me to safely use full-screen apps. System Integrity Protection, while essential to the security of the Mac, more or less kills off applications that inject code into OS X. TotalSpaces2 is one of them. The app was designed to manage desktops in a manner akin to those in OS X 10.6, but, importantly, included settings to customise transitions.

In other words, instead of getting a full-screen slide when switching full-screen apps or spaces, you could get a spinning cube or some other nutty animation. Or, mercifully, you could replace the animation with nothing at all. This is the sole reason I installed TotalSpaces2. No longer was I made dizzy by OS X’s aggressive default animations — something that could leave me groggy and feeling ill for an hour or even until going to sleep at night. And this isn’t just me — such issues are increasingly common, most likely because of the rapid adoption in the use of animation within desktop and mobile operating systems.

Because of Apple’s changes in OS X, I must now choose between the security of my Mac (turn off SIP and TotalSpaces2 will run) and my well-being; and I assume that in the long run, there won’t even be a choice, given that TotalSpaces2 is no longer a viable commercial product. I’ve long hunted for Terminal commands to disable the full-screen app animations in OS X, but it appears none exist. (Launchpad and Mission Control can be stripped of most animation. Commands for spaces were removed in OS X Lion. Reportedly, Apple engineers responded to a bug report by stating there was nothing to fix. This is technically accurate — Terminal commands are not user-facing. But it removed the one remaining avenue for users to tame a part of the OS adversely affecting their health.)

I also recently discovered an issue with window manager Moom, where windows wouldn’t snap, but would instead skid around the display, triggering motion sickness. It turns out other window managers are affected, and the trigger is activating text-to-speech. Just another OS X bug, presumably, but one that results in a very nasty surprise for anyone with a vestibular disorder. (The rough sequence of events: select text; read back text; don’t realise OS X has thrown a wobbly; attempt to snap window; watch it slide across the screen; end up dizzy for the next hour or more.)

The second of those examples is forgivable (and, I hope, will be fixed). It’s a niche and weird bug that likely won’t affect too many people. But the former absolutely isn’t. To be clear, though, I’m not blaming System Integrity Protection, which is necessary. I’m simply blaming Apple for doing almost nothing in OS X to help people with vestibular disorders.

Full-screen slide animations made their debut in OS X Lion, back in 2011. Since then, we’ve had OS X Mountain Lion, OS X Mavericks, OS X Yosemite and OS X El Capitan. In all that time, and all those revisions, there has been precisely one attempt I’m aware of in OS X to assist anyone with vestibular disorders: a Reduce Motion setting being added to the Photos app. It’s, sadly, largely ineffective, however.

This leads me to believe at least one of the following must be true:

  • Apple doesn’t care about people with vestibular disorders. Accessibility increasingly means aiding those with poor/no vision, and occasionally people with hearing and motor issues. It doesn’t, in Apple’s view, mean making its software suitable for everyone.
  • Apple is ignorant of vestibular disorders, despite people like me banging on about them like a broken record for the past four years. It doesn’t have enough relevant in-house knowledge, and so does nothing.
  • Apple is fully aware of these issues, but doesn’t consider them enough of a priority to even add a single Reduce Motion switch to OS X in the fourth major update to its desktop OS since the problems appeared and were flagged. This despite many millions of people having related conditions.

None of these is particularly appealing, and I increasingly feel like I’m screaming into the void. There is, as already noted, an exception: iOS. There, it seems the team has fully taken on board much of the advice people have given and, most importantly, acted on it. iOS 7’s problematic animations were eventually mostly dealt with through Reduce Motion (a few outliers remain), and new features are eventually tamed to the point they’re at least more usable (such as the new app switcher). But elsewhere, Apple’s efforts in this area of accessibility are dismal and the company must do better. Whether it will is another matter — and I’m increasingly getting to the point where I feel like nothing is going to change.

Contact Apple about accessibility issues

To report accessibility problems to Apple, you can email accessibility@apple.com.

Further reading:

Kirk McElhearn has also responded to this article with additions of his own, complaining about issues relating to font size and contrast, and how developers don’t think about accessibility issues nearly enough.

Rob Griffiths posts on Many Tricks about workarounds we figured out for Moom (which may also work with other window managers).