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Apple iOS 12 accessibility hands-on

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed the full feature set of the accessibility features in apple products running iOS. This is due in part to most of the updates being incremental rather than revolutionary, and this is not intended as a criticism: indeed, Apple pioneered the inclusion of a touch-enabled screen reader in everyday devices with the iPhone 3GS in 2009, so while other companies have been playing catch-up, Apple has been able to continue adding polish to its rich feature set of accessibility features which is ultimately a good thing.

That said, with the recent launch of Apple’s new range of iPhone X devices bringing an operating system update to iOS 12, it’s a great time to have a look at what’s on offer for people with disabilities that want to use the iPhone or iPad. For this test I used a recent model of the iPad mini which has now received its iOS 12 update.

Farewell iOS 11 – and thank goodness for that

Before going through the iOS 12 feature set, it’s worth reflecting on the infamy of iOS 11. To say that it was buggy would be an understatement of epic proportions, with one of its bugs even sneaking into an Apple commercial. This resulted in a notable cat-and-mouse game of Apple putting out patches, users finding new bugs and Apple sending out yet another patch. While most of the bugs were ironed out towards the end of its OS life, the long beta testing of iOS 12 has largely helped Apple avoid the mistakes this time around. As a result, it is strongly recommended that you upgrade your device to iOS 12 if it can do so, especially if you’re unsure as to which version of iOS 11 is installed on your device.

iOS 12-specific accessibility improvements

In addition to overall stability, there are notable improvements to performance and boot-up times. There are two specific things that are important in relation to accessibility. The first is the upcoming Siri shortcuts which are likely to help assign tasks which will make it easier to use the iPhone or iPad. For example, if you can say to Siri ‘what’s on the menu’ in a café, it could potentially open your favourite OCR app,  scan the menu and provide you with the result. This has the potential to be a powerful addition.

The second is already familiar to iPhone X users and that’s the new commands required to access the Home screen and perform functions without a physical Home button. Given the likelihood that Apple will move away from the Home button on iPad devices, it’s no surprise that iOS 12 has changed the shortcuts around for all devices going forward. If you use Voiceover, the new shortcuts are as follows;

  • Go to Home Screen: swipe up from the bottom until you hear the first sound.
  • Open App Switcher: swipe up from the bottom until you hear the second sound.
  • Open Control Centre: swipe down from the top until you hear the first sound.
  • Open Notification Centre: swipe down from the top until you hear the second sound.
  • Cancel a gesture: slide your finger either to the left or to the right.

Accessibility feature categories

If you’re new to Apple iOS devices, the accessibility features can be found by going to Settings, then General, then Accessibility. To help make it easy to identify relevant features, Apple as categorised the features into sections titled Vision, Interaction, Hearing, Media and Learning. Let’s walk through what features are on offer.

iOS 12 accessibility features screenshot 1

Vision settings

The Vision settings are all designed to assist people with a vision-related issue. This can range from people with no vision through to people that need some minor assistance such as making the text bigger the built-in features include:

  • VoiceOver: a screen reader designed to help people who are blind, or vision impaired to navigate the device primarily using swipe gestures. 
  • Zoom: a full-screen magnification tool that allows you to zoom into a part of the screen.
  • Magnifier: this feature allows you to use the camera to zoom on some text or an image in the real world and display it on the screen.
  • Display accommodations; this includes a variety of features which allows for an adjustment of the screen such as inverting the colours or applying colour filters.
  • Speech: allows for the adjustment of speech options. 
  • Large text: provides an option to make the text larger across the device.

iOS 12 accessibility features screenshot 2

  • Bold text: makes the text bold, allowing for the text to be thicker and potentially easier to recognise characters.
  • Button shapes: this feature recreates the outline found around apps in previous versions of iOS.
  • Transparency: this allows the user to decide how ‘see-through’ elements in iOS can be viewed. Minimising transparency can make it easier to see text and screens.
  • Increase contrast: this feature can change the colour palette to help make elements contrast more effectively.
  • Reduce motion: this can help in reducing the effects that may cause distractions or difficulties in seeing actions.
  • Labels: this can provide additional information on functions.

Interaction settings

While the Vision settings represent most accessibility features, there are also several features designed to help support people with a mobility impairment. They include:

  • Switch control: provides support to people that use switch keys to perform multiple commands at once. 
  • Assistive touch: provides equivalent options for features such as single-tap and double-tap. 
  • Touch accommodations: provides options relating to the responsiveness of the screen when issuing commands. 

iOS 12 accessibility features screenshot 3

  • Shake to undo: as the name suggests, this allows the device to be shaken to undo the most recent input.
  • Call audio routing: this can force a call to always output in a way such as to the speaker or a Bluetooth device.

Hearing, Media and Learning settings

The final three sections contain some helpful features specifically around hearing and to support people with learning disabilities. The Media section also provides some options for captioning and audio description. The features include:

  • MFI hearing devices: this provides support for people that use hearing aids and other related technologies to connect with their iPhone or iPad.

iOS 12 accessibility features screenshot 4

  • Mono audio: this allows for the stereo effect to be removed so that all audio comes through both earphones. There is also a sliding scale to adjust the stereo mix.
  • Subtitles and captioning: this ensures that captions are visible on all video playback.
  • Audio descriptions: this makes video playback automatically select an audio descried soundtrack where applicable. 
  • Guided access: this keeps the interface simple within apps, particularly helpful for people with learning or cognitive disabilities.
  • Home button shortcut: allows the launch of an accessibility feature when the physical home button is triple-tapped.

Is iOS 12 worth the upgrade?

Whenever a new version of an operating system comes out, it’s important to consider if it is worth the upgrade. In this instance I would strongly encourage an upgrade from any earlier version of iOS on any device that supports it. VoiceOver users will need to adjust to the new gestures around the Home screen, but the improvements in stability and speed will certainly make it worth the effort.

iOS or Android?

In response to my recent article on Android 9.0 Pie accessibility, I’ve been asked by several people whether Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad are better from an accessibility standpoint, or whether its better to go with the latest Google Android smartphone or tablet. In short it depends on your disability and which ecosystem you prefer to use. In the case of people who are blind or vision impaired, the market is heavily weighted towards iOS despite the broader population choosing Android, so this would suggest that the wealth of vision-related features make Apple the preferred mobile operating system. However, both operating systems are well developed with accessibility features, so it may be worth trying devices from both platforms to see which one works best before purchasing.

Additional information on the accessibility features of iOS can be found in the Apple accessibility online resource.

W3C WAI CAPTCHA Note update open for public comment

It’s with much excitement that I can share with you some W3C work I have been involved in relating to the update of W3C WAI advice on the inaccessibility of CAPTCHA. The Note has now reached  the public review stage and feedback is welcome.

In an e-mail to the WAI Interest Group (WAI-IG), fellow editors Janina Sajka, Accessible Platform Architectures WG Chair and Michael Cooper, Accessibility Guidelines WG W3C Staff Contact, announced that:

“The Accessible Platform Architectures Working Group has published aWorking Draft of a revision to Inaccessibility of CAPTCHA at:https://www.w3.org/TR/turingtest/ Inaccessibility of CAPTCHA has been a Working Group Note since 2005. It describes problems with common approaches to distinguish human users of web sites from robots, and examines a number of potential solutions. Since the last publication, the abilities of robots to defeat CAPTCHAs has increased, and new technologies to authenticate human users have come available. This update brings the document up to date with thesenew realities. It is published as Working Draft to gather public review,after which it is expected to be republished as a Working Group Note.”

As an invited expert for the W3C WAI APA Research Questions Task Force (RQTF), it’s been a privilege to work with Janina and Michael on updating the note alongside the hard work of all the RQTF members.  This is the first time I’ve been involved in the W3C editorial process and the experience has been very rewarding.

With the first draft complete, the Note is open for public comment so that additional improvements to the advice can be included. Additional information about this publication can be found in the CAPTCHA Note blog post.

Looking for guidance on WCAG 2.1? Check out the free CFA resource

The Centre For Accessibility, a joint initiative by DADAA, Media On Mars and myself, launched last week with a free online resource designed to support mainstream organisations with their digital access needs. To ensure the resource remains current and effective, the content has been updated to support both the WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 standards to the Level AA conformance target.

Screenshot of the Centre For Accessibility resource

The resource has been created based on the following categories:

The resource was funded in part by an ILC Linkage grant. Further information on the initiative can be found at the Centre For Accessibility website.

Centre For Accessibility (CFA) Fremantle launch event open for registration

The Centre For Accessibility (CFA), an initiative created in partnership with DADAA, Media On Mars and myself, will be launched on 6 June 2018. Funded in part by the Disability Services, Department of Communities through an ILC grant, the purpose of the CFA is to create an industry and not-for-profit collaboration that will work to promote digital access.

My role in the CFA relates to the creation of a digital access training guide designed to deliver practical, up-to-date information as to how digital accessibility can best be incorporated into work practices for mainstream organisations. The free online resource will provide technical points and instructions for meeting WCAG Level AA compliance, as well as role-specific details for creating accessible documents.

CFA logo and tagline Accessibility is more than just compliance, it's about people

The project is hosted by DADAA and together with Media on Mars have developed a marketing campaign and website to host the digital content, ensuring the resource can be reached by mainstream organisations across Western Australia and the country. The project is also looking to identify ways that the CFA can support employment opportunities for people with disability.

The event will be held on Wednesday 6 June, 8.30 – 10.30am, with the Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC, Minister for Disability Services and Environment, in attendance. If you would like to help us launch the Centre for Accessibility! you are welcome to register. The launch is a free, interactive event hosted at DADAA in Fremantle and will allow you to engage with accessibility experts, experience using assistive technologies and meet some of the people that benefit from accessible design. Places are limited and registrations are essential.

To register, e-mail Shannon.palmer@accessibility.org.au or head to Eventbrite.

Digital access in Vietnam – a great experience

I recently had the privilege to spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as a guest of the RMIT Vietnam Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE) for a combination of presentations, events and a workshop, highlighting the strong commitment of RMIT Vietnam in making accessibility happen.  Scott presenting a workshop at InSITE 2017

Scott running a workshop at InSITE 2017

The primary reason for my visit was to present a three-hour workshop titled ‘Exploring the web in different ways’ as part of the InSITE 2017 conference hosted by RMIT Vietnam. The workshop had about 60 people in attendance and all had an opportunity to experience the use of a screen reader on their own device, assess web content for its accessibility and interact with a digital assistant such as the Amazon Echo Dot. Participants in the workshop were very positive about the experience, providing feedback that the activities were both fun and informative, leading to an increased awareness of how people with different abilities engage with their content. 

Scott in front of RMIT Vietnam sign

Scott at the RMIT Vietnam campus

Other events at RMIT Vietnam included a presentation to equity students which provided an overview of my work and some highlights from my personal disability journey. The theme of the presentation focused on the power of education, technology and the great work being done by the staff in the Equitable Learning Services department. There was also a joint presentation with Dr Ruchi Permvattana from Curtin University on accessible e-learning for RMIT Vietnam learning and teaching staff.

While the RMIT Vietnam meetings, presentations and the InSITE conference workshop were all a part of my original itinerary, I was very fortunate to also visit MATA, a boarding school specifically for children who are blind or have low vision. The Director and a staff member from RMIT Vietnam very kindly took the time to bring us to the centre and show us the facilities. In addition to the school they also produce Braille books and white canes, and I was very lucky to be presented with a much-needed new white cane as a gift. I also presented a gift in the form of the audio book version of ‘Outrunning the Night’. `

MATA school children performing a Vietnamese welcome song during Scott’s visit

In conversation with the Director I was particularly struck by the great facilities and focus of the children in the school, with their dedication to learning being described as ‘Overcoming darkness through education’ – a great phrase. Shortly after my arrival the students performed a Vietnamese welcome song.  This really showcased the dedication and talents of the students in the school.

In terms of digital access broadly, it was great to see that many students both at RMIT Vietnam and MATA had an awareness of the benefits that technology can provide, along with an openness to additional improvements. For example, in my discussion with the equity students at RMIT Vietnam I happened to mention about the new accessibility features in Windows 10, and within 20 minutes a plan had been established to upgrade the computers used by the students to Windows 10 so they could use the improved features. It’s this nimble approach to access that was exciting to see and will ultimately yield significant benefits to the students studying at RMIT Vietnam.

 I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank RMIT Vietnam CODE for bringing me over for the week, the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience, the InSITE conference organisers and MATA for their fantastic welcome.