Spotlight: Apple iOS and Accessibility

This is the first in our new blog series titled “Spotlight.” The “Spotlight” series will feature case studies, interviews, and other stories about accessibility and disability guidelines, resources, and tools that may be of interest to A&DS members as well as to the archival community as a whole. We will publish a “Spotlight” on the 15th of each month. If you have ideas or suggestions for future “Spotlight” posts, please email us at adsectionblogSAA at gmail dot com.

This month’s Spotlight is written by Michelle Ganz, archives director at McDonough Innovation and chair of the Accessibility and Disability Section. In this post, Michelle looks at accessibility features in Apple iOS.

Apple iOS and Accessibility by Michelle Ganz

Apple has touted its commitment to accessibility since 2012. I’ve been an Apple user since the iPhone 3 in 2007. I would like to briefly review the functions that I have used and give you an honest assessment. Please remember that this is my experience and may not be yours, I also use many of the features but not all of them. I have an iPhone XS running iOS14.2

I have an issue with how buried these settings are. You have to know where to go to find what you need. This extra layer of research required is strange considering how many of these accommodations are written about as ‘fun things you can do with your phone’ articles. 

Apple addresses four types of disability with their optional settings: Vision, Physical/Motor, Hearing. I have found all of the categories to have features I use. 

Basics

From the main accessibility menu you can make general adjustments under each heading or drill down to more options. 

Vision: 

The options for vision include audio description, motion control, and adjustments to the voice your phone uses. I always switch to Bold font to make it easier to read smaller fonts. 

Physical/ Motor: 

These options all relate to how you interact with your phone including different ways to control your keyboard, touch ID sensitivity, and how faceID works. In this section I have changed the side buttons to open my hearing aid app, and set backtap to open my control panel where I can adjust my hearing aids. 

Hearing: 

For the deaf and hard of hearing there are options to use captioning phones, how the audio is adjusted, and visual alerts which give you a series of flashing lights to alert you. 

In addition to their previously standard feature, Apple introduced a new feature called Sound Recognition that’s a great idea but doesn’t work well for me in practice. The idea is that your phone can alert you to a variety of sounds like sirens, fire alarms, door knocks, and water running. In practice these features don’t work well. I get alerts when someone sets something down on a table, but not when they knock on the door. It alerts me to water running when I am standing at the sink, but not when I leave it running after I walk away.  I suspect that as it ‘learns’ it will get better. With any brand new feature there’s a period between initial release and software patches to make the future fully functional. 

Pros: 

Apple offers a lot of integrated functionality between the iPhone and the Apple Watch. Watch connectivity means I can feel my alerts, which works a lot better than audio alerts. There is a lot of customizability to really make your iPhone work for you. 

Cons: 

The hearing aids I use are specifically designed to work with Apple phones which means I am ‘tied’ to Apple; my hearing aids use a different bluetooth frequency to connect; as opposed to connecting as a bluetooth device. iOS13 ‘broke’ my hearing aids. They refused to acknowledge it and then claimed it would be fixed in the next software update. It was not. iOS14 fixed the worst of the problems like dropping calls and randomly burning through the batteries. But it’s still making all sorts of noises it’s not supposed to. 

For all the issues that I have with iOS accessibility it still really is pretty great. They could be doing a lot better, but the idea (and intention) is a good one. I’m not sure I would switch from another hearing aid manufacturer or move to a different type of phone because of the problems I have, but I’m not sure I would have made my choice solely on the iPhone compatibility if I knew how many issues there would be. I like finding new ways to use the features and seeing what new ideas they come up with.

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