Accessibility for Everyone

Image source: Apple (2019)
Image source: Apple (2019)

Apple has been at the forefront of accessible hardware and software design for years with both macOS and iOS. Whilst numerous features (particularly in iOS) were included from the beginning, many new ones have been added over time, in response to the needs of an ever-expanding user base.

To highlight the company’s efforts, Apple Australia’s home page is currently linking to a comprehensive section on accessibility, with the heading: Technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone. This is in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

Whilst accessibility features are tremendously useful for people with disabilities, medical conditions or special needs, I could not agree more with this key term in the heading: everyone. When I read down this page, I see features that I use all the time:

  • The speak-screen function, whilst useful for the visually impaired, has been a great language-learning tool for me, as I highlight articles in German to be read out through my AirPods at whatever speed that I want;
  • Safari Reader, as a tool for improving legibility with larger, sans serif San Francisco, has been a great way of cutting out advertisements and reducing strain on my eyes while browsing the Web at night;
  • Siri, although a tool for people who may not be able to touch a display or use other input mechanisms, frequently enables me to interact with devices when my hands are full, whether on iPad Apple Watch or HomePods;
  • Type to Siri lets me define words or make calculations quickly in public with my iPhone, if I don’t want to speak aloud; and
  • The system zoom and dynamic type functions have obvious use cases, however I’ve found them to be genuinely useful for expanding parts of interfaces that cannot be adjusted with the pinch-to-zoom feature.

I could go on but I’ll stop there.

Why am I carrying on about this? It’s rather simple: when we design for the majority, we actually miss really important things. It takes a willingness to listen to the needs of minorities and the marginalised to make technology accessible. Features that may seem niche, obscure or even useless, once baked into the operating system, can have enormously positive consequences for all users.

The term ‘diversity’ is thrown around a lot these days, particularly by organisations that are looking to reassure customers and shareholders of their corporate social responsibility. When we push past this though, we realise that diversity is not just about gender or cultural background. Diversity, in its modern usage, is about different ways of thinking and approaching problems. People with different skills, circumstances and abilities can bring new things to the table and address issues that no one else might have considered.

Looking at this accessibility page, I’m grateful for these technological enhancements and thank the people out there who advocated for such improvements. With their creativity, contributions and feedback, everyone can benefit.

As long as Apple continues to look beyond the majority, the tools that we use every day will only improve.