Cupertino, thank you for listening
The fact that so many blind people care so deeply about their experience with Apple Products is a testimony to how well Apple has done. Not only is there a wide range of apps designed specifically to meet the needs of blind users, but many mainstream apps are accessible. Apple continues to encourage developers to do the right thing and be inclusive.
I’m of an age where I don’t think I’ll ever take for granted how wonderful it is to be able to buy not just a new item in an existing product line, but an entirely new product line, and know it will be meaningfully accessible from day one. We’ve come a long way.
Blind people are, of course, far from alone. Many other people with disabilities have been empowered by Apple’s accessibility initiatives, and then of course there are millions without significant disabilities who simply find the iPhone to be an indispensable tool for business, communication and entertainment.
So, contrary to a minority opinion I see out there, blind people don’t express concerns about Apple because they are whiners. They do so because they care. They have not just a financial investment in these products, but an emotional and productivity investment too.
Little wonder then that when it became clear that Apple had made a controversial user interface decision affecting the way Apple’s Mail app interfaced with VoiceOver, the screen reader used by blind people like me, it caused widespread concern. Most opinion I saw on this subject felt that Apple had made the wrong call this time. Apple is staffed by humans, and humans get things wrong sometimes, with the best of intentions. What counts in a situation like this is how responsive a company is to customer concerns; how quick they are to put things right.
With the release of the second beta of the forthcoming iOS 11.1, I’m delighted to see that Apple has heard its customers. The iOS actions rotor in Mail now behaves consistently again, as it did in iOS 10 and earlier.
Perhaps there is a time where we should think about the nature of engagement between the blind community and Apple. We are small, vulnerable, and the impact of well-intentioned but poorly-thought-through UI decisions is unusually high on our community. But for now, the purpose of this post is to say an unconditional thank you.
First, thanks to Apple for listening. It gives me, and I’m sure many others who were troubled by this decision, faith that if we can make a good case for why a UI change isn’t optimal, Apple is responsive and caring enough to reverse or amend it.
Second, thanks to everyone who took a little time to email the Apple Accessibility team with feedback. Remember, this team is on the front line, dealing with a wide range of calls from people with many disabilities. They pass on the feedback, and it’s important that our interactions with them respect the high-pressure role they have and the fact that they’re not the people who will ultimately make the technical changes. So, it’s important that our feedback be constructive and cordial.
Often, I hear from people who feel completely disempowered. They think that no matter what they do, they won’t be able to change a decision a big corporate has made that affects them adversely. Apple’s willingness to listen is a perfect example of why your voice matters. With advocacy, you can’t, and won’t, win them all. But you can win some.
If you contacted Apple to express your respectful view that it would be better if they changed the rotor back to the way it was, maybe allow yourself a little smile every time you delete an email, once 11.1 arrives.
Well done Apple, and the people who spoke up in favour of consistency of user interface.