deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
My last post was several weeks ago, about my disappointment with Apple. In the spirit of fairness, I must update that story.

Rather inexplicably to me, that post went, in a small way, viral. (I suppose that explains the trolling the post was getting, which at the time to me came completely out of the blue.) It must have showed up on some Mac message boards, and eventually got forwarded to people in Apple administration. Kudos to Apple that they thought the situation warranted contacting me; a few days after the post (early December) I received a response to my initial e-mail from early October. The e-mail was not from somebody in the accessibility team, to whom I had initially reached out, but from somebody on the customer relations team.

Over the next several days, I spoke at length with a helpful, professional, kind Apple customer relations employee. She was as helpful as one could reasonably be under the circumstances. She asked me what I really wanted at this point, and I told her that primarily what I'd just wanted was the opportunity to buy an iPhone. She helped me through the process and made it as painless -- as it were -- as possible. The only other thing I wanted, I told her, was the knowledge that Apple was receiving my feedback about the difficulty of using the iPhone from the point of view of this one mobility impaired user. She assured me that my e-mail to the accessibility mailing list going unread was an unfortunate fluke.

Only time will tell if any of that was true. I've been saying since this new iPhone came that I wasn't sure if I was going to keep it, but I've tested my way all the way through my window of being able to decide to send it back, so I guess I've decided to keep it. Today I'll be putting together an e-mail for the accessibility group of questions, bug reports, and feature requests. That e-mail, again, is only from the point of view of this one mobility impaired user. I will also post those here, not in the spirit of complaint, but in the spirit of sharing with interested people about the different ways some people use devices.

I'm still really unsure about this phone. I've been at a pretty steady pain level since I got it, because there really is no way to use it without hurting myself. All of the accessibility features make it possible for me to use it, but not painless. Common sense would dictate that if a device is painful for me to use, I shouldn't use it, but there does seem to be a genuine utility to having a smartphone. I survived fine without a cell phone for years, but I will admit that NextBus is something of a killer app.

I can't shake the feeling that I'm making a foolish decision.

...Except that there's this vain hope, this little spark within me, that maybe my experience means I am actually more likely to be listened to by Apple when I send them my list of feature requests, and maybe by using this device I can improve the experience of using handheld devices for all people with mobility impairments. Or at least the people whose mobility impairments are similar to mine.

Anyway, again. I want to say thank you to Apple for responding to my complaint about being nibbled to death by inaccessible ducks with the courteous and professional handholding I received. I wish my initial inquiry had received a response, but I'm willing to accept for now that the situation was a fluke. Like I said, only time will tell.

I'm leaving comments closed on this post as well, because I'm going to link to it, in the spirit of fairness, from the prior post. That post is still generating hits, and I'm an extremely conflict-avoidant person. I don't want the trolls to follow the link and leave comments here.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
On Saturday, after two years without a cell phone, I bought an Android phone.

This afternoon I returned it.

I was excited enough by the phone's features that it overcame my deep aversion for being reachable (and my steadily growing distaste with El Google). It's not just the many features of the Android phones designed to lay claim to the geek's heart, of course, but also the voice control features, still inadequate but improving with every frequent iteration of the operating system. It's how hard Google pushes the Android accessibility API, although I admit I should have had the first inklings of worry when I read those pages months ago, and saw that Google fell into the trap of frequently equating "accessibility" with "no- or low-vision use".1

Before I'd had the phone 5 minutes, when I was still getting help getting the voice control correctly configured, I discovered I was going to have to take it back. Android's haptic feedback (a fancy name for "the phone vibrates a whole lot") cannot be entirely turned off, and renders it completely unusable by me. Yet that same haptic feedback is specifically designed as an accessibility feature for no- or low-vision use of the phones.

I don't want to read too much into what is fundamentally a bad user interface design on Google's part, here. Haptic feedback is a wonderful thing, but it should be able to be completely disabled based on user option. The fact that it can't be is clearly a UI mistake.

But there's something else underlying here, and it's the idea that accessibility is a set of features which can be added, wham bam, beneficial to all of those adorable folks who need it. As everyone who has spent enough time in the accessibility world understands, one person's accessibility need is another person's spoon-sucking roadblock. (Tactile paving, anyone?) For all I often rant about how easy it would just be to add basic accessibility do applications and websites, I admit in my more fair moments that accessibility beyond the basic is quite difficult, and this is exactly why. There's no big tent that can encompass all accessibility needs. Universal design is lovely and wonderful as a concept, but it's far from trivial: there's no one universal human to design for.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just continue to be unreachable. Which isn't so bad, after all.

ETA:

The Google form for reporting accessibility problems is a marvelous exemplar of my point. On the one hand, they have a dedicated form for reporting accessibility problems! On the other hand, they have this question and set of possible answers:

If you’re encountering a problem, we need to understand a bit more about the issue, so we can help. What screen reader or other assistive technology are you using, if any?
  • JAWS
  • Window-Eyes
  • System Access
  • NVDA
  • VoiceOver
  • Don't know
  • Other


GUYS. They don't even list any screen magnifiers in that list, let alone get wacky with it and list adaptive technologies which aren't for blind or low-vision use. Only slightly fewer of the respondents to be latest WebAIM screen reader survey listed Zoom Text than listed System Access, and that's despite the fact that users of Zoom Text might not have bothered to take the survey because they aren't using screen readers. It's like the people who created that form (and once again, thank you Google for creating that form) can't even imagine how to talk to people who have accessibility needs but don't use screen readers.


  1. To be fair, the Eyes-Free on Android project also continually falls into the trap of using the word "accessibility" when they mean "accessibility for blind and low-vision users". And also to be fair, I do realize that touchscreen devices are a hell of a lot more disenfranchising to blind and low-vision users than they are to many types of people with mobility impairments. I'm sorry. I'm trying to own my "not very disabled" privilege here, but it's hard, because I wanted that phone.[back]
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