An Open Letter to Apple: Concerning Accessibility in OS X El Capitan
We purchased an iMac 5K Retina (iMac17,1, OS X 10.11) system this December as an upgrade from an older iMac5 system (10.4). Of particular interest were accessibility features, particularly for visually disabled users. This is a catalogue of observations too lengthy to be accepted at Apple's feedback page (https://www.apple.com/feedback/), so I'm sharing it here, with a link submitted there for Apple's attention.
While many comments are critical and/or suggest improvements, there is the occasional bright spot.
The principle user suffers from extreme glaucoma, with total vision loss in one eye, and very limited (and apparently still failing) vision in the other. His maximum corrected vision is about 20/60, according to the doctors, though that tells only part of the story. Image processing capability itself seems affected -- text is easier than graphics, curiously, and familiar haunts are vastly less daunting than unfamiliar. Navigating around home or office is performed easily, but public spaces, less familiar and subject to change, present challenges. They also provide evidence of continued visual degradation. Computer experience mirrors this, and many of the relatively minor interface changes from 10.4 to 10.11 are perceived as significant.
Being faced with constant reminders of further deterioration in senses has its own emotional impacts -- the experience is humbling, frustrating, and trying.
Another suffers from Parkinsons, imposing both motor and cognitive impairments. Novel and any degree of complexity to task completion (e.g., multi-stage, sequential, or other necessarily structured operations) again pose substantial barriers to success.
Cognitive overload, and a (possibly well-earned at age 80+) tired-of-you-shit attitude toward newfangled gadgetry general, a general unfamiliarity with and lack of interest (or capacity) for learning the inner logic of modern consumer electronics are further barriers. As a long-time Linux user, the lessons in real-life end-user computer issues are humbling. ( I'm also more a Linux than Mac guy, though I can stumble around fairly well. ) I work in tech, more back-end than front, though I've got my own thoughts on usability.
These are systemwide aspects not specific to any one application or device.
Desktop Display Resolution Settings
These don't persist, and screen resolution seems to randomly reset to the default value. For the visually disabled user, the "Larger Text" option is the only viable one, and he has extreme difficulty in re-setting this if the setting is lost. My pressent fall-back is to look at ways of programmatically changing his desktop display value via programmatic means when he logs in to or switches back to his account.
I've attempted to resolve this with Apple support (chat) by deleting the users' com.apple.system-preferences.plist files (~/Library), and restarting the system, but the problem persists.
Alternatively, a scripted directive to force resolution applied at login or when switching accounts might work.
Request: Per-user System Preferences settings should persist.
Best I've been able to tell, there's no zoomed, high-contrast version of this available. The existing default is pretty, if you've got good vision. It's very hard for the visually disabled to see. I'm not sure how to make this easier to use, though a solid, high-contrast background and zoomable (or simply zoomed-in) display would likely be good. User selection should be as high-contrast as possible, or based on text input (I believe this is an option).
Settings for all fonts system-wide would be quite helpful. Other than setting screen resolution, that doesn't seem possible. And as noted, that doesn't persist.
I'm well aware that this request has significant history:
Zooming document fonts generally is highly variable across Apple products. Variously this is:
- Double click.
Pick one, especially of the first two (most Web browsers, vs. e.g., TextEdit).
This document's proved useful:
More at StackExchange:
For visually disabled users, colors generally are really difficult. I haven't tried greyscale or high-contrast display settings yet, but may need to. But it's as simple as things like blue hyperlinks being hard to see (I've tweaked a few favorite sites via CSS browser extensions -- only available on Firefox and Chrome, among the reasons Safari isn't an option). Ability to change color values of various screen elements would be helpful. It's not that there's a single best configuration, progressive degradation of sight may affect different colors differently for different people.
(Update: OK, Stylish is available on Safari, though numerous other extensions aren't. We're sticking with Firefox.)
Making this big is good, but something to make it even more noticable when moving would be useful. The "Shake mouse pointer to locate" size-change reverts too quickly under our circumstances. Making the pointer even larger than the present maximum size would also be useful.
Show them. Or don't. But not both. DISAPPEARING BASIC ACCESSIBILITY / CONTROL FEATURES AREN'T A GOOD IDEA. That's a lesson we seem to keep having to re-learn every 5-10 years.
For Accessibility, MAKING SCROLLBARS REALLY, REALLY BIG would be quite helpful. Color, as noted, is another issue, with the standard blue scrollbar being hard to see (though I like the old 3D gel blue effect myself).
Oh, this is configurable:
This ought to be included/referenced in Accessibility.
I'd also strongly suggest, in the spirit of "choose sane defaults", of having scrollbars always visible as the default. Advanced users who don't need scrollbars can find the setting to disable them.
The option to change scrollbar width would be hugely useful.
Application- and Device-specific issues
These apply to specific software, generally Apple, or hardware interfaces (keyboard, mouse, etc.)
Finder's font sizes should be within its general preferences (Command-,) dialogs. It's not. Fix this. It's a disturbing inconsistency in a core OS X application.
Apple Help (application help)
Font color and size are both poor choices. The font color appears to be a medium grey (~rgb(888)), and is by default small. Though font size can be increased via zoom, this setting doesnt' persist across Help sessions. It should.
- Make Help text solid black.
- Persist zoom settings across Help invocations.
Nice hardware, though the lettering is hard to see. We've replaced the stock keyboard with a specially-made high-visibility keyboard from LogicKeyboard:
Again, for some perspective particularly to the sharper-eyed young'uns at One Infinite Loop: the visually disabled user has difficulty making out "delete" on this keyboard. Blindness is a real goddamned bitch.
It's actually not clear that the Magic Keyboard's lettering is noticeably lighter than the earlier iMac wired keyboard, or that the letter nubs are significantly less prominent (though IIRC Apple did supply nub-less keyboards for a time, very silly). Still, it's one of those details for which attention seems lacking.
Gestures, generally, are a net negative. I've disabled all of these that are accessible via System Preferences.
The side-scroll-in-page function of the mouse is absolutely frustrating. There is NO GUI control for this behavior. And worse, [the commandline configuration option has no effect on the behavior](https://www.reddit.com/r/osx/comments/3ykg0k/disablemagicmousesidescrollingasaperuser/).
OS X's mouse-centricity, and in particular the lack of keyboard hotkeys for many basic menu functions (or any way of activating the main application menu) in particular.
VoiceOver / Dictation & Speech
I've dabbled a bit with each. B for effort.
VoiceOver is helpful but trying to figure out where it leaves off and other tools come into play isn't clear. I keep expecting VoiceOver to read, e.g., Web pages, but it doesn't. This area needs more work, and some very good tutorials. The process of making those tutorials should likely point out numerous deficiencies of Apple's present level of voice support.
Given the apparent continued visual degradation, far, far better voice support is also something that's almost certainly going to be of interest.
As an observation: voice support isn't merely a matter of offering an audio overlay, but of drastically simplifying interfaces. If an option or feature isn't absolutely required for a task, it should be removed (or removable). Just as iOS is a different design medium, so is Voice. Given where the consumer devices market seems headed (e.g., Google Now, building a system usable by the blind might well serve Apple's future mobile / ambient platforms.
Mail.app: Index pane font size
Somewhat moot as the "classic" view is what my users prefer, and it does allow font sizes to be specified. But as you might expect, I'd like to see font size as an option here.
Split-Screen Windows / Tiled Windows
With primary applications being a Web browser and mail, El Cap's split-screen windowing mode looks interesting. I've tried this myself, and like the effect, though don't know how it'll go over. A tiled window manager capability, with say 3-4 primary apps all visible in fixed locations might also be useful. The full-screen windowing mode is also beneficial (and tied to a hotkey).
There's the Amethyst tiling window manager:
(I'm comfortable installing software via GitHub and Homebrew.)
Telephone user Accessibility Support
Very impressed to see this and I've called the service both see what services are supported and to sort out a couple of issues. Thank you.
System Preference Accessibility Settings
Again, generally useful, but descriptions and Help text don't clearly describe how settings change appearance or behavior, or how they might be used. Providing and linking a video walkthrough would be useful here.
Safari "Readability" Mode
Genius. Thanks. I've been a huge fan of simplified Web page presentation, and am generally of the opinion that Web design is no longer the solution, Web design is the problem. Been using Readability for years, though that project appears all but dead. Probably time to switch to Pocket....
My request: Provide an option to make "reader mode" the default for the browser as an Accessibility enhancement. For someone with poor sight, this is a gigantic improvement. Though truth to tell, it's highly preferable for those who do see relatively well also.
A browser that's specifically oriented to the visually disabled, again, stripping all extraneous cruft and focusing only on key content and essential navigation, might be preferable. I'm not aware that such a thing exists.
Default Desktop Wallpaper
This is truly beautiful. Thought I'd mention it.