INSPIRATION – Three things we learnt about accessibility at Apple HQ
When Watermark Creative was asked to drop in to Apple’s Auckland office to talk about what we do and how we do it (over a beer and cake mind you), Creative Directors Simon Shaw and David Way sensed it was going to be an unforgettable meeting.
After sharing some insights into how our unique collective of illustrators and digital artists collaborate on projects, Simon and David were invited to sit in on an internal meeting about accessibility features within the Apple ecosystem. They walked away with a totally new perspective on what’s possible, and a determination to make accessibility a part of every project.
“Some features were new,” recounts David, “but so many had been available for a long time and discovering them felt like we’d just been introduced to our devices for the first time.”
David’s top three take outs from the meeting:
1/As content creators, we shouldn’t be passing the buck to the device product designers to find ways to make our content more accessible, we also need to think about how we can develop more inclusive solutions that exploit the amazing accessibility features already existing on the devices.
2/Accessibility features don’t just help users who are unable to do tasks the same way as others – often these features can create endless convenience for users who don’t ‘need’ the feature but appreciate its helpfulness. For example, closed captioning on videos is not only helpful to those hard of hearing, but great for someone who wants to quietly watch a video but still keep an ear out for the baby sleeping in the next room.
3/There are so many amazing hidden features on our devices that we never realised existed. It doesn’t take long to look into a few and add them to our design toolbox.
“The ability to create features that ensure anyone is able to access the same tools and content that we take for granted is super inspiring as designer.”
David Way, Watermark Creative digital director
Technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone
While many people immediately relate accessibility to technologies that give better access to those with physical challenges or impairments, Apple puts accessibility and ease of use for everyone at the heart and soul of everything they do.
Apple’s accessibility features cover four main areas:
- Vision: VoiceOver, Display Accommodations, Magnifier, Dynamic Type, Zoom.
- Hearing: Live Listen, FaceTime, LED Flash alerts, Type to Siri.
- Physical and Motor Skills: Switch Control, Voice control with HomePod, AssistiveTouch, Activity and Workout apps on Apple Watch, Accessibility Keyboard.
- Learning and Literacy: Speak Screen, Typing Feedback, Guided Access, Safari Reader.
A ‘responsibility’ to ensure creative work can be enjoyed by everyone
As creatives, designers, artists, we have the power (and the responsibility) to ensure that what we create can be enjoyed and used by as many people as possible.
“With so many of the products we build, we look for small ways in which we can cater to a wider audience,” says David. “For example, we ensure that text readers are built into the children’s apps we work on, so that the child has the ability to ‘read’ along on their own, while parents can turn off the narration allowing them to read to the child.
“Although subtle and not very exciting features, they make a huge difference in the ability to adjust the experience to suit the needs of the user. This is one powerful application for accessibility, but we’re really just scratching the surface.”
Augmented Reality adds exciting new layers to accessibility
The Watermark Creative digital team have been deeply immersed in the world of AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality) and MR (mixed reality) in recent years, so one of the most exciting realisations for David was how much potential there is with regards to these technologies and accessibility.
“Since AR is essentially the layering of digital information over real world objects, we realised that this could be used in a variety of accessibility situations – everything from real time facial recognition or contextual directions for people suffering from Alzheimer’s, to text to speech technology in cameras to help people who have reduced vision.”
Apple currently has a selection of augmented reality apps available to enhance a number of areas including:
- Productivity – The Ikea Place app lets you imagine how products will look, feel and fit in your home, without having to leave home.
- Play – The Very Hungry Caterpillar app lets you follow the transformation of that hungry critter off the screen and into your lounge room.
- Learning – The Sky Guide app allows the user to look up and discover information about every planet, star and comet, trace mythical constellations in the night sky or track the flight path of the International Space Station.
Find out about more of the AR apps on offer via the Apple augmented reality page.
Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought
There really is a universe full of opportunities to explore when it comes to improving people’s lives with accessibility, although budget and time constraints may seem prohibitive at times. David challenges everyone to think of little ways to bring more accessibility into every project.
“Scheduling and timelines can often mean that we have to prototype and test products as quickly as possible to bring them to market, ending up with a solution that caters only for the ‘average user’,” says David.
“If we know what options are available, adding accessible features may not incur the extra costs and time we think they might. It’ll take some time and self-discipline, but we would like to ensure an accessibility review is as habitual to the design process as testing it between a phone and tablet.”
Some links worth exploring:
Please check out the stories: https://www.apple.com/accessibility/stories/
Apple Accessibility Support: https://support.apple.com/accessibility/iphone-ipad
Human Interface Guidelines for Accessibility – Apple Developer Website
iOS offers extensive accessibility features for users with vision loss, hearing loss, and other disabilities. Most UIKit-based apps can be made accessible with very little effort, allowing more people to use your app while providing an equally engaging experience for all.
Siri Shortcuts App by Apple
Download here: https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/shortcuts/id915249334?mt=8
Shortcuts User Guide: https://support.apple.com/en-au/guide/shortcuts/welcome/ios
Siri Shortcuts Support: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT209055
Web content accessibility guidelines
A designer’s guide to accessibility research
Top 6 accessibility tools