Accessibility and Apple Inc.

Digital Inclusion - access and accommodation

BMUG talk - Liddy Nevile, February, 2019

Inclusion is about everyone. What is disability?

Years ago, being insane meant a condition that could be 'seen' - something had to be missing from a human's brain (MacNaughton's Rule). Today, that's nonsense and we recognise lots of conditions that cannot be seen.

Today, some say disability is something 'wrong' with a person and some say it is 'not being able to do' something in a particular circumstance.

Some are looking for a medical condition causing inability and others for a context that disables a person. The best way to work now is to recognise that we are working with constructed disability - something that causes inability.

And the UN Convention that most countries have agreed to deals with discrimination against people for a number of reasons but, of interest here, people with disabilities.

Direct discrimination

When someone treats you or proposes to treat you less favourably than they would treat someone else in similar circumstances because of the disability (DDA).

It is also discrimination not to provide reasonable adjustments required because of the disability.

A reasonable adjustment is an accommodation that does not cause hardship to the other side. If a person who speaks slowly due to Cerebral Palsy is refused a job interview, is that discrimination?

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination is when there's a practice, policy or rule which applies to everyone in the same way, but it has a worse effect on some people than others and puts you at a particular disadvantage (EO).

Imagine a notice in English published on a wall. If a Chinese visitor needs to know what that notice says for safety reasons, might not they be at a particular disadvantage? Are they being discriminated against?

So inclusion encompasses an absence of direct and indirect discrimination.

Australian Law

Until there is local legislation, UN Conventions are really just nice paper. So there is nothing until there is federal or state law.

The first was US Government procurement legislation - s. 508 US DDA

The Australian Disability Discrimination Act (1992) "prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, education, publicly-available premises, provision of goods and services, accommodation, clubs and associations, and other contexts." See

The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act (2010) says it is illegal to discriminate against a person including because of age, disability, or physical features. The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 covers discrimination in employment, education, accommodation, clubs, sport, goods and services, land sales and transfers, and local government, as well as sexual harassment. The EO Act mandates:

  • an obligation on organisations covered by the law to take proactive, reasonable and proportionate steps to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation, and
  • a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities in employment, education and when providing goods and services, to help the person with a disability to perform the job or access education and goods and services.

Implementing the law

In other words, you do not have a 'right' to something, as in a Bill of Rights, but rather a 'right to not experience' something. That disability you might experience must be the result of a lack of a 'reasonable adjustment' or maybe just not getting help. So there is a question about why you need an adjustment, and that will be because you are experiencing a disability (permanent or temporary) and the adjustment you want is reasonable.

Proving you should have been the beneficiary of an adjustment, and that the adjustment was reasonable in the circumstances, is quite tricky. Apparently the law has been implemented on a number of occasions but it seems that the cases are usually settled out of court so they are not known about and the law is not, in fact, clarified by them. So we have to guess what really are the rights that people have. We do know that failing the law can be expensive. So let's find out about the standards and the adjustments that can be expected.

Accommodations for people with disability

Given how many people have vision disabilities (now more than 575,000 in Australia, > 70% are over the age of 65 and 66,000 people are blind), and that once we were dependent primarily on text, the paper publishing industry worked hard to find ways to help those with vision disabilities - including ending up with braille devices, radio broadcasts that read newspapers, haptic devices, .... Still people with vision disabilities often found themselves doing 'work for the handicapped'. Today we realise that people with vision disabilities, including people who are completely blind, can perform in ever so many contexts just like anyone else.

The Web (what is often called the Internet) changed things for the worst, at first. Imagine being blind and trying to find the cursor on the screen. So one of the very first activities of the group responsible for the Web, W3C, started work on how to make use of devices (hardware and software), and online resources and services, accessible to all. Concerned organisations and individuals started to develop what we call assistive technologies for the digital world.

Examples - assistive technologies for people with vision disability

Typical vision disabilities result in digital users needing sufficient contrast between colours, nothing dependent on red/green differentiation, different fonts that are easier/harder to see, different types and sizes of fonts, ....

Australia participated in an ISO Standards group that created an enormous inventory of all the things that might cause problems, what people might need, and how they could be provided. This is not a list of medical conditions but a list of things that might be needed.

In fact, because vision disability is so common, there are a number of people who solve their problem using a a similar adjustment. For example, people might need a Zoomtext technology, or a technology that renders all visible items as sounds.

Examples - assistive technologies for people with cognitive disability

People can have a wide range of medical conditions that impact their capacity to manage technology, including cognitive disabilities such as acquired brain damage, autism, dyslexia, PTSD, and more. It is important to remember that cognitive disability is not necessarily related to cognitive ability - no more than having a broken leg means a person is unhealthy. Possibly as many as 10% of the population have dyslexia.

Often screens are baffling for the people with cognitive disability simply because there is too much going on.



See for example a page that advertises the TV programs. Assistive technologies can simplify what's on the screen at any one time. See to see what might be necessary.

Examples - assistive technology for people with mobility disability

People with vision disability often can't see where the cursor is and the cursor is not usually able to tell the user what it is doing. But for people with mobility disability, controlling the cursor can be very difficult. Sometimes people use larger than normal keyboards or mice but some people can't use their hands at all. People can use their mouth to control straws that move the cursor or they might actually use their eye-gaze to move the cursor. See

Examples - assistive technology for people with age disability

We know that 14% of Australia’s population is over 65 and will rise to 18% by 2061, and 420,300 Australians are aged 85 years or over and in the next 50 years this number will rise to 3.5 million people. We also know that 50.7% of Australians aged 65 and over live with disability and 85.4% of Australians aged 90 and over live with disability (

There is a range of problems that people might encounter - see

Apple - what do they do?

The areas of concern are:

  • hardware
    • keyboards, touch screens, mice, ...
  • software
    • authoring
    • browsing
  • content
    • resources
    • services

Standards for accommodations for people with disability

W3C specifications -> WCAG, ATAG, UUAG, and more.....

WCAG conformant (AAA, AA, A)

US Government procurement s. 508 DDA

Australian mandate for governments...etc

How are standards used?

When we are trying to determine what accommodation a person might need, we cannot simply look up a disability. When we are trying to decide what a reasonable adjustment might be, we have to consider the circumstances of both the provider who might be failing and the person who has a special need.

In some cases, there are 'standards' against which the resource or service being provided is assessed. Typically, this is how our governments operate - they have 'rules' and use pressure on departments etc. that have to satisfy the standards within a set time. The standards are usually based on international standards or specifications and often these come from the organisation that actually started the Web - the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Another source of standards is ISO - the International Standards Organisation and, of course, the UN.

Organisations can be prompted to follow the standards because otherwise they will be in trouble - actual or perceived - the threat of being sued or getting bad press often works - eg Coles suddenly worked on their 'accessibility' a couple of years ago despite having been threatened many times.

Microsoft avoided doing anything for years saying they were a mess production company so the few people with disabilities were not really their market. The Australian education depart ment said the same - they were introducing multimedia for the smart kids who need extra work - not for kids with disabilities.

This has all changed but especially it changed when Microsoft got some research done and discovered that 65% of people would use and benefit from accommodations. This commercial reality changed the attitudes incredibly!

Apple hardware accessibility

Imagine trying to use an iPad or a Mac without being able to see what you are doing.

Simple things like raised keys make it possible for people to type when otherwise it would be difficult. Think how many of us are happy with a flat keyboard (eg on an iPad).

When we type, we often make mistakes but most of us can see the mistakes. It helps to be alerted to them but underlining things would not help someone who couldn't see.

So, to make the keyboard accessible, Apple provide tactile information (raised buttons), sounds when the buttons are tapped and now they are making available what a lot of people with typing problems have used in the past - Dragon Dictate - so you can dictate instead of typing. Also, as we've seen, for people who can use Braille, it is possible to link in a Braille keyboard. Braille is not for everyone - only a very few blind people can manage to use Braille.

Note that we all can benefit from these features, as we might call them.

Apple software accessibility

Where procurement policies are enforced, Apple computers with on-board software were not fully accessible. People had to buy assistive technologies if they had disability and wanted to use the computer. Now, many changes have been built-in for everyone's use, and some are available to link up to assistive technologies - eg to special keyboards etc.

Authoring tools are considered accessible if they can be used by people with disability equally as by other people, and if the output of the software can also be accessible. This is quite tricky because even when the software can prioduce accessible resources and services, it can usually also be used to produce shockingly inaccessible resources and services (W3C's Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines, ATAG).

Apple provide Safari as a browser in their hardware. Safari should recognise and implement all the accessibility features of a resource or service, and of any assistive technology being used (User Agent Accessibility Guidelines, UAAG). Safari has some features that can be adapted for individual use: see Safari does not have built-in voice control but uses the inbuilt VoiceOver and Siri.

Safari Reader reduces the visual clutter. It strips away ads, buttons and navigation bars, allowing you to focus on just the content you want. And on Mac, you can choose to use Reader automatically on websites where it’s available.

Apple content accessibility

Content (ie online resources and services) should be accessible to all. This is tricky: there are so very many different possibilities that no resource or service provider could be expected to satisfy everyone's needs. In fact, it is questioned whether this could ever be possible given the potential conflicts between adjustments etc. W3C specifictions cover things that are interntionally agreed, that are technically testable. This means they provide a source of specifications and so they are used often within standards, as in Australia. But even if all the things in the W3C Guidelines are satisfied, there will be people who cannot use the resources or services.

To produce contents and services that are generally consdiered accessible (often a requirement of an organisation or government), developers work to the W3C specifications. This means that they will be closer to protecting themselves against charges of discrimination, but if the browsers people are using are not also fully standards compliant, there may still be no joy for the user.

Example: accessible browser displaying inaccessible content

Suppose we go to a website that has text such as an image of a report in The Age:

image of text

What if we want to translate that info, or to see it as yellow on a blue background, or to have it read aloud by an assistive technology? Bad luck! That image has 'captured' text but it is not in textual form so the only way to access the text might be to get an image-text converter to work on it, or ask someone to type out the text. Of course, it may be there just to show purple on white, in which case actaually reading it might not be relevant. But then, on another occasion, that same image may be in something that a person needs to read.

To help with images, W3C has included in the way information is encoded for the Web, the provision of alternative text (that tells the user what is in the image). There used to provision for a link to a long description but it was not implemented well by the browsers so it has recently been dropped. See

Apple Accessibility

So let's see what Apple say they do about accessibility: