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Asked to Make Your iOS App Accessible to Blind People? There’s a Plan for that!

May 14, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Are you a developer who has been asked to make your iOS app accessible to blind people using Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader? Are you uncertain how to respond, why you should care or where you can go to get started? I hope to demystify these questions and encourage you to create and improve your product in ways that empower and include all your customers, even those who can’t see the screens of their smart phones and tablets.

How should I respond to a request for VoiceOver accessibility in my app?

However you choose to respond, I would encourage you not to simply ignore the request. As a professional, you expect a timely response to communications you initiate, so please afford your blind customers that same courtesy when approached. Please consider the following ideas for communicating with users regarding accessibility requests:

  1. Respond to the request right away informing the customer you have received it and you will take steps to follow up promptly.
  2. If you have a bug-tracking or case management system, create a ticket and escalate it as needed in order to get an answer.
  3. If you do not possess the authority to make this strategic decision, please work with your company’s owner or executive leadership to urge them in the right direction. If you do have the necessary authority, please read on for information on how you can open your doors to your blind customers.
  4. If your business has decided to be inclusive to blind people, please respond affirmatively to your customer, utilize the resources provided here and elsewhere online and start working actively with the connected, online blind community.
  5. Regardless of the outcome, please remember to follow up with your customer by providing updates as you are able to release information to the public.

Why should I care?

There are at least four reasons why you should incorporate accessibility into your apps:

  • Accessibility is simply the right thing to do. Would you create an app designed to categorically exclude women, African-Americans, Chinese or any other group of people? If not, then why would you want to exclude blind people or anyone else with a disability? The answer to the accessibility question determines whether or not everyone, including people with disabilities, will be afforded the opportunity to learn, work, enjoy leisure activities or otherwise participate in the benefits your app offers.
  • There is a business case for accessibility.
  • Accessibility can be easy, fun and interesting. In 2015, the White House and several other U.S. government agencies sponsored a hackathon demonstrating and discussing techniques for improving the accessibility of several forms of technology.
  • Accessibility is the law of the land in many parts of the world. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and numerous other lesser-known laws require accessibility and full inclusion of people with disabilities in activities, education, employment, products, programs and services offered to the public at large. Similar laws are on the books in many other nations. Failure to empower people with disabilities to use your app may result in complaints, lawsuits, loss of business, negative publicity and a poor reputation.

Where can I go to learn more about iOS accessibility and get started with developing my apps in an inclusive manner?

Apple provides an excellent overview of all the accessibility features available on its iOS platform. The Applevis online community hosts Information For Developers On How to Build Accessible iOS and Mac Apps. Finally, a comprehensive, systematic plan has been published to aid developers and others in beta testing and evaluating the accessibility of iOS apps with VoiceOver.

There Should be Compensation and Remediation for the Real Damages Inaccessibility Causes

February 19, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I just thought I would respond to Chris Hofstader’s excellent article Stop The ADA Trolls.

While I certainly agree we shouldn’t be supporting these accessibility lawsuit trolls, I also do not feel we should be defending companies that have less-than-stellar
accessibility records. If a company has consistently failed to acknowledge accessibility advocacy and act positively to address accessibility concerns,
why shouldn’t we just leave them to be eaten by the wolves?

You see… I believe there are real damages caused by inaccessibility, and I feel we should, actually, consider a more aggressive approach toward companies
that consistently ignore us.

Blind people lose their jobs due to inaccessible software. Blind children miss out on educational opportunities due to inaccessible educational technology used in the classroom. Inaccessible apps in the new sharing economy result in a complete denial of service, which clearly counts as discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act here in the United States and other similar laws around the world. There are so many other inexcusable ways blind people are excluded because of inaccessibility. How can we put a stop to this discrimination?

Here’s how I see all this working:

  1. Blind people have been consistently advocating with a company for full inclusion / equal accessibility, but the advocacy has been completely or substantively ignored.
  2. A case is opened and documented with an accessibility advocacy clearinghouse that tracks and reports accessibility advocacy efforts and their results, or lack of effective action.
  3. A letter is sent to the company’s CEO outlining the concerns and clearly asking for equal accessibility.
  4. One or more blind persons file a lawsuit against the offending company asking for equal accessibility and for serious monetary damages, including not only the inaccessibility itself, but also for the emotional distress / pain and suffering it has caused.
  5. The lawfirm filing the suit subpoenas evidence, including the documentation from the case filed in step 2 and the letter sent in step 3.
  6. The process continues, on and on, with company after company, in a systematic and transparent manner, until we, possibly, achieve real results!

That’s right! I think the lawsuits should most certainly be filed, because companies are wrong to continue excluding us, but I think it should all be done
in a clear, above-board manner.

Accessibility in the New Year: Will You Join Me?

December 31, 2015 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

As another year ends and a new one begins, I find myself asking the question: “Do blind people have more accessibility now?” Sadly, as each year goes by, I keep coming up with the answer “no.”

So, perhaps, I should ask another question: “What do I really want?”

The answer is as simple as its implementation may be quite complex: “I want to be fully included and valued as a human adult with all the rights and responsibilities that status entails.” Put another way: “I don’t want to be left out or set aside because I happen to be blind.”

What does that mean? In as straightforward a way as I can express the sentiment, it means I want to be a productive member of society who is able to support his family and himself without undue, artificial, discriminatory barriers being imposed on me by companies, individuals or organizations. In my admittedly simplified view, if we are granted comprehensive, nonvisual accessibility to information, technology and transportation, the opportunity to enjoy full, first-class citizenship will follow.

There are many examples of the kind of accessibility I believe would allow me to realize the goal of first-class citizenship. How about a top-ten list?

  1. I would like to be able to do my job without having it continuously threatened by the thoughtless implementation of inaccessible technology that does not meet internationally-recognized accessibility standards or vendors’ developer guidelines.
  2. I want to make a cup of coffee in the morning without worrying about the power and brewing lights I can’t see.
  3. I would like to be able to fill out my time sheet on terms of equality with my sighted co-workers.
  4. I want to cook dinner knowing, for certain, that I have the oven set correctly.
  5. I would like to be able to update the apps on my iPhone, confident that each update will be at least as accessible, if not better, than the previous version.
  6. I want to do business with IRS, Social Security and other government agencies in ways that are fully accessible to me without the burden of intervention by third parties.
  7. I would like my accessibility needs to be met in a sustainable manner that works well for everyone, every time, without constantly re-inventing the wheel!
  8. I want to sign documents, exchange correspondence, access my medical records, and do all manner of other similar forms of business, all without the financial cost and loss of privacy that comes along with relying on a sighted reader.
  9. It would be nice to be able to go shopping, either online or at a brick-and-mortar store, independently, with dignity and without the bother of an inaccessible website or the need to have help from a customer service person who couldn’t care less.
  10. When I communicate with agencies, companies, individuals and organizations about accessibility concerns, I would like them to be taken for the serious, human rights issues they actually are, instead of being patted on the head, set aside and told to wait!

These, of course, represent just a drop in the bucket! I know… I want so much. I am high maintenance: a real accessibility diva! How could anyone possibly imagine that a blind person, like myself, might simply want to avail himself of all the same opportunities as sighted people? After all, how do I even manage to get out of bed, go to the bathroom or poor my own orange juice, for Heaven’s sake?

Since I don’t live in the fantasy world I have just described, and there’s no evidence flying unicorns will be discovered anytime soon, what will I resolve to do to make things better?

I will:

  1. Love and support my family and myself in the less-than-accessible world in which we cope daily.
  2. Educate myself more formally about topics relevant to the accessibility and assistive technology industries.
  3. Take at least one action to resist any case of inaccessibility that comes up while striving for balance with the need to prioritize and pick my battles effectively.
  4. Evangelize accessibility and provide agencies, companies, individuals and organizations with effective solutions and resources to move forward in a positive direction.
  5. Provide accessibility and assistive technology testing, training and encouragement in helpful ways that appropriately value my effort, money and time.

So, now, fellow readers, what will you do? Will you join me? In this new year, will you strive to overcome daily by doing all you can, each in your own way, to move accessibility forward? Will you stand up and say, yes! We can, with equal opportunity and accessibility, live the lives we want?

Accessibility: Critical Necessity or Just Another Product Feature?

October 30, 2015 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Can you imagine walking into the coffee shop down the street you have patronized for the past five years one morning only to be shown the door and told you are no longer welcome here? How would you feel if you showed up to work one day only to be informed your services were no longer needed and escorted out of the building? How would a technological equivalent to either of these scenarios feel? When a product or service is inaccessible, do you just chalk it up to a bug or incompatibility, or do you consider yourself excluded from participation on terms of equality with your sighted peers? How many of you are exhausted with the status quo of being invited in from the cold for awhile, only to find the same door has suddenly slammed shut in your face later?

Even among the most accessible companies, I believe there remains a huge disparity between their product-feature approach to accessibility and the comprehensive approach to accessibility we need in order to fully participate in the world around us on terms of equality.

What is the “product feature” approach to accessibility about which I am referring? I believe it is simply the concept that accessibility of a piece of hardware or software for people with disabilities is treated as just one of many product features. If an update to the product breaks this feature, well, that’s just too bad. It’s one of many bugs we’ll get around to fixing according to our complex prioritization scheme and product release cycle. The key point is that, even when it is supposedly built into a product, accessibility is still often treated as a separate, optional capability.

In contrast, employing a comprehensive approach means that a product is developed with accessibility baked in as part of its core functionality. Product design is conducted with the needs of everyone, including people with disabilities, in mind. Product development is conducted in accordance with internationally accepted accessibility industry standards and vendor’s accessibility standards. When a line of code is created or changed, accessibility implications are always considered among the possible implications for users.

So, where do we go from here? While the overall amount of accessibility of technology-based products and services is probably increasing for blind people, it is not consistent. What was accessible yesterday may have just become inaccessible today, and might or might not become accessible again tomorrow. As a blind community, we must not let the current state of affairs stand unchallenged! So, what can we do to make things better? How can we get accessibility elevated from just another nice-to-have product feature to an essential component?

I think it’s time for us to get serious about a Concerted, Multidisciplinary, Organized and Systematic Approach to accessibility advocacy! Let’s form a serious team of paid accessibility advocates who help companies, government agencies and organizations improve their accessibility and assist other advocates in their outreach efforts.

That’s right. The article I wrote over seven years ago about the need for effective approaches to accessibility advocacy still rings true today. What do all of you think? What steps are we willing to take today to work effectively toward a brighter, much more accessible future?

Categories: accessibility, advocacy

Prime Time Power: Rethinking Windows Accessibility

March 12, 2015 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 32-minute podcast from the 2015 CSUN conference, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow speak with Paul Warner from VICT Consultancy and learn all about the upcoming AT Prime accessibility optimizer for Windows applications. Slated for release in the latter half of 2015, AT Prime will be able to dig deep into the Windows system to help screen reader users navigate and read controls previously thought unreachable. Potential security concerns are also discussed.

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Categories: accessibility, CSUN, podcast

iOS 8 Accessibility Call to Action

September 17, 2014 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

iOS 8 hit the street with accessibility bugs that severely impact bluetooth keyboards, Braille support, screen scrolling and other critical areas of the operating system on which blind VoiceOver users rely in order to effectively use iOS devices. A list of The Accessibility Bugs in iOS 8: From Serious To Minor effectively describes the situation on iOS 8 launch day.

Accessibility bugs impact not only people who want to stay current with the latest version of iOS on their existing devices, but they also affect those who have purchased a new iPhone 6, where there is no choice to downgrade the version of iOS.

Let’s help the decisionmakers at Apple understand that we want an equal seat at the Apple table. We want to be able to use our iOS devices on terms of equality with the sighted. Since VoiceOver is built into iOS, that means we need Apple to make correcting accessibility-related bugs a high priority.

How You Can Help

If you are a blind or low-vision iOS user, or you are someone who cares about one, we ask that you please take at least one of the following action steps:

  • If you upgraded to iOS 8 or you bought an iPhone 6 or 6+, email or call Apple’s accessibility team at 1-877-204-3930 and ask for resolution of the accessibility bugs found during the iOS 8 developer beta.
  • If you have not yet upgraded to iOS 8, or you are hesitant to purchase a new iPhone, email or call Apple’s accessibility team at 1-877-204-3930 and explain how your upgrading and purchasing decision is being impacted by new accessibility barriers introduced in iOS 8.
  • Email Tim Cook ( or tweet him @tim_cook asking him to direct Apple’s iOS developers to address the accessibility bugs discovered by blind VoiceOver users during the iOS 8 developer beta cycle.
  • Post on Twitter about your iOS 8 accessibility concerns by mentioning AppleAx and including the #apple, #ios8 and #a11y hashtags.

Let’s all take action today to insure a brighter future for blind, deaf-blind and low-vision people in the Apple ecosystem.

Accessibility Report on Foursquare 5.0 for iOS

June 7, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 26-minute podcast, Darrell Shandrow demonstrates some of the VoiceOver accessibility concerns found in the latest Foursquare 5.0 iOS app update.

On the heels of its Wednesday update, Foursquare posted a brief article on its support website stating that accessibility is a “top priority,” inviting users to submit problem reports to We urge all blind Foursquare users who rely on VoiceOver to submit a clearly-written accessibility report to Foursquare as soon as possible.

The following accessibility report has been sent to Foursquare’s development team at for their consideration.

Hello Foursquare Development Team,

I am writing to thank you for inviting the blind VoiceOver user community to be part of the Foursquare accessibility development process and to report my accessibility concerns with Foursquare 5.0.

There are two primary accessibility issues throughout the new app’s user interface: unlabeled buttons and elements that provide no accessible information. I will demonstrate these by way of a podcast and a step-by-step write-up. It is my hope that the podcast will serve as a live example while the write-up will represent a concise description of the issues.

Please be sure VoiceOver is enabled on your iOS device in Settings > General > Accessibility >VoiceOver before opening Foursquare and following these steps.

Friends Tab

  1. Double tap the Friends tab in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
  2. Flick to the right repeatedly through this screen, listening to VoiceOver speak each user interface element.
  3. Listen to VoiceOver read elements such as “button,” “activity btn comment” and “activity btn like.”
  4. Observe that it takes five or six right flicks to read the information about each friend in the new user interface where it used to require just one.
  5. Notice there’s no longer an option to select between “near by” and “world wide” friends. Either this option is no longer available or it is not accessible to VoiceOver users.


  1. Tap the top of the Friends screen with four fingers to make sure you are at the top. VoiceOver should say “Logo.”
  2. Flick right once to and double tap the “Global Checkin” button.
  3. Flick right repeatedly through the checkin screen, listening to VoiceOver read each user interface element.
  4. Notice that VoiceOver says “map” before reading the first place on the list. The meaning of this is unclear. Are we missing some important context or information?
  5. Continuing to flick right through the list, listen for an element that says “current location.” Double tapping this element seems to do nothing except repeat “current location.” What is happening with this item?


  1. Tap the top of the screen with four fingers. VoiceOver should say “Logo.”
  2. Flick to the right repeatedly through this screen, listening to VoiceOver speak each user interface element.
  3. Notice that VoiceOver says “map” before reading the first place on the list. The meaning of this is unclear. Are we missing some important context or information?
  4. Continuing to flick right through the list, listen for an element that says “current location.” Double tapping this element seems to do nothing except repeat “current location.” What is happening with this item?
  5. As you flick to the right, observe several elements where VoiceOver clicks and says nothing.

Please feel free to let me know if I may beta test or be of further assistance in your accessibility efforts.

Darrell Shandrow

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

New Blio for iOS app: A Brief Demo

July 14, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This approximately 18-minute podcast represents a brief run-through of the new Blio ebook reading app for iOS developed by KNFB Reading Technology, Inc.

While the Blio app is VoiceOver accessible, I have reached the following observations, which are clearly demonstrated in the podcast:

  • The app is sloppy and clearly not ready for primetime. I’m surprised Apple approved it in its current form.
  • The Blio reading experience is unsatisfying.
  • Blio for iOS lacks important navigation, such as lines, sentences and paragraphs, one might expect while reading books.
  • Finally, the app lacks a help section or tutorial page.

Listen or Pause – Brief Blio Demo

Download – Brief Blio Demo

Categories: accessibility, podcast

Updated SoundHound App Restores VoiceOver Accessibility

June 19, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

SoundHound restored VoiceOver accessibility for its blind customers in the app’s June 16 version 3.6.3 update. This approximately 14-minute podcast demonstrates the improved navigation and reading of music identification results.

The update represents a significant move in the right direction. While all information is now available by flicking through the results window, its unstructured layout could cause confusion. It is not immediately apparent which field represents a song’s artist and its title. Labeling of fields and use of VoiceOver hints would significantly increase readability.

We thank SoundHound for its responsiveness and look forward to future accessibility enhancements.

Listen or Pause – SoundHound Accessibility Update

Download – SoundHound Accessibility Update

Categories: accessibility, iPhone, podcast

Important: Blind Students Needed to Test E-Books at the 2011 NFB Convention!

June 15, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Dear students,

Pearson, one of the leading college textbook publishers, has set up a special session at the NFB national convention to get feedback from blind students regarding the accessibility of a new math workbook they are developing. They would like to get 15 students to meet with them during this session, and so far, only four have signed up. We would really like to support Pearson in their initiative to make online learning materials accessible. Please help us out by signing up for this session on Thursday, July 7, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. If you have any free time between 7 and 9 on Thursday, even if it’s not the whole two hours, please let me know-we may be able to work around your schedules so we can get as many student participants as possible.

If you would like to help with the testing, please email me as soon as possible at nabs (dot) president (at) gmail (dot) com so I can give your name to Clara at the national center. Thanks in advance for your help in improving accessibility for blind students.

Arielle Silverman, President
National Association of Blind Students

Categories: accessibility