In the latest versions of iOS and macOS, Apple introduced a new setting called “Accessibility Events” for users of assistive technology.
This new feature tells websites when an assistive technology, such as a screen reader, is being used by the site visitor, enabling developers to customize the behavior of the website accordingly. One example would be to ensure that any custom controls such as custom web sliders are accessible by users.
For blind web users, this should have been received as a positive step towards enhancing the accessibility and user experience of the content on the web.
Unfortunately, the actual reaction of many was far from positive, as Apple's launch of this new feature left a lot to be desired:
- There was minimal documentation provided on what Accessibility Events is and how it works.
- The setting is somewhat ‘buried’ in the OS settings, where many users would likely never stumble upon it.
- The setting appeared to be enabled by default.
It was the last of these which caused the greatest consternation, with many people arguing it shouldn’t be on by default as they don’t want websites or their developers knowing they are blind.
Today, Apple has published a Knowledge Base article about Accessibility Events in which it addresses people's concerns and provides more information on this new feature.
Probably most significant in this article, is the clarification that Accessibility Events is in fact not enabled by default:
While the Accessibility Events control is on by default, the feature only functions when the AOM setting is enabled, which is a developer feature that is off by default.
Essentially, there is a second setting even more buried away in the OS settings which is disabled by default, and needs to be enabled in conjunction with the Accessibility Events setting before your Mac or iOS device will tell websites that you are using an assistive technology.
Accessibility Events is a sub-feature of the Accessibility Object Model (AOM) project, which “aims to develop additions to the web platform to allow developers to provide information to assistive technology APIs, and to understand what information browsers provide to those APIs.” It is a joint W3C effort by Apple, Google, and the Mozilla Foundation.
In its Knowledge Base article, Apple stresses that Accessibility Events is part of the company's longstanding commitments to both accessibility and privacy:
The Accessibility Events feature does not allow websites to specifically query whether individuals are using a screen reader or other specific assistive technology, nor does it provide information about a user's ability or disability. However, web developers might be aware that assistive technology is active on a device, in order to deliver a website that is compatible with the assistive technology.
The information now provided by Apple on the Accessibility Events setting should go a long way towards addressing the legitimate concerns that many had about this feature - most particularly those of us who believed that Apple might be sharing our blindness status without our knowledge or consent.
What are your thoughts now on the Accessibility Events feature? Are you reassured by the information that Apple has made available? Or do you still have concerns? Let us know in the comments below!
How to Enable Accessibility Events
- Go to Settings > Safari > Advanced > Experimental Features.
- Tap to turn on Accessibility Object Model.
- Tap Settings > General > Accessibility to make sure that Accessibility Events is turned on for VoiceOver and Switch Control. For VoiceOver, tap VoiceOver > Web > Accessibility Events. Or for Switch Control, tap Switch Control > Web > Accessibility Events.
- Choose Safari > Preferences.
- Click Advanced, then select Show Develop Menu in menu bar.
- From the Safari menu bar, choose Develop > Experimental Features > Accessibility Object Model.
- Make sure that Accessibility Events is turned on in > System Preferences > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Open VoiceOver Utility > Web > General > Accessibility Events.