It was more than thirty years ago. My professional feelings were hurt. I had worked very hard for a long time and I was being passed over on something that felt important to me. The more I thought about it, the more it just didn't sit right. I trudged up the hill to my boss's office. No one had been nasty to me. No one had tampered with my budget, and no one had cut my salary. I walked in and shut the door. My boss could tell I was not a happy camper. He asked me what was the matter. I started my long-winded whine. I told him that, in his newly acquired staff office area, he had assigned the largest office, with the beautiful wood paneling, to someone else. I complained that I ran a much larger unit and could really use the extra floor space. My newly assigned hovel was down the hall, considerably smaller, with white, textured, sheetrock walls. Ugh. I felt ignored.
My boss sat back. He seemed mildly amused. He asked, with a smile in his voice, "Did you ever tell me you wanted that office?"
"Uh, no. I assumed..."
My boss responded that I could have had that office, if only I had asked.
I crept quietly back down the hill, a bit humbled, and moved into my new shoebox office. A lesson learned. Don't assume. And, be nice and be heard. "Polite and clear" became my new mantra.
Nowadays, I am a retired fellow who uses his iPhone as his only computer. I love carrying around my iPhone 13 mini, along with a Magic Keyboard and my AirPods Pro. With this delightfully small combination of tools, the world has become my new office. And, this new office is paneled with live oaks an cedars.
Even so, I still have a significant challenge when using technology. I am totally blind and depend on VoiceOver, along with the accessibility support built into the operating system and the many apps I use. Sometimes, critical accessibility features don't work or cease working. And, when access breaks, it is time for polite and clear. Time to fill in a form or write a letter. If I don't report the problem, who will?
Admittedly, often, I get lazy and wait for miracles to happen. Surely the Apple engineers or app developer will suddenly become cognizant of an accessibility hurdle they have thrown in my path. Sometimes those miracles do happen. But, frequently, once a feature or app becomes inaccessible, it stays that way for a very, very long time.
And yet, if I take a few minutes to write up my concerns, polite and clear, I can make a difference. As our friends at AppleVis often remind us, the more folks who submit feedback, the greater the likelihood of a fix.
When you do contact a developer, make sure you also include detailed instructions so that they can replicate the problem. Additionally, let them know what hardware, operating system, and software versions you are running. Finally, I think it is useful to include the excellent AppleVis link: Information for Developers on how to Build Accessible iOS, iPadOS, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV Apps.
I've personally seen what polite and clear can do when reporting accessibility problems. Many years ago, I wrote up my thoughts to the developer of Nebulous Notes and was delighted at his willingness to exchange numerous messages and improve access to his app. Nice guy. I also exchanged many emails with the developers of "Ferrite" and "Voice Dream Reader" with wonderful results.
However, as I recently discovered, we are not restricted to communicating via plain text. A few weeks ago, I listened to another one of Thomas Domville's very useful podcasts. This one was titled, "AppleVis Extra #92: Bridging the ￼Accessibility Gap with Chris Kolbu". The part I enjoyed most about the interview was how Thomas interacted with Chris regarding an accessibility glitch in Mastodon Ice Cubes. Thomas not only was polite and clear, he created audio recordings of the bug as it occurred. The audio file clearly demonstrated the issue and allowed the bug to manifest itself in the way that we see it -- audibly. I've never tried documenting a bug with audio, but I sure like the idea. Either mailing a short audio file or posting it in the cloud, does feel like a great way to enhance our interactions with developers.
Of course, I still need to do a better job of reporting bugs to Apple and other app developers. For instance, I think I dropped the ball in reporting my frustrations with using hardware keyboards with iPhone text editing. The old keyboard shortcuts have been undependable since about iOS 9. I've written perhaps three polite and clear letters, and I have seen a teeny bit of attention given to the problem over the years, but I suspect more letters should be written. Follow-up is important, too. Perhaps a descriptive audio file would help with my next report.
Polite and clear has served me well over the decades. I retired from the University of Texas where I applied that lesson many, many times, and it sometimes worked. During my long career, I had offices all over campus. For a couple years, I was next to an operating nuclear reactor. That was, shall we say, interesting. Later, my office was underground, in what was affectionately known as "the Bunker." Gotta keep those computers safe from attack, you know. But, nothing was as cool as my last office. I had a rare opportunity to move into the tallest building on campus, the iconic Tower, rising from the center of the Main Building. The Tower has 27 floors, each with only three windows per side. I was offered an office on the 26th floor. There were a couple of comfortable offices available. One faced west towards a bunch of buildings. The other faced south, directly at the Texas State Capitol, about a mile away. I couldn't see it, but I knew that window had one of the most spectacular views on campus. I did not "assume" anything on this occasion. I was polite and I was clear. "Thank you. I want the view."
For the rest of my time at the University, I never had to walk to a meeting in someone else's office. Everyone wanted to come to mine.
This is my thirtieth blog for AppleVis. What a great place to hang out.
I was inspired to write this blog after listening to Thomas Domville's recent podcast that served as such an important reminder about how all of us need to speak up when we run into accessibility gotchas. And, while I am thinking of it, I'd like to publicly thank Thomas for all the podcasts he puts together for our community. My work is periodic, but his efforts are constant. Thank you Thomas, and thanks to the rest of the crew who give so much of their time and energy to AppleVis.
Please do leave your comments below. Part of the pleasure of writing these columns is the chance to interact with those who offer their feedback. Another big plus is learning directly from you. If you have time, please share your own approach to alerting Apple and developers of accessibility hiccups and challenges.
If you are interested, you can find three of my older blogs at the following links: "I Felt Powerless, Again", "In Your Ear, Bud: What Are You Wearing?" and "Say What? : Hearing Aids, iPhones and My Apple Watch".
As I’m slowly starting to begin developing into my mid teenage years, I love this post. I have been reading your posts for awhile now, and they’re perfectly balanced with human life lessons. Thank you,
I would also like to thank the enormously great team in this awesome, Impressive website for doing what they do
You nailed it, Morgan: "And yet, if I take a few minutes to write up my concerns, polite and clear, I can make a difference. As our friends at AppleVis often remind us, the more folks who submit feedback, the greater the likelihood of a fix."
I wish it worked that way more often.
I agree with the original poster, but I also believe strongly that being nice doesn't guarantee anything. If the companies don't want to spend money to fix the bugs, they won't spend it no matter how nice you are. Also, the more complex the system, the harder the bugs are to fix, even if companies wish to do so. Systems that do less perform better.
If Apple corporate would quit sitting on their cash pile and spend some on debugging, we'd all be happier. That wouldn't look so good in the quarterly report, so don't count on it.
Do you agree with the old saying,
You catch more flies with honey?
Awesome article, Morgan! The…
Awesome article, Morgan! The nice approach is always the way to start, I agree. Diplomacy is a good skill to hone whenever possible. I hope retirement is treating you well and thank you again!
You can never go wrong with "nice"
Whether it's reporting an app issue or speaking with the poor kid working customer support, I always try to include the phrase, "by the way, thanks for helping me out today". It does wonders.
Remember that the squeaky wheel gets the attention, not the silent one.
Nice should be the very…
Nice should be the very first tool we reach for in our tool kit. You are quite right in your article, many people are often unaware there is a problem so highlighting it and suggesting a fix is often all we need. Sadly, it's not always all we need. Hidden down in our toolbox there should be those tools that, though unsightly, we should not forget about. Twitter, when it wasn't on fire, was an excellent place to advocate for change, especially when commenting on a post. Pointing out a difficulty, pointing out that nothing has been done about it, and making sure that other paying customers see this grievance, often gets the ball rolling. It's ugly, I don't like doing it, but we do deserve better.
Howdy Ima speak up2009
Thank you for such a nice message! That was a really nice way to start my day. And, I'm glad you enjoyed the article.
I share your enthusiasm for the AppleVis crew! I really admire their work. This is a fun place to hang out!
Reply to Bruce H.
Thanks for your note. A close friend of mine is known for his own mantra of "It's nice to be nice."
Do I know that polite and clear will not always yield the desired results? Of course, but it's a nice place to start.
Thanks for touching base.
Reply to Chris
I agree that being nice is no guarantee of success, but my getting annoyed seldom works either, and at my age, I sure don't mind skipping the tachycardia phase. That is not to say that I never show irritation about bugs that really impact my work, but generally, if I don't see a fix, I start looking for work-arounds. I suspect much of my daily routine is hobbled together with work-arounds. Even so, the gentler approach is easier on me and it does work, sometimes.
Chris, thank you for writing. It's great to hear from you!
Thank you for the collum
Hello, thank you for this blog entry.☺️ I have recently written to apple accessibility thanking them for what they do. At the same time, reminding them that while we look forward to the new things that they are working on, that its important that they continue to focus on accessibility of current products. I have taken some time to mention about Voiceover on the Mac since I am of the view that this has lost some love and needs addressing.
Reply to Scott Davert
Wonderful to hear from you! It's quite a treat to hear from someone who is one of my favorite contributors to AppleVis!
I agree, diplomacy is worth the effort. Like anything else, it won't always work, but it is a lot more fun to win with that approach. It reminds me of another saying I like, "Kindness, brains and charm, in that order, works.
Retirement is good. Thanks for asking. I got my family, my mandolin and my iPhone. What else does a fellow need? Oh, yeah. Apple Watch, Air Pods Pro and some other goodies.
I hope you are doing great as well. Thanks for writing.
Thanks for the memories!
At the risk of seriously dating myself, I’m wondering if anyone else remembers the foundation for the junior blind? Its motto was it’s nice to be nice! We were teenagers, we of course said that it was keen to be mean! But we didn’t believe it! Thanks for the smiles!
At the risk of going way off topic, my first visit there was in the 60's. I also went to their program for newly blinded adults. I didn't care for the place, but they did have good people doing good things for me and others who needed it. smile
Reply to Paul Martz
I like your approach. I also always start my conversations with Help Desk folks by getting their names and using it in our conversation. It is a bit more personal, and if things do not work quite the way I would hope, then at least I know who I was speaking with.
Thanks for writing, Paul. Really nice to hear from you.
Reply to Holger Fiallo
You're right, the squeaky one gets attention. It's nice to be mice. We have to be heard before things get fixed.
As always, Holger, it is really nice to hear from you!
Reply to Oliver Kennett
Tis true! I, too, have hidden compartments in my toolkit for use when there is too much resistance or ignorance in the way. I still try to keep all my tools clothed in politeness, both because it generally works better and because I don't want someone trying to dismiss my feedback because they think I am grumbling or growling. Even so, helping others discover and embrace the importance of accessibility is just plain essential.
Oliver, thanks for writing. It was really great to hear from you!
Reply to cjsims
I've also thanked Apple Accessibility for their support. And yet, I would personally be quite content with really stable iPhone VoiceOver access tools with each iteration and perhaps a few fewer new ones. Consistency in all aspects of VoiceOver would be great. Each little update does make me wonder what might break or act just a tad different. Still, I do love what we have. My iPhone is my primary computer and I am generally quite pleased.
I do share your wish that the Mac VoiceOver interface received more attention. I switched from Jaws to VoiceOver in January 2013 after using Windows since October 1999 and found the Mac much more stable, but a difficult quagmire to traverse. (I had some residual vision until 1999 and used outSpoken and Talk2Me software on the Mac since almost the beginning.) Once I found enough comparable tools on my iPhone, I left all desktops and laptops behind. But, for those who need the full computer toolset, I hope the Mac can become even easier to use.
Thanks for your note and observations,
Howdy Grandma Rachael!
Dear Grandma Rachael,
Thanks for sharing your memories about "Nice to be nice." That was fun!
And thanks for writing!
I agree with your appoach
Howdy, Morgan! It's always a wonderful intertaining read when I see one of your blog posts! :-) I will saay that, I do agree with your approach. Whether it's apps, asking for files in alternative formats, etc. I also try and go above and beyond with a CS. or tech rep. I'll admit, frustration can and has gotten in the way, and, we're all human.
However, I'll add one thing to this. Yes, I agree, nice is always best! But, I think sometimes, you just have to be firm, and also, niceAND firm. I've done both. I'm a HUGE proponent of self-advocacy. I also do some advocacy volunteering with a grassroots advocacy group in my state called Breaking Silences. More spicifically, I am on their Accessibity Accommidations Committee. So, even though this is voluntary, I still do get to do this kind of stuff in a lot of ways.
I have submiarted screenshots, screen recordings, and audio files before. All while explaining that I use Voiceover so, quality might not be the greatest. I have even offered to send those things before. I can tell you that yes, might not get results all the time, but, when it does, devs have emailed me back thanking me profusely. Do I have to submit more files at times? Yes, and I do so when/if I can when requested.
I have also done screensharing sessions with tech support. Which, they also find use/helpful. So do the ingineers. ;-) :-)
One more thing. While I do try and find workarounds, when I email or speak to someone, I typically say something like the following:
While have I δ a workaround for this issue, which is, (explain the workaround in its entireity) it is by no means practical, user-friendly, etc for my use-case. Or, I'll say something about the time-consumption and slowness of it will and has done the sme thing. I'll even explain in at least a bit more detail about my use case. Same thing goes with a broken feature.
I will also admit, that, I do try and find and use some humor when where and if I can. It gets the rep laughing, I'm laughing, but my point is made. Because sometimes, you just gotta laugh! :-) An example of when I used this approach, is with a mental health/mood tracker app called Finch.
I don't recall exactly what I wrote in emails, but, I said something to the effect of,
These issues make things frustrating for me, which, is ironic due to this being a mental health app." :-)
I hope we get to read 30 more blog entries from you! :-)
What a great letter! I enjoyed reading about your advocacy efforts and I enjoyed your writing. And, I agree that sometimes we need to push in order to make things happen. Even so, as you suggest, humor and kindness work well together.
When I was still working, I often modified my "polite and clear" mantra to "polite and blunt." It goes well when both parties in a conversation or negotiating session keep everything polite and nice, but truly wonderful when all the unnecessary word salad is trimmed out and everyone can get to the point. Blunt is great when done with warmth and clarity.
Dawn, your note was fun and informative. Thanks for sharing your perspectives!
Iron Hand In a Velvet Glove
Thank you for this. I totally agree with you. Last year there was an accessibility issue with a state voting site for the disabled. At first I wasn’t going to say anything, but then I started thinking about others who didn’t have the option of having a family member assist, or who just wanted to vote independently. I wrote to the webmaster, and it was an oversight that caused the problem. It was so gratifying to be able to bring this to someone’s attention. I’ve also worked with app developers on specific apps and brought issues to Apple’s accessibility folks. Even if I get one response, it’s worth it to me.
Reply To Grandma Rachel Re: Camp Bloomfield
I didn’t go to many activities there, because I lived 200 miles away, but I did go to Camp Bloomfield as a teenager. I loved it, especially the outdoor activities. Ok, enough OT; back to regularly scheduled nice to be nice. LOL