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".