AppleVis Extra 57: Sarah Herrlinger, Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives at Apple

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In this episode of the AppleVis Extra, hosts Dave Nason and Thomas Domville are joined by Sarah Herrlinger, Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives at Apple.

Topics covered in the discussion include Sarah's role at Apple; the importance of accessibility in the world of technology; Apple's own culture of creating inclusive technology; how Apple works with 3rd party developers to ensure the accessibility of their apps; and Sarah's recent election to the National Board of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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19 Comments

#1 Great podcast, thanks for

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Great podcast, thanks for this. It’s a huge step forward to have someone from Apple engaging with us on AppleVis.

#2 Agreed

Couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you Sarah and everybody else at Apple for being awesome and recognizing the need for universal access.

#3 A little disappointed

Hello,
I have to disagree here. I thought the podcast was a little light. Here is what I mean. On the surface the everyone can code initiative looks good. However when you dig in a little it kinda falls apart. On the iPad swift playgrounds is accessible but when you have to go to the mac to actually use what you learn, its not fun. Voiceover and Xcode do not work well together at all. While it might be mostly accessible Xcode is not user friendly at all. Also the everyone can code has books in the iBooks store that can be used to learn swift as well. iBooks on the mac is horrible for accessibility. It is more accessible on iOS but reading a coding book on the iPhone or iPad is not ideal at all. Voiceover on the Mac is starting to severely lag behind its Windows counterparts. This is what I meant when I said the podcast was light. No one ever seems to want to ask them the harder questions. I want to be able to use my Mac more efficiently but the underlying issues are not being looked at and discussed.

#4 Agreed with Greg

I completely echo everything Greg said. Why weren't the more important questions concerning macOS and stability discussed? If I had the opportunity to sit down with someone influential from Apple, I would have asked the following:

Why has VoiceOver development in macOS gone stagnant since Lion? Why is it that despite many bug reports and suggestions, issues are unsolved between minor OS updates and may or may not be resolved until the next major version is released? Is the Macintosh platform taken seriously anymore?

#5 two fan boys.

yes, I completely agree. a dialogue, interview, made by two fan boys, who seemed most to be in love with her ... we are very poorly represented ... what a big disappointment ...

#6 “Light” was almost certainly the only option

It's almost certainly naive to think that Apple would have agreed to an interview that was going to be anything other than “light”. Apart from when they are trying to manage some sort of PR crisis, they simply aren't going to put their people out there to be asked tough questions or put in a position where they have to acknowledge that everything isn't perfect with Apple.

My assumption is that Apple approved or suggested the topics ahead of time here; and then still have PR people sat ready to jump in if discussion strayed.

As much as I would have loved to have heard something of more substance, it was simply never going to happen.

My only real take-away was that a member of Apple's management team was prepared to take time out of WWDC to talk with this community. That was kind of neat to see. Sarah, thank you for this, but you will get an even bigger thank you when Apple address the longstanding accessibility issues that frustrate me many times daily.

#7 Interview or comersial?

Makes me wander who works for apple. Sarah, Dave or Thomas. Specially when apple team discussed the issues that WWDC did not talk about accessibility. They did not challenge her about why apple did not mention anything about accessibility unlike what google and Microsoft ddid on their own presentation. They also did not challenge about issues with BRL, bugs that continue even so we report and issues with accessibility with apps. I am aware that Dave and Thomas are not news people but they suppose to represent the people with disability who uses apple products. Even in college I was taught that you focus on the what, when, where, why, who and how about an interview. Maybe they were told what they could and could not ask. If that is so, they should had cancel and did not do the interview. I do love apple iPhone. I had an iPhone since 4.

#8 Disappointed with the Interview

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Firstly, thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast and taking the time to leave your comment here on the site.

As I know it will disappoint to some people because we did not ask those tough and hard questions. As one simply put it. We ask some relatively light questions. I can't dispute that and as the matter of fact they were generic questions.

This interview purpose is merely to put a focus of who Sarah and what she does for Apple. It was also to ask a various of questions of her thoughts and the view of Apple for accessibility and lastly to recognize her in becoming a member of the AFB National Board.

As anyone that have done interviews with a high-profile person in any origination will know that tough and hard questions will find you with no podcast or interview. As I understand as some people will have an issue with this and I won't disagree with you, but this is how it will be.

This isn't just Apple as the matter of fact. As we have tried to reach out to Microsoft before to have them on and we were simply faced with the same problem. We were told you can't ask any tough and hard questions. so, to put the blame squarely on Apple or two Apple Fanboys is rather disappointing to hear.

This would be the same if we were to have somebody from Facebook, Google, another high-end company on for an interview. They all have the same set of rules. So, to discuss hard and tough questions for the Google Accessibility Team for the Android would have ended up with the same results.

It isn't realistic, and it is very apparent that some people just don't have a single clue how politics will come in to play. Believe me I would have loved to ask those hard and tough questions if I could. You bet I would do that in a heartbeat when I can and if they will allow me to do that.

So, I am also a bit disappointed we couldn't have more topics to satisfied everyone, but we decided this was the best we could offer and thought something was better than nothing.

Lastly, I am a bit disappointed and offended by some of the comments that was made on this post. Alright, so if we are two Apple Fanboys that is fine. Name call all you want. The last time I checked it was called being courteous and respectful to somebody that is in a high profile. To even to get an opportunity like this doesn't always just plop in to people's lap and we were honored to have Sarah on for the interview. Sure, we had some guidelines to follow and if this what you call two Apple fanboys. So be it. I suppose if I had somebody from a high profile from Google and the same interview happened. You just be calling me two Google fanboys. Sigh.

Damn if I do and Damn if I don't.

To those that enjoyed the podcast interview. It was our pleasure and thank you so much for taking your time to listen to the podcast. Those that didn't enjoy it. I'm sorry to hear about that and I respect your opinion. I am sorry we couldn't offer a better set of questions or quality for you. Again, we are just volunteers and not being paid or professionals.

Thanks.

#9 Interview

In that case, I think is better not having them. Yes all of us like apple and will continue to purchase iPhone for accessibility. The comment was not to be in anyway to be disrespected to Dave and Thomas but if they take the responsibility to do interview they need to take the comments even when they may not be for it. May the apple be with all of us.

#10 My Response

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Firstly, thanks to everyone for giving it a listen and for your thoughts, good and bad.
While I fully understand what some of you are saying, I will explain the approach taken.
Apple, like most large corporations, are extremely careful and considered about what they put out there in the public domain. We simply did not have the opportunity to ask such challenging questions. We required a level of pre approval of what areas would be discussed even to get an interview. You would get the same thing from Facebook, Google or Amazon. How often have you heard a truly hard hitting interview with Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, or Larry Page, even by professional publications, let alone a volunteer run website?
So why did we do the interview? We had the very rare opportunity to secure an interview with someone very high up in Apple. Someone indeed who is extremely committed and of high integrity as we can hear in the podcast. We felt that her willingness, end that of the PR team to give us this time, to acknowledge and reach out to our community, was still very worthwhile.
Do Sarah and her colleagues know that Apple isn't perfect and that there are problems, of course they do. But while they do encourage feedback, they simply do not typically engage in those conversations on public platforms.
Sarah has recently joined the board of the American Foundation for the Blind, and now we have begun to build a relationship. I believe that is of value and something that can be built upon.
I certainly know that Apple isn't perfect, and yes we need to push them and all companies to meet our needs, but honestly I also recognise the culture at Apple as being broadly very positive in this space, and a culture that they broadly at least try to live up to. Honestly we would be in a great place if more companies and organizations had that culture.
So while I find the personal insults to be unnecessary and unhelpful, I do genuinely, thank you for the comments, absolutely recognise where you are coming from, and hope my response is satisfactory.

#11 Comments

Hello,
Somehow this post also got posted in another thread I am posting on. I apologize for that mix up. First off I never meant my comments to be insulting in any way. If they came off that way I apologize for it. I am just getting more and more frustrated
with my Mac the more I try and be productive with it. We never seem to be able to ask the hard questions that are of vital importance to those of us who
use Voiceover on the Mac. I am also super frustrated at this everyone can code initiative they are talking about. As long as you use Swift Playgrounds
on the iPad it is accessible. However when you move to the Mac it gets very, very frustrating trying to use XCode to code anything. We can't even use the
simulator function of XCode to test our apps. We have to have a spare device sitting around so we can put the app on it to test. It has to be a spare device
because an app could make the phone unusable if not careful. We have been submitting bug reports on trying to get this better but they never seem to be
addressed.

Greg Wocher

#12 I Get Thomas's Point

Hello,

Thanks for your responses. I get where you are coming from and did not mean the above comment to be offensive to either of you. It just irritates me that Apple seems to have this attitude of "We can't do any wrong and you can't talk about it with your users". I wonder if we will ever get anywhere if Apple refuses to engage in some constructive criticism from users?

Having said all that, it's still great that we got to hear from someone high up in Apple. This might be the one and only time knowing the company's extremely secretive and tight-lipped attitude.

#13 Comments

No-one here who put a comment attempted to pick on anyone. We felt that we needed to be honest regarding our comments. Otherwise what is the point of asking for feedback.

#14 Some thoughts

First of all, thanks to the whole AppleVis team for all the work including the podcasts.
Of course the questions where not that heavy. I highly understand that from a political side.
On the other hand, Sarah wondered why Swift Playground is not that much used by blind people so far. Personally, I have not been very motivated to use it because I know Xcode and it takes some efords to use it with VoiceOver. In other words: instead of creating great programs I'm finding myself using most of my energy to handle the UI when I try to build apps. With that perspective in mind I never cared about Swift Playgrounds.
Isn't there a way to talk about this in a constructive way, without insulting anyone and without
criticising of course? Or would it simply be too much to give her a little hint about that issue?
Comparing to Windows 10, VO is quite buggy and behaves inconsistently on the MAC. I'd love to use the Mac a lot more in my daily work but sadly, Win10 and JAWS/NVDA often are just the faster and more reliable choice at the moment.

#15 I think we can try just a bit harder as a blind community...

I agree with Chris, Greg and others... The interview was a softball...

While I understand all the political and public-relations considerations involved, I think there were several points where the interviewers might have worked in some good follow-up questioning based on Sarah's own comments.

I and others here are not, by any means, saying we should act like jerks, be unprofessional or otherwise do anything directly to burn bridges with Sarah specifically or with Apple in general.

On the other hand, I think there are ways we can ask challenging questions in a polite, professional manner that will show the other side that we are a serious community deserving consideration and respect.

I think there is a balance between being a jerk and being a fan boy/girl, and that balance was definitely not achieved in this podcast.

After all this, I do realize Applevis is a volunteer effort, and it is much easier for all of us to armchair quarterback after the fact without actually moving to do anything about it ourselves.

The only reason I am chiming in here is to say this is not just an Applevis problem. I see a lot of softballing going on with other blind-community podcasts as well.

#16 Softballing

Darrell's last observation is where I would like to start: I've been listening to blindness technology interviews for more years than I care to remember. Product specialists are very happy to talk about how good their products are, but they have the power and resources to refuse to talk about more difficult things. if you want to talk about those difficult things you've got no chance at all unless you're a big media organisation, and even then you'll have problems. it happens all the time. Your sportsmen do it too - "David warner will give you an exclusive interview, but don't ask him about X, Y or Z or else that's it." so I have a lot of sympathy with the makers of this podcast.

To those who say that we should simply not bother with these interviews in that case, I just want to add another point into the mix: on the last two occasions I've visited Apple Stores the sales reps and geniuses have mentioned Applevis. A couple of weeks ago I went to look at Face ID and the sales rep who was looking after me went onto Applevis and looked up that really good blog post (the one I think Dave82 wrote) about it. The time before that, a genius went onto Applevis to find out whether other blind people were unable to download Siri voices when updating IOS10 (remember that bug?). Both these guys resorted to Applevis unprompted by me, and when i asked the sales rep last week how she knew about Applevis she said that at Apple Covent Garden at least, they actively promote and encourage their employees to use it as a resource and engage with it. This is great and doesn't happen all that often. Now, if Sarah had offered her time and our Applevis chaps had simply said thanks, but no thanks if you're not going to let us ask awkward questions, would that level of engagement, promotion and encouragement from Apple continue? I doubt it.

So perhaps the interview wasn't all it could have been. I think the editors have been really candid about that; but it was better than nothing, and it's a price worth paying for Apple's continuing to bother with us. We can ask the hard questions on the forums here with a degree of confidence that they're read and, if you compare Apple with a company like sky, engaged with reasonably well.

#17 Agreed Wholeheartedly

Cannot agree more with the previous comment. I was on a panel discussion 2 weeks ago exactly, and 2 of my former teachers were in attendance. They both mentioned how great AppleVis is, and I totally concur with them. Keep in mind that the 2 transition students with whom we met are newly visually impaired, and aren't too keen yet on using the accessibility features of their iPhones. Or their canes for that matter. But back to the topic at hand. Sarah could've declined to be on the AppleVis podcast outright, or she perhaps could've lied or something else. But she didn't. She was honest and up front with Thomas and Dave, and I for one couldn't ask for anything better than that. But I guess it will always remain that some people just cannot be pleased, no matter what is done. Thanks again AppleVis for the great work you do, and I know you will keep it up.

#18 applevis.com

Just because some of us did not agree with the interview and found it to be soft and like a add for apple, does not mean that we do not like or appreciate applevis. If comments are not needed make sure you put it on the next podcast. Just comments that say nice and great things about applevis staff.

#19 Re @Holger Fiallo

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Not at all. Comments are always welcome as far as we are concerned. I fully appreciate where people were coming from, it is hard to get things perfect and you will never please everyone.
That said, for reasons outlined above by myself and others, I still fully defend the podcast and believe it to have been an interesting and very worthwhile podcast.
Some comments suggesting we were nothing more than a couple of fanboys who were unwilling to ask difficult questions were patently wrong though, and not based in reality. But ultimately they were really about the interview and not us personally, and people will differ about that.