Apple's October event puts accessibility center stage

To me, Apple's October event had a clear theme: accessibility.

Everything I saw at Town Hall during October's Mac event had relevance in terms of accessibility. The Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro is the most obvious candidate, but there's something to be said for the Apple TV's new TV app, too. Like all of Apple's products, accessibility will play a big role in telling each's story. And it's worth people's attention.

In a less concrete sense, the video that opened the presentation and the new accessibility page announced for Apple's website speak volumes about Apple's commitment in this area. As I've written numerous times, Apple leads the industry in creating best-of-breed assistive technology for people with disabilities. They care. That's why it was great to see the video and hear Tim Cook remind us that accessibility matters to them. It's part of the design process from the beginning, which is why you see glimmers of potential in everything with an Apple logo on it.

As a person with disabilities, it warmed my heart to see and hear this up close.

The Touch Bar

I got about 5 minutes with the MacBook Pro in the hands-area, and I left very impressed with the new Touch Bar.

I need quality time to test it, of course, but my initial impression is that the Touch Bar is going to be great for people with physical motor delays. Using keyboard shortcuts can be problematic for this reason, and the Touch Bar effectively erases the issue.

Instead of pressing Command-N to compose a new email, for instance, all someone needs to do now is tap the Compose icon on the toolbar. macOS does have the Sticky Keys accessibility feature that helps with keyboard combinations, but I think the Touch Bar is an even better solution.

The only downsides I see with the Touch Bar are twofold. First, the bar is relatively small with a lot of icons on screen, so people with certain vision impairments may have trouble focusing on what they need. An overabundance of items can be confusing; it can be harder to physically track buttons, which can lead to eye strain and frustration. Secondly, there's a lot of tapping and swiping in a small space, so someone without precise fine-motor control may run into difficulty navigating the menus.

The Apple TV's upcoming TV app

Full disclosure: I don't have an Apple TV because I still don't have a high-definition television at home. Hello from the 20th century!

That said, the new TV app is good — at least in theory — because it consolidates what's available and what you can watch into a single area. From an accessibility point of view, this is important because it saves potential physical strain caused by having to sift through a bunch of menus to watch something. If you're visually impaired, you want to save as much energy as possible; you don't want to make your eyes hurt by having to search for an app or whatnot. (Yes, you can use Siri, but the point still stands.)

Bottom Line

I'm grateful I was able to attend what likely was Town Hall's last hurrah. It was a good event, and very interesting in terms of accessibility. I'm excited to try out the new products on a more long-term basis soon and see if my initial hypotheses prove correct.