Siri Is Too Important for Apple to Ignore
iPhone owners with disabilities deserve better than what the company currently offers them
“Siri never gets mad,” explains C.R., a man with autism who requested only his initials be used to protect his privacy. His observation suggests a connection with Apple’s voice assistant that many of us haven’t needed to make.
“We are lucky to have Siri,” he adds. “It is quite amazing.”
Many people with disorders or disabilities say Siri is a vital feature. But it is still filled with problems that hold it back from being a perfect accessibility tool, according to people I spoke to who have conditions ranging from blindness to myalgic encephalomyelitis — and Apple doesn’t seem like it’s in a rush to fix them.
At its developers conference in June, Apple made few announcements about its iconic voice assistant. Siri’s voice is now more humanlike. It can make suggestions for the Shortcuts app, such as starting your podcast app when you leave the house. And users won’t have to say “Hey Siri” before composing responses to text messages. In August, the company announced privacy updates to Siri’s “human grading” program, in which real people listen to Siri conversations to improve its performance; better late than never on that front.
And that’s about it. Siri was ignored at Apple’s product event this month. Accessibility advocates say it’s not clear that the company is giving the product the attention it deserves.
“Apple has been a leader in making built-in accessibility features that are robust and more consistently enjoyable to use than what one finds built in on many other platforms,” says Chancey Fleet, vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York. “However, we are still a minority, and we experience the subprime experience of a minority. Even the companies that are doing the best could do more.”
Mike Ray, a software developer who is blind, says he uses Siri for dictation purposes and to stay distraction-free when in public. There are accessibility features that allow people with visual impairments to type by sliding their fingers across the screen and responding to vocal cues announcing letters, for example, but these require…