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Warnings and Common Misconceptions

In the next section, we'll turn on Voiceover on your iOS device and learn some screen reader fundamentals. Before we do, let's address a few common issues and misconceptions that arise when non-disabled users first explore alternate ways of accessing information on their devices.

Experience Matters

As a non-disabled user who will soon return to interacting with devices visually, your first experience with a screen reader may be frustrating or alienating, and using the device will be a challenge. The important thing to avoid is extrapolating your first use of a screen reader, assuming it's representative of how an experienced user interacts with their device, which for many or most tasks might be quite fluid. Learning screen reader basics might be an enlightening experience, but the focus should not be on developing empathy, simply because you won't actually understand how easy or hard specific tasks are until you're much more experienced.

Everything You Can Do...

Similarly, it may not be advantageous to imagine that print disabled people, and especially blind people, can do anything with their devices that sighted people can do. Unfortunately , many applications are not developed in accessible ways, and while some workflows may be highly accessible, others may be accessible only with difficulty or not at all. You may find it difficult to predict which tasks are done easily in a non-visual way, and which tasks are hard or impossible, at least initially.

Different Disabilities

Print disabilities can be cognitive, sensory, or motor—not all screen reader users will be blind or visually impaired. Further, blindness is a spectrum, and visual impairment can be dependent on circumstances. A visually impaired user can be contrast sensitive (or not), helped by large print (or not), can have a limited field of vision (or not). Most, but not all, blind users will have some remaining vision. Some users will need to use accessibility adaptations in the afternoon, but not in the morning. You should not assume that any given visually impaired user has, or doesn't have, a specific capability.

Practical Help Before Language

In general, and within reason, my own experience of the blind community suggests that practical accessibility interventions and advocacy are strongly preferred to superficial changes to language.. Broadly speaking, blind or visually impaired people do not object to visual language such as "I see." There is a huge distance to go in making technology, jobs, and spaces accessible to the blind. If you choose to advocate for a change, prefer advocating for or contributing to something practical.

To put this more baldly, hire a blind person, rather than use blind people as a cudgel with which to whack other sighted people. That likely won't help us, and we probably didn't ask for it.

I speak here specifically as a blind person, and not, for example, as a person with cognitive or other print disabilities. Your milage may vary.

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