WWDC Interview with Apple’s Sarah Herrlinger

Steven interviews Apple's Senior Director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives, Sarah Herrlinger, at Apple’s Word Wide Developers Conference in San Jose. They discuss Apple’s approach to accessibility and many of the new accessibility features announced this year.

Show Notes: 

Apple’s WWDC Event

Steven’s TechCrunch Article

Steven Aquino

Twitter: @steven_aquino

Website: stevensblog.co

Timothy Buck

Twitter: @timothybucksf

Website: timothybuck.me

Podcast: unco.fm



Episode Transcript

Timothy Buck: Hello everyone. Welcome to Accessible, a podcast about accessibility in tech. I'm your host Timothy Buck. 

I'm super excited to introduce this episode. It's a really special one. My co-host Steven Aquino had the honor and pleasure of recording an interview with Apple's Senior Director of Accessibility at WWDC again this year, but before we jump into the show, we went to remind you that we have a Patreon over at patreon.com/accessible. If you want to hear more from us, please support us on Patreon. It's a huge help.

Without further ado. Here's the interview. 

Steven Aquino: Hi Sarah. 

Sarah Herrlinger: Hello Stephen!

Sound Person: All right, so we're already recording. So go ahead and feel free to start whenever you’d like.  

Steven Aquino: Great. Okay.

Well welcome to episode 12 of Accessible. I'm your host Steve Aquino, and I am here in San Jose at WWDC. We had the Keynote this morning with iOS 13 and watchOS and everything else. And right now I am with once again Apple's... Sarah your title is very long. 

Sarah Herrlinger: Yes. I'm the Director of Global Accessibility Policy Initiatives for Apple.

Steven Aquino: Yes. So Sarah I had you here last year, and we talked about what was new then. Hoping that you could kind of run us through some of the highlights of what is new.

Sarah Herrlinger: Absolutely, and it is a pleasure to be back on your podcast. This is my second time doing it, and I always enjoy being able to spend time with you and do this.  So, thank you. 

Steven Aquino: Thank you so much. 

Sarah Herrlinger: So yeah, this is it's a big year for us. We have a lot of really wonderful features to bring out to the world and we're really excited.

One of the things that we always try and do is to give some love to all of our operating systems and to all different types of users of our technology. So hopefully there's something in the operating systems to surprise and delight everyone. And so I definitely encourage folks when they get access to, whether they are people who download beta builds and start to give us feedback early, which we always love, or people who wait till the final release. But hopefully, you know, you'll find some things as you're moving around in the operating system and you'll find new fun features that are there for everyone.

Steven Aquino: So are there features that, and it doesn't matter which platform, but are there some things that are new that really stand out as your favorites? 

Sarah Herrlinger: Yeah, well, gosh, two of them that we talked about during the keynote today in different operating systems. One is a new feature called Voice Control, which is available in both macOS and iOS, and it is a feature which allows you to use. To run both your Mac or iOS devices using just your voice. 

So the idea is that it's there for navigation, for text entry, for kind of all the things that you would want to do. If you are powering your device using just your voice.  

Steven Aquino: Yeah, I saw that on stage, and I have to tell you I got really excited when I saw the accessibility literally icon on stage on the slide and Craig started talking about it.

You know and he seemed super enthused about it, and I'm excited to, you know, check it out, and also see what other people have to say about it. Is there anything across watchOS or iOS or tvOS that you're excited about? 

Sarah Herrlinger: Yeah, one of the things for watchOS which also was mentioned in the keynote today is the noise ap. You know, one of the things I think that is certainly of incredible importance is hearing health and ensuring that we keep our hearing health. And so one of the things now built into the watchOS is an app which will tell you if the ambient noise around you has reached a level that would be harmful to your hearing Health if you remain in it. 

So the idea being, if you for example happened to be walking past a construction site, that it would let you know that that ambient noise is more than your ears should be taking in and give you that warning to let you know that it would be good to move out of that area.

And then will keep track of that in your in the the health app, so that you can kind of have knowledge of kind of the environments that you're in and how they are conducive or not conducive to your hearing health. 

Steven Aquino: Is that something that has some sort of hooks with the made for iPhone  hearing  aids? You know, if you had a hearing aid, then you had an Apple Watch with that, like somehow, would your hearing aid know that you're in a loud environment somehow?  

Sarah Herrlinger:  Well right now the feature is built to support everyone. So it is not specifically tied to your hearing aid. But as a user of the watch you would be getting that information, you know, as would anyone else, but to let you know that as a hearing aid wearer you may want to certainly not do any additional damage and and move out of that area or do what you need to do in order to to keep your hearing health intact.  

Steven Aquino: Great. Well, I was really excited when the show first started and Tim talked about tvOS, because I just recently got an Apple TV at home. And I was really excited to see the new UI of the new tvOS. It seems like there's a lot higher contrast. The options look like real buttons, if you look at something like the TV App and Control Center. Is there something with tvOS, that's new that people should know about?

Sarah Herrlinger: Well, one of the things I'm excited about is we've done a redesign of Zoom to make it easier to use and easier to kind of control and navigate. So as you move around on the screen that you'll have more more feeling of control as to where they where you're moving across the screen and just an easier and easier time being able  to navigate the device while you have Zoom enabled. So I'm excited about that. I think as well just as the redesigns have happened. I agree. You know, I think as they there's more, as the contrast continues to improve and different ways that things are laid out in the UI. It can be really helpful to support different types of vision challenges.

Steven Aquino: Yeah, I know speaking for me, like even the Apple TV UI that we've got now, you know, I find it super helpful to have all the sounds on all the all the movement. So when you hover your thumb over an icon it kind of pops out at you. I think that's super helpful. So, you know, as of Apple TV fan, I was excited when I saw Tim talk about  the new tvOS.

Can you talk to us about you know, on a sort of a higher level, as much as you can about like what Apple sort of thought was coming into this WWDC, because I know the last couple of years you've really honed in on the fact that the tent pole features were built for everyone. 

But as a disabled user myself, it seems like this year you've kind of you've kind of gone all-in on sort of accessibility stuff, for accessibility's sake. Can you kind of talk about sort of your higher level like kind of thoughts on this? 

Sarah Herrlinger: Oh, I think in general in our goal as a team is always to make sure that everything that we ship we try and make it as accessible as possible. And that is really that foundational part that you were talking about at the start to make sure that anything that's made for everyone to use that really everyone can use it, but on top of that I think we also really try and look at what are additional ways that if we just did anything from a small tweak to an entirely different new type of assistive technology that that would expand people's ability to use our products and you know this year we've just we've had a lot of great things that we've been working on and it just seemed like a good year to kind of come out with a lot of really, some real great innovative new features that we've been, you know working on for a while now and really felt like it was time to get them out to the world. 

Steven Aquino: Yeah, I have to say, you know, people talk to me about, you know, Apple's accessibility software all the time. And I'm very, you know, forthcoming, that what you guys ship is, you know, deep, and it's it covers a lot of developmental areas, like hearing eyesight, physical. 

But you know kind of absorbing what you guys announced today and talking with you after the fact.  You guys seem to come up with all these new things that that I didn't even consider. I mean just as an example. We were talking earlier about Hover Text and you know, I've been harping on macOS not having Dynamic Type forever. 

Here it is Hover Text and it seems like it's not exactly the same thing, but it's in that same sort of vain, and you guys have done it in a really smart way.

Sarah Herrlinger: Well, thank you. Yeah. Yeah Hover Text is a brand new feature for the Mac which allows you to hover over text on the screen and by holding down the command key to have that blown up to 128 Point font, if that's the amount you want, all the way to, you know lower levels as well. But larger than what is standard on the screen and I think one of the things we also try and look at as we design is what's the best way to do something on one operating system might be slightly different on another operating system. 

So in this case rather than just implementing Dynamic Type. The goal of hover text is to be able to open up all of those elements of text on the screen regardless of their size while still keeping the look and feel of the the entire operating system, as it is originally intended, but still give you that flexibility to be able to have that increase in in text size as needed wherever that might be. 

One of the other things. I love about it that we have is a feature on the Mac is another feature that's speak text under the pointer and when you have those two things hover text and that included you can have giant text in the font type that you would like, in the color you would like, have it spoken back to you if you would like. So, you know in that way, we really try and look at what are all of the possible ways to customize this that would work best for each individual use case.  

Steven Aquino: I think that, you know, again like when I first sat down in the hall for the event, and I was getting ready to take, you know, everything in, and I was thinking to myself, if Apple does not announce Dynamic Type on that slide of all the ancillary stuff or I hear about it afterwards, I'm going to be really mad because that's something that I love and you know on iOS and like why should it not be on the Mac. 

Well in a true Testament to Apple software know, how you guys have again done it in such a way that makes total sense and is unique to the OS but is still in a similar, you know, style sort of, and I think it's super smart.

Sarah Herrlinger: Well, thank you. Yeah, it's one of the features. I'm really excited for as well. I think. With so many of the accessibility features. They have great applicability for so many different types of use cases. Even if someone doesn't self-identify into a specific disability type and something like hover text I think can be really valuable for so many users. So we're thrilled to have it out in the world. 

Steven Aquino: I I kind of want to Circle again to watchOS six. There's a lot there with the hearing stuff, there's a big emphasis on health stuff which you know, I certainly think has accessibility involved in it, too, but I wanted to see like what your thoughts were about the watchOS 6's  new haptic chime feature. 

Sarah Herrlinger: Yeah, but it's an interesting one because the there's the chime and then there is what we have referred to as taptic time for a while which actually was a voice-over feature for a long time, but it was so popular as a feature that it's been brought out as something for the general public as well.

So. That feature to to give you either a vibration to give you the haptic to tell you about to tell the time or to also use a an audio, you know, uh, chime of some sort as well is I think it's a great once again a great feature that can benefit anyone and so being able to very discreetly. Tell time I think it's a really fun new feature to add.

I'm excited for that and I'm excited that it's gone from being a voice-over feature to being something that is mainstream. 

Steven Aquino: I am not a day-to-day voiceover user. My eyesight is such that I don't have to use it but it's so cool that something that came out of VoiceOver which you know the average user wouldn't necessarily hear about, like, has something in it that is that you that take from it and turn it into haptic chime taptic chime. 

Sarah Herrlinger: Yeah. Absolutely. 

Steven Aquino: I think that's cool. 

Sarah Herrlinger: Yeah. I always love when accessibility features become mainstream features or when people find them and they get so excited about them that they start to utilize them in other ways for a feature that actually has been out for a little while, but same type of thing's live listen, Which started off as a feature specifically for made for iPhone hearing aids and now has been added to AirPods and Beats headphones and a number of different areas because it was picked up and you know became valuable and so many use cases.

Steven Aquino: You know to that end. I know quite a few people who have used type to Siri as their main way to talk to Siri. I know somebody who is in school, and she uses type to Siri to tells Siri to help her with stuff while she's in class so she doesn't disturb. 

Sarah Herrlinger: That's a great use case. Yep. 

Steven Aquino: So, you know and she only found out about it because I told her about it, but be that as it... You know, I think I have gotten through all of my.  Questions. I want to thank you again for stopping by and talking with me before we sign off is is there anything that you'd like to add? Anything at all?

Sarah Herrlinger: Well, they got all I always appreciate the opportunity to come and be a part of your podcast. So once again, thank you. Yeah, and I've just encourage people to to open up the accessibility settings.

One of the things that we didn't get to but will be I'm eager for people to find and to you know play around with his we moved the accessibility settings up in iOS and watchOS and tvOS. So now instead of being in general settings, they've been moved up to the first level of the settings in the settings app so that they are more easily discoverable and also been been brought into the Buddy sort of set up programs.

So if you get a new device and it's walking you through all the different elements around how to setup your device. It gives you the option to set up a bunch of the accessibility features while you're going through that setup process. And so I'm excited for more people to to open settings and go in and play around with some of these and find settings that are beneficial because I think there's such a great element around just customization of your device which comes out of accessibility features and so regardless of what someone might benefit from, great that the features are there and we want people to use them. 

Steven Aquino: Yeah, and just to sort of tie that home. I think the fact that you, Apple as an institution, have put accessibility on the front lines as it were, and having it be top level in settings and having it be part of the setup, I think it helps the user, right? But I think it says a ton about you as an institution, like it says a lot about you, Apple, how you feel about this and how you feel about serving people who are like me, and as a person with life-long disabilities that means a lot. 

Sarah Herrlinger: Well, thank you. It is certainly a priority for us and something that we do, you know, we do work on every year and I hope. We always have the chance to keep building out amazing things and surprising and delighting everyone. So I hope people open them up take a look, you know play around send us feedback at accessibility@apple.com. Let us know what you think and we'll keep keep moving forward. 

Steven Aquino: So Sarah that was an awesome job. I'm so happy that I got to sit here again with you, second year in a row. That was Sarah Herrlinger. She's the senior director of global accessibility policy at Apple. I think I got that right after 6 years. 

Sarah Herrlinger: That's pretty close

Steven Aquino: Thank you everyone for listening to this special episode of Accessible and we will see you soon. 

Sarah Herrlinger: Thank you very much. 

Steven Aquino: Thank you.