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What 3D Touch could mean for accessibility

Steven Aquino | Sept. 15, 2015
When it's hard to tell a button from a link, the iPhone 6s and its 3D Touch feature could put more power into the hands of the visually and motor impaired.

As for Peek and Pop—which lets you preview things like emails and location maps by hard-pressing them, then hard-pressing again to open them fully—it seems like more of a convenience than anything else. I’m having trouble figuring out what its accessibility benefit would be. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any accessibility wins here—I’ll just have to try it in person to see.

The bad: Complexity and visual/motor issues

First, complexity. It’s not hard to imagine someone who’s cognitively delayed or has a learning disability being confused by 3D Touch’s layers and functions. Forgetting or misremembering what each touch does and how to get to them can lead to a less-than-enjoyable experience. It’s a bit of a tightrope walk, though: you want people to use 3D Touch, but the pragmatic approach would be to keep the UI mechanics as simple as possible by eschewing 3D Touch altogether. Simple may be best in these cases, but then you miss out on a marquee feature. It’s not an easy choice.

iphone6splus 3dtouch mail read
The Peek and Pop maneuvers could come in handy when you're looking for a specific email in a list of search results. Credit: Susie Ochs

From a visual and motor standpoint, I have questions about Quick Actions and Peek and Pop. Will Quick Actions’ menus respond to Accessibility features such as Large Dynamic Type and VoiceOver? The same goes for Peek and Pop. My gut tells me that Apple’s considered these things and has added Accessibility support, but I can’t be 100 percent sure until I get my hands on an iPhone 6s.

Motor-wise, I can see 3D Touch being troublesome for those with RSI or other muscle-affecting conditions. Pressing the iPhone’s screen with different levels of pressure may prove to be painful. Also, some with low muscle tone may not be able to press firmly enough to register an action. (As an aside, I’m curious to know if Switch Control in iOS 9 supports 3D Touch. It’ll be a big deal if it does.)

Seeing is believing

If it seems like I’m writing mostly conjecture, that’s because I can’t definitely speak to 3D Touch’s utility as an accessibility tool—after all, the new iPhones aren’t out yet. The true test, of course, will come when I can play with one.

Still, as a person with both low vision and motor delays, I’m bullish overall about 3D Touch’s usefulness to me. If anything, I think it’ll make me more efficient, but that efficiency will only be as high as 3D Touch is accessible.

 

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