The Workflow app and a techcomm-meets-accessibility lesson

One of the Apple Design Awards this past June got me rather excited in a “techcomm meets accessibility” sort of way. I’m talking about DeskConnect winning the award for their product, Workflow – powerful automation made simple, due to “their extensive use of the iOS accessibility API”. As the presenter, John Geleynse, points out, Workflow “sets a standard in what apps should be doing to adopt accessibility”.

The AppleVis blog didn’t hold back on its praise with a heading that reads Workflow App Wins Prestigious Apple Design Award Because of its Outstanding Accessibility.

As a fan of “Getting Things Done” myself, I am often on the lookout for new productivity apps. The number of productivity apps in the Apple Store tells me that I am not the only one looking for these helpful apps. My impression is that the Desk Connect people not only made a productivity app, but also realized that using the iOS accessibility API might help even more people boost their productivity.

As a non-developer, I can't help but think that, gee, if Apple went to all that work to make an accessibility API, why don't all iOS developers use it every time they make apps? Desk Connect shows it can definitely be worthwhile.

OK so Desk Connect made an accessible app that won an award. What added extra coolness to the presentation? Two members of the iOS Accessibility Engineering Team engineers, Dean Hudson and Ryan Dour, came out on stage and gave a demo of the app. After they folded up their white canes. Yup. They couldn’t have done the demo if Desk Connect hadn’t had accessibility in mind.

You can watch the demo in the Apple Design Awards videos from WWDC15 from 36:10 to 43:05. To read the transcript, go to the transcript page for Apple Design Awards and search for "deskconnect".

Now how did this get me excited in a “techcomm meets accessibility” sort of way? Well, when Ryan Dour was doing the VoiceOver demo, he came to a spot where he wanted to add the URL to the workflow he was creating. VoiceOver was announcing the item he wanted, but Ryan didn’t take action. He let VoiceOver keep talking. Lo and behold, Workflow/VoiceOver described what you could do with the item in focus. As Ryan said, “isn’t it wonderful that they’ve added those great hints? They are fantastic. It's basically a self-described app. It's great, isn't it?” And then the audience bursts into applause. So the entire audience of developers at the WWDC conference is applauding the hints. That's microcopy, people. You’re all applauding a bit of techcomm! That's what technical communicators can do!

I must confess that this is the first time I encountered verbal user assistance. It's both awesome and doh! of course!


  1. Go show the video about this app's award to any app developer (even non-iOS developers) you know so that they can have their mind blown by these blind QA engineers.
  2. Ensure that your team knows that you have the skills to help create the microcopy for verbal user assistance.

Thanks to @sprungmarkers who first brought this to my attention on Twitter.

Happy 25th, ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act!

So what is the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act? (Read on, even if you are not in the United States.)

A great place to find an answer was in an article from the July 2015 Disability Connection Newsletter:
"10 Things to Know about the Americans with Disabilities Act". The first item answers the “what is it” question.

That information came from a tweet by the former Disability.Gov twitter account.

Any U.S.-based technical communicators reading this blog post really should know at least three of the items on this list.

  1. The answer to “what is it” in item 1
  2. Employers' obligations in item 4 – because they may affect you personally one day, and because you can help to ensure that your workplace supports the ADA
  3. YOUR rights under the ADA (self-explanatory?!) – see item 3

As @AccessibleJoe tweeted, the ADA was a “response to appalling problem: widespread, systemic, inhumane discrimination against people with disabilities.” He linked to the Washington Post article by Robert L. Burgdorf Jr., co-author of the ADA. There really are some horror stories in the years before the ADA!

You can travel 25 years back in time and re-experience the signing of the ADA into law: George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26th, 1990 (22:02 minutes).

Twenty-five years later you can watch President Obama deliver remarks in the East Room of the White House celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. July 20, 2015 (14:44 minutes) – it's captioned and transcribed. He honors some of the people who helped make the ADA happen. Take a 15-minute break to hear about some of the politicians and activists who made this huge change. May we be worthy enough to follow in their footsteps (or wheel tracks) in making accessibility a human right everywhere on the planet!

You see, the ADA might be for the U.S., but it has inspired legislation around the world.

The ADA has spurred numerous countries to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. These countries have looked to the ADA as an inspiration and a model in crafting their own legislative proposals.

Proof? A quick Google search gave me two resources:

Gostin's paper reveals the biggest impact the ADA has had on the world: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD was modelled on the ADA! Read the full text of the convention translated into several spoken languages and signed languages.

In closing, I’d like to suggest that you follow on Twitter to stay updated on disability-related news that might be relevant for your job – and for you. Their home was, a U.S. Federal government website for "information on disability programs and services nationwide". There’s also [shut down by President Trump, January 2013] @ADANational and The Americans With Disabilities Act National Network providing information, guidance, and training on the ADA.

Note:  New was a United States Government inter-agency web portal that provided access to comprehensive information about disability-related programs and services from 2002-2016. The site contained thousands of trusted resources, updated daily, from the federal government, educational institutions, non-profit organizations and state and local governments. offered information for the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities. It was also a reliable resource for parents of children with disabilities, employers, workforce and human resource professionals, veterans, military families, caregivers and other community members. The site offered resources on ten key subjects: benefits, civil rights, community life, education, emergency preparedness, employment, health, housing, technology and transportation. and its associated social media accounts were sunset in December 2016 and are no longer available. currently redirects to a page of disability related-resources available from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). Federal resources on disability and employment can be found on the website of the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) at What can You Do?