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.

[2024 UPDATE: Apple took over Workflow and the app is now available as an iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch app from the App Store at Shortcuts.]

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 103 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".  Updated

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.

U.S. Justice Department Demands Accessible Educational Technology

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May 19, 2015, Posted by John Kleeman to the Questionmark blog.

The U.S. Justice Department intervened in a case last week regarding accessible learning technology that could help make educational technology more accessible for learners with disabilities. They are intervening in a court case between a blind learner and Miami University where the university has required all students to use specific online tools that are not accessible. By John Kleeman, 19 May 2015. Read more about this at DOJ Puts Pressure on Schools and Ed Techs to Provide Accessible Educational Technology.  Updated

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