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.

Weekend Gazette – Link Collection for April 25

We present to you a menu of tidbits collected in recent days that are too short for blog posts and sometimes too long for a tweet (when we want to add clarifying comments). Headings provide a light grouping to help you skim the offerings. Bon appétit!

Sock it to 'em, John!

Technical communicators, please sit up and take notice of this section. It is important.

John Foliot has written an amazing letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. That Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing recently. The topic of that hearing was "Achieving the Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the Digital Age – Current Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities". All fine and dandy. Transcripts are made because it's government by the people and for the people, as you know.

However, these documents were inaccessible, so it became "for some of the people". Ugh! What did John do? He made accessible versions of them. He demonstrated how the work should have been done in the first place! I'd lead a round of applause, but I am nursing my aching head from when I banged my head against the desk upon learning of this gaffe. Is there no one in the U.S. government offices who knows how to make accessible documents? I dare bet – unfortunately – that no government in the world can claim to be perfect. I will be very happy if someone can prove me wrong.

John, thank you for showing the folks in Washington how accessible documents are made. Maybe they need a workshop on that? There are skilled people in the Washington, D.C. area who can arrange that. The government staff can also attend the next unconference held by @AccessibilityDC, where they can learn a thing or two.

ADA Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

If you are finished laughing and crying hysterically about the gaffe with inaccessible documents in the previous section, go back and read the information from that hearing. All the details of who spoke and where the transcripts are can be found in John's letter. This is U.S.-centric, but there is inspiration here for everyone. If you promise access for all in a digital age, you must constantly monitor what is happening in the world outside your office. The issues, challenges, and opportunities are dynamic, and governments should be in the frontlines, not sagging dreadfully behind everyone else.

So far, it looks like the website wranglers at are staying on their toes. Read this White House blog post about releasing open source code. One of the three key features of that code is – you guessed it – accessibility. They're doing it right – working on accessibility, and not shoving it to the background for a rainy day.

PS ADA, in case you forgot, stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and yes, that is a site designed by a graduate from the Jakob Nielsen school of design (that is, accessible sites are inherently ugly).

Cool Tech

The Speaks4me system is the brainchild of a father whose young son, Callum, could not speak due to severe autism and learning difficulties. It has potential for stroke survivors, too. For more information, see the BBC report about Speaks4me Son's autism leads to innovation, by Geoff Adams-Spink, BBC Age & Disability correspondent.  Updated

The price tag looks high, but that is because it is a software and hardware package. A software-only version is being worked on now, and a mobile version lies in the future. Aside from the benefits for the users of this system, it must be downright cool to help develop such a system. Think of all the challenges in working out a great user interface, and its usability and accessibility.

Some of you are familiar with eye-tracking as a way of testing the usability of your website. Well, there might be a powerful assistive technology solution in eye-tracking. Think Stephen Hawking.

"Free" is a popular price tag, especially when it comes to technology. That's why this list of free screen readers appears in this section of this post. Don't skip this tip just because you have no vision problems. These are great for testing the accessibility of your material. The price tag should impress your boss! No excuses left for not testing!  Updated

Quotable Quotes

This was a nice quote from@whitneyq worth repeating here:

Failing to make voting systems accessible has the same effect as generating one that maliciously destroys votes for one subpopulation.

The Last Word

This story is too sweet to pass up. (The broken wing makes me think of the butterfly with a broken wing in our own logo.)

Storks, Malena and Rodan
Rodan and Malena, Storks reunited in Slavonski Brod, Croatia.
Malena, the stork, is grounded by a broken wing and can no longer migrate south for the winter. She survives the cold winter in Croatia thanks to human care – and her true love coming back every Spring. The exact chronology of events differs slightly in the English and Danish resources I read. Malena was shot in 1993. They say her mate, Rodan, has been returning to her for five years, yet they have managed to raise 32 chicks. Anyway, enjoy the story of true stork love  Updated.

Link Contributors

This post was glued together with links or inspiration from many people. They are listed with their Twitter names.