Create your accessibility “Aha!” moment — By teaching VoiceOver to EVERYONE

Accessibility managers in large organizations spend a lot of time trying to convince people in decision making positions to adopt accessible practices — be it in development, QA, procurement, or whatever segment of the organization they are trying to influence. This usually involves some variation on the following three-pronged approach:

Prong 1: it’s the right thing to do;

Prong 2: it’s good for business; and then the final “last gasp” prong

Prong 3: it’s the law, dammit !!!

Internally, most of us hope we can stop after Prong 1. When people internalize that accessibility is the right thing to do, they care. Prong 1 creates empathy (hopefully not sympathy) between the person in the decision making power and people with disabilities.

Making people care can be difficult at best and fraught with psychological peril at worse. When the people you are trying to convince have no tangible, real-life connection to people with disabilities, it is even harder. The solution? Expose the people that you are trying to convince to something where in the end, they are likely to make themselves care.

Exposing people to VoiceOver has been my go-to, reliable, quick approach to accomplishing the difficult goal of making people internally care about accessibility. I have found that teaching people how to use VoiceOver as opposed to just showing them how VoiceOver works creates that “Aha!” moment where I can stop at Prong 1.

Even though I don’t need to use VoiceOver (my vision loss currently only requires magnification), I use it everywhere — in the grocery store, in the airport, at the doctor’s office, and my personal favorite — at the coffee shop. And in each of those locations, inevitably someone will ask me “what are you doing?” and I will explain what it is and show them how to use it. I even taught a curious four-year-old once when our flight was delayed. I taught a Starbucks barrista once how to use VO in between her cranking out frappuchinos and left her thinking about a career in accessibility. Preaching the gospel of accessibility to everyone (including strangers) is how I live my truth.

My approach to teaching VoiceOver

In every introduction to accessibility class before I even get to the fact that WCAG exists, I spend 20 minutes teaching all the attendees how to use VoiceOver. We cover the following topics:

1. Turning VO on and off

2. Setting VO as the accessibility shortcut (quickly followed by how not to panic when you turn VO on accidentally)

3. Setting the keyboard to touch typing

4. Double tapping to activate

5. Flicking left and right

6. Paging up and down

7. Activating the rotor

8. Navigation via headings

9. Turning the screen curtain off and on

10. Go to a good site/app and navigate around

And then the stop that creates the “Aha!” moment . . .

11. Go to a crappy site/app and try to navigate around.

My current crappy site example is Buzzfeed. Steps 1 to 10 create the knowledge base necessary for Step 11. Your “Aha!” moment may take place before step 11, but at step 11 it is almost guaranteed. Now the student understands:

1) what screen reader users do to interact with a mobile device

2) why it is so so so important to optimize the experience for screen reader users

3) the frustration that a user with vision loss feels when they can’t do something that should be relatively easy

After the basic exercise is done, I leave them with the links to all the VoiceOver gestures and keyboard shortcuts and tell them that if they want to learn more they should download the LookTel app from the app store.


Creating a successful corporate accessibility program requires baking accessibility into the DNA of everyone who touches the product. People remember what they have experienced much more than what they are passively taught. Teaching people how to use VoiceOver is a very good first step to exposing people not just to accessibility, but the reasons behind why everything should be accessible.

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