Accessible Apple: An Interview With Steven Aquino About the Apple Watch and Strap Accessibility

steven aquino

steven aquino

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Steven Aquino, tech blogger and a contributor to many well-known publications, including: MacWorld, iMore and TidBITS. Among other things, we discussed Steven’s experiences with the Apple Watch, the accessibility of the new device’s straps and how third-party accessories will contribute to the watch’s overall accessibility. You can find a transcript of our interview below:

Alex Jurgensen (AJ) - Hi Steven and thank you for joining me for this interview. I’m really excited to hear what your experience with the Apple Watch has been so far.

AJ - You mentioned to me before the interview that you were writing on an iPad Air. What other Apple products have you owned?

Steven Aquino (SA) - Several iPhones, a MacBook, a few iPods. Magic Mouse. So many.

AJ - That’s quite the collection. May I suggest an Apple TV?


AJ - Ah. Holding out for the integrated Apple TV I see.

SA - Absolutely!

AJ - Some of our readers may not be familiar with your work in the accessibility community. Can you please tell me a little bit about your background in accessibility and some of the work you have been doing?

SA - Sure. I'm a freelance journalist who writes about accessibility on iOS. I've been doing it full-time since May 2013, and really enjoy it. My work has appeared in several publications, such as The Magazine and TechCrunch. Now, though, I write for iMore, MacStories, Macworld, and more.

SA - I have low vision, and am considered legally blind. I also have a mild form of cerebral palsy. Before becoming a writer, I worked in special education for 11 years, with junior high and preschool-aged students with special needs.

AJ - I really enjoyed your recent article on MacStories about the ramifications of haptic on accessibility. I found it to be quite an interesting read.

AJ - How long have you been using assistive technology, and what does your current setup look like?

SA - Truth be told, I don't use too much assistive technology nowadays. In school, I used large print books and had all paperwork enlarged, magnifiers too. But now, I have a blind cane for identification purposes and use large text options on my devices.

I'm grateful for the vision I do have, and that I'm able to see fairly well under the circumstances.

AJ - I know you met with Apple to preview the Apple Watch's accessibility features prelaunch and that you had many observations that you put into a piece over at iMore. I also know from Twitter that you recently received a watch of your very own. Has your perception of the Apple Watch’s ability to be used by users with accessibility needs changed since you received yours and have had real-world experiences with it?

SA - I look at Apple Watch as a modern talking watch. (Literally -- VoiceOver announces the current time, right down to the second, on wrist raise.) I think the Watch's utility will have a lot to do with what your individual needs are. But the accessibility features in Watch OS are such that it can reasonably accommodate a wide range of people.

SA - It's early days yet, but I love wearing mine, and find it highly accessible.

AJ - Have you found that your motor delays, caused by your cerebral palsy, have impacted your use of the watch?

SA - Surprisingly, no. I was concerned about that at first. But I have no issues turning the digital crown or the side button, nor force pressing or swiping. The only issue I have is using two fingers to send my heartbeat

AJ - How is your ability to send your heartbeat impacted by your motor delays and have you found a work-around?

SA - It takes a two-finger press, and I can't quite do that with my right hand. Reason being is the entire right side of my body suffers from partial paralysis due to my cerebral palsy.

AJ - I see.

AJ - In your iMore article (2), you mention finding the pin an tuck method used by the Apple Watch Sport’s straps easy to use. You also expressed interest in finding out how easy the Modern Buckle, leather or Milanese Loop bands would be to put on or take off for someone with motor delays. Have you had a chance to play with these bands and, if so, what were your impressions?

SA - I have. The Milanese Loop is a fantastic band. The magnets in it make it so much easier to get on and off.

SA - The Leather Loop is very nice; I tried it at the Apple Store.

AJ - Are there any bands that you found difficult to take on or off?

SA - The Sport band. What a pain.

AJ - What in particular did you not like about the Sport band?

SA - Just the pin-and-tuck closure is hard to master with a bum hand.

AJ - What type of band would you recommend someone with motor delays get for maximum independence?

SA - Definitely one of the magnetic bands.

AJ - Do you see Apple’s recent release of third-party band specifications impacting the availability of accessible bands and, if so, how?

SA - Oh sure. There is lots of potential here. I can see Velcro straps on Apple Watch, though I'm sure Jony Ive would cringe.

AJ - The accessibility market is saturated with devices that, although they may perform their functions well, are ridiculously expensive and look as if they were designed by several gorillas only ever exposed to 1980’s computing technology. Do you feel that we’ll see a similar market for accessible but unappealing straps crop up around the Apple Watch?

SA - It's possible. My opinion, though, is Apple Watch blows away every talking watch I've ever seen. It's so much better.

AJ - Agreed.

AJ - What is your opinion on Apple’s decision to use a proprietary mechanism for attaching the watch’s straps, rather than an industry standard? Do you feel it will affect the availability of easy to use bands?

SA - I adore the band-swapping mechanism. It's genius. I have no problems using it.

AJ - If you could address a crowd of band manufacturers and influence their designs, what would you tell them?

SA - In all seriousness, MAGNETS ARE YOUR FRIEND.

AJ - Again, I agree.

AJ - Returning to the watch itself, what improvements do you think Apple could make to Watch OS’s accessibility?

SA - I think the Complications UI for customizing could be better. I have trouble reading the labels. Black-on green isn't good contrast.

AJ - Have you played with VoiceOver on the Apple Watch very much? If so, what have your impressions been so far?

SA - I've played with it a little bit. It's good. The award the AFB just gave Apple for its VoiceOver tech is justified. The time-telling feature on wrist raise works really well.

AJ - Have you ever played with smart watches from other companies, E.G. Pebble or the Moto 360?

SA - My friend has a Pebble. It's terrible, visually. No go.

SA - The Pebble uses an e-ink display, and it's just bad. Relatively low resolution, low contrast, and just hard for me to see. Not a fan.

AJ - From a physical standpoint, is there anything you’d have Apple change about the Apple Watch?

SA - Not really. I love the industrial design.

AJ - As do I.

AJ - Are there any more thoughts on the Apple Watch you wish to share with our readers?

SA - I like mine. And definitely schedule a try-on appointment if you can. It's worth it, especially for the bands.

AJ - I would recommend that also. For readers, I’ve written up my experience of one of Apple’s new Accessibility Try-on appointments here.

AJ - I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me tonight. On behalf of the team here at Apple World Today, thank you for sharing your thoughts with our readers.

SA - Thanks! It's been fun! My pleasure!

AJ - For readers, Steven is working on a review of his Apple Watch unit. You can find it here.

As always, questions, comments and/or suggestions are welcome either in the comments section below or on Twitter.

About Steven Aquino

Steven is a freelance tech writer and iOS Accessibility expert, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work has appeared in The Magazine, Macworld, TidBITS, and more. He also writes for his personal website, Steven's Blog , and co-hosts a weekly podcast, Accessible. He can be found on Twitter at @steven_aquino.