Apple may not realize the importance of Siri to people with disabilities.

Editor’s note: This article is from WeChat public account “outside the stack” by Angela Lashbrook .

Siri is dispensable? Perhaps most people will say yes, yes or not. However, for those physically disabled Apple users, Siri is not only a fun “fresh stuff”, but also plays a very important role in their lives. With Siri, they can do a lot of things that are hard to do – people with eye disorders can type and program more easily, while people with autism learn more.

But the functionality of Siri is far from perfect. Related voice assistant developers have not adequately taken into account disabled users during product design, making it difficult for some physically disabled users to take full advantage of Apple products. Technology companies should consider their needs from the development stage, because perhaps they are the ones who need Siri most.

Siri is never angry

Original from Medium, by Angela Lashbrook

“Siri never gets angry.” Autistic patient C.R. said.

He asked to disclose his initials only to protect his privacy. His comments reflect a feature of Apple’s voice assistants that people often don’t realize.

“We are fortunate to have Siri,” he added. “Siri is amazing.”

Many people with disabilities think Siri is an important tool. I have also talked to patients with various diseases, from blind patients to patients with myotitis and myositis (fatigue). From their feedback, Siri still has many problems, making it impossible to be a perfect accessibility tool. But Apple does not seem to be eager to solve these problems.

At the developer conference in June, Apple released only a few simple announcements about its iconic voice assistant: Siri now uses a more emulated sound; it can create shortcuts for the Shortcuts App (Annotation: Shortcuts App can Create a multi-step, personalized work task process that covers Apple native apps, third-party apps, Apple services, and settings, thus creating various possibilities for simplifying the task), such as launching the podcast application when you leave home; the user does not have to say “嘿Siri” before editing the reply message.

In August of this year, Apple announced the enhancement of the privacy protection function of Siri’s “manual rating” program. The program is designed to improve Siri performance and arrange for live listeners to talk to Siri. Although Apple is only a little late to take action, it is better than nothing.

But that’s it. At the Apple product launch in September, Siri was ignored. Supporting Siri’s implementation of accessible users, it is unclear whether Apple is paying due attention to the product.

Chancey Fleet, vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York, said: “Apple has been leading the development of built-in accessibility features compared to many other platforms. Status, Apple devices are more powerful and user experience is more enjoyable. However, disabled people are only a minority. As a minority, the services we enjoy are only sub-optimal. Even if these companies have done their best, they can still Give more effort.”

Software developer Mike Ray is a blind person who says he will let Siri dictate and keep himself focused in public. For example, there are some ancillary features that allow visually impaired patients to type by swiping their fingers on the screen and replying to the voice prompts that broadcast the letters, but these features require the user to concentrate on the operation.

Lei said: “When I go out, I don’t like to pay too much attention on my mobile phone. I prefer to use Siri to send text messages and launch applications, so I can put my phone back in my pocket, not myself. I feel uneasy because of lack of concentration.”

He wants to set the default email or SMS to be easier. If you just need to say something like “Tell Sarah on the train,” then he can focus on the surrounding. Environment instead of cell phone.

But for those who speak differently from the healthy people, many voice-activated assistants, including Siri, are not fully functional.

C.R. said he used Siri to remember things. For C.R., asking some questions will make others look at him differently, but Siri can answer these questions for him. “I can’t figure out the time, I will ask when the holiday, how many days this month,” CR said, “I tried to ask others, they will laugh, or tell me I should know these things, will tell me they are not Will help me in this kind of thing.”

C.R. says that for autistic patientsSay, Siri is a magical tool because “we don’t always know common sense.”

C.R. said that because he always forgets things, such as what he ate at lunch, he hopes that Siri can better play the role of memory aid. Providing Siri with the ability to record this everyday information can benefit other people with autism, who often forget important information, and Siri can help them write it down.

A review article in 2018 found that little research has been done on how voice-activated assistants like Siri can achieve accessibility. To assess whether Siri and Google Assistant can be used as accessibility tools, a study in the same year investigated how 18 intellectually impaired people used two assistants to search for information.

The study found that 13 of the subjects preferred to use voice-activated assistants because of typing, because it is faster and easier to type than typing, and can better accomplish tasks such as setting calendar events. The 13 subjects said they like the voice assistant very much and would choose to use it again. Shortly after the study, several people tried or installed similar applications on their phones.

Nevertheless, the two voice-activated assistants in this study pose great challenges for the subjects, even those who like to use them. For users with language impairments, or for users who speak less, speak slowly, and often pause, the software is not very friendly to them.

In my many interviews for this article, this problem has recurred: many voice-activated assistants, including Siri, are not fully functional for groups that speak differently from healthy people. In the United States, 7.5 million people cannot express themselves verbally for various reasons (including Parkinson’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, stuttering, aging, etc.). But the 7.5 million people do not include those whose voices are unique, such as those who speak very slowly or especially fast, and Siri is difficult to adapt to these groups.

“Obviously, they were not designed with us in mind.”

In 2017, fatigued writer Jamison Hill wrote an excellent article for Mic, a US news site, describing how his chronic illness has developed and affected The clarity and volume of his voice have led to a significant reduction in the use of Siri.

Now, Hill uses Google Assistant and Siri to do a variety of tasks: Siri can read online articles for him or help him proofread his work, and Google Assistant can help him communicate with others in the family. But he said that since he wrote this article, he has not seen any improvements made by Siri and Google Assistant.

Hill said: “It is difficult to avoid the fact that both are designed to facilitate the lives of healthy, healthy people.Instead of making life easier for people with disabilities. Obviously, people didn’t think about us when designing Siri and Google Assistant… I’m still waiting for a helper application that can interact with it without talking.

Heather Woods, a professor of rhetoric and technical assistant at Kansas State University, also pointed out that Siri can’t adapt to users with different oral styles or disabilities. Woods said, “Many people can’t use voice-activated devices because Siri can’t understand what they mean. For people with disabilities, including those whose voices or speeches are affected, most of Siri’s voice features don’t work.”

Fleet said that when she trains blind or visually impaired people to use Siri, she plays the role of Siri, because talking to a virtual assistant is a skill in itself. She said that “Siri can’t stand the user’s speech pause.”

Although users who are familiar with technology will quickly adapt to the specific requirements of voice-activated assistants like Siri to the user, but in general, for those who have just contacted voice-activated assistants or who have just had a disability, such as Fleet training. For patients, it may be more difficult to adapt to the specific needs of the software. Fleet said: “Emerging technology users will be nervous because of this continuous interference, they will become confused and spend more time.”

Fleet also pointed out that Siri could not adapt to the ability of many disabled people to exceed the average person. For example, some blind or visually impaired patients become very sensitive to hearing and can achieve faster reading speeds than those with normal vision by listening.

Although Apple’s VoiceOver feature, which allows voice reading of screen content, allows for reading speeds, Siri reads aloud to each user at the same slow pace, which is a habit of listening to 500 words per minute. People can be extremely boring.

For example, if a user wants Siri to play this week’s weather forecast, they must listen to Siri at a slower rate than others. According to Fleet, the ideal situation is that users can change this setting by asking Siri to speak slower or faster. But as far as the current situation is concerned, although users can change the gender or accent of Siri, they cannot change the speed at which Siri speaks.

If Apple and other software companies can consider more types of disability in their technology development, this situation can be improved and even avoided. However, according to Fleet, most people with disabilities who test the product’s accessibility features are like her, who use these technology products every day and are proficient in technology.

She said that if Apple really wants to make its products available to a wider audience, it needs to consider new emerging user groups, language barriers, and other non-mainstream users in the product development process. Inside.

Although Apple needs to deal with many of the problems Siri faces, I find that most of the people I talked to have a positive attitude towards Siri. This finding is supported by existing research that evaluates the feasibility of virtual assistants as a tool for people with disabilities. Another study in 2018 interviewed people with disabilities about Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa and analyzed them and found that their views on the technology were mostly positive.

Some people use Alexa as a memory aid – people with dementia can ask what the device is today; if you don’t remember how to dial, you can use Alexa to make a call. Some researchers say they are grateful that Alexa can do things that the nurses did before, such as checking information online, checking the weather, or jotting down some things.

One researcher pointed out that he/she does not have to repeatedly ask the nursing staff for time. “Alexa has helped me to relieve some of the stress. It works very well, can answer the same question all day, and never get angry.” The criticism of Alexa is similar to the criticism I have heard in many interviews: it is usually related to Alexa’s inability to adapt to people with language disabilities.

Siri is a fun and useful tool for millions of Americans, including many Apple users with physical disabilities. They found that with Siri, they were able to use the iPhone and iPad more easily. But Siri also faces major challenges, making it difficult for some physically disabled users to take full advantage of Apple’s products.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment from reporters. If the company doesn’t focus on product development to improve speech recognition software, especially to enhance Siri’s services for people with disabilities, Apple will miss out on a large number of key users who deserve better things than what Apple currently sells.