So, here’s the deal: I’ve had my fair share of encounters with accessibility hurdles, both for myself and the people around me. My mom’s physical disability exposed the woeful lack of wheelchair ramps and accessible shopping experiences. And let me tell you, it’s opened my eyes, or rather, it should have opened everyone’s eyes, to the need for accessibility in everything. On top of that, being blessed with a combo of severe ADHD and Lupus, I face my own set of cognitive and physical constraints every day.

Navigating Accessibility Settings

For this adventure, I decided to dip my toes into the world of blindness simulation. Armed with my trusty Samsung Galaxy phone, I dived into TikTok. Now, let’s be honest, my attempt at being blind lasted a whopping 60 seconds. I can already hear the blind community shaking their heads at me. But hey, I really did try my best!

In that ridiculously short time, I discovered that accessibility settings on my phone are like a puzzling labyrinth. I squinted, blinked, and scratched my head, trying to figure out the necessary adjustments. If I, a person with decent vision, struggled, I can only imagine the mind-boggling frustration blind individuals face when setting up their phones!

Now, let me tell you about the “assistive speech” feature, Samsung so graciously provided me. As someone with ADHD, I thought it’d be helpful, but boy, was I wrong! It bombarded me with instructions I could recite in my sleep — stuff like “double tap to choose.” Gee, thanks, Captain Obvious, you only told me after EVERY tap! Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the secret to disable that function.

At this point, I couldn’t even reach the TikTok app to do the simulation, I stumbled upon obstacles that would make an Olympic hurdler sweat. Tasks like searching for content or swiping through apps became as complicated as unraveling one of my yarn balls. Bixby? Nah, I hadn’t bothered setting it up because it seemed like a whole lot of hassle, so voice commands were out of the question for me. I had trouble setting that up while I could see, let alone blind.

TikTok Trials and Tribulations

To fix the mess I got myself into, I had to tap my way back to the settings through the “recent” apps, deactivate Talkback (my screen reader), reopen TikTok (hoping it would show up in my “recent” apps), and then reactivate Talkback. Phew! And guess what? I still had my eyesight intact!

Finally, I reached TikTok and tried to embrace my inner blind person. Let me tell you, it was a blurry mess. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what people were doing in those videos. Were they dancing? Attempting bizarre challenges? Your guess was as good as mine! All I could hear was the music, unless someone had the decency to speak up in the video. Liking a video turned into an epic quest, requiring about ten swipes to locate the elusive “like” button. Talk about an arm workout!

And don’t even get me started on pausing or replaying videos. I was lost in a maze of literally labeled “unidentifiable” icons: “Post,” “Share,” “Comment,” “Save.” It was like deciphering an ancient code, but with zero clues. Finding content within TikTok? Mission: impossible.

Talkback’s Troubles and Design Dilemmas

As if things weren’t chaotic enough, that Talkback feature (my trusty screen reader) on my phone kept yapping away, making it impossible to follow the video’s audio. I couldn’t hit a pause button to catch my breath and listen to Talkback’s monologue. The whole TikTok experience felt futile!

When I decided to call it quits and disable the accessibility feature, I started worrying that I might have to sacrifice my precious phone settings and perform a factory reset just to turn off the darn thing. I double-tapped as instructed, but either nothing happened or the response time felt slower than a sloth.

A Wider Perspective on Accessibility Tools

During my brief simulation, it hit me: the available accessibility tools terribly designed. If I, a sighted person with some tech savviness, struggled to navigate them without losing my sanity, how on earth can we expect blind individuals to have a smooth experience? If I were blind and this was my only option for a phone, I’d probably chuck it out the window and stick to carrier pigeons.

Previously, I had utilized accessibility tools like vibrating and flashing lights for phone calls to compensate for a loud noise work environment. However, this assignment has extended my understanding, reminding me that accessibility tools are not solely for the disabled but are meant to be utilized by everyone.

I challenge you to simulate a disability for just 60 seconds and devise a solution that not only makes a task you usually take for granted easier and seamless but also benefits anyone attempting to complete it.