iOS 12: Restrictions becomes Screen Time with “family” support, definition of “child” is a concern for vulnerable users

Two years ago Apple’s iOS had better family restriction options than Google’s Android. In the past year Google has forged ahead and Apple has stood still. In my testing third party apps that claim to manage iPhone use fail badly — due to lack of Apple support.

With iOS 12 Apple is redoing “restrictions” as “Screen Time”. Reports claim support for remote management of “child” users.

This could be real progress for special needs iPhone users — or it could be a disappointment. It all depends how Apple defines “child”. I’m afraid Apple will arbitrarily set “child” as someone under age 18.

I say that because there’s a worrisome precedent in iOS 11 family sharing. In iOS 11 a family sharing manager can require purchase authorization for family members — but only for family members under age 18.

If Apple adopts this same rule, without consideration of vulnerable adults, Screen Time won’t be as useful as it could be. A month ago, for what it’s worth, I wrote Tim Cook about this — though I think it’s too late now to make changes for iOS 12. There might be a chance to make changes for iOS 13.

It’s not all bad of course. Screen Time will be an improvement for Explorers under age 18, and maybe Apple will provide better support for third parties to extend Screen Time.

There’s an important context to this problem. In our culture there’s some popular support for persons with disabilities that fall within the scope of the ADA. Apple, for example, has often done a good job, particularly in iOS, of supporting limitations in vision and hearing. That support doesn’t extend to persons with cognitive disabilities. There is no cognitive disability section in iOS Accessibility settings. If Apple thought about cognitive disabilities the way they thought about visual limitations, there would be a “vulnerable adult” toggle that would eliminate the “over 18” rule. There would be a “simplify interaction” toggle that would support one-tap activation of the dozens of simplifications I describe in “Smartphones for All”. There would be explicit support for a “Guide” user that managed two-factor authentication issues.

I haven’t seen any signs of either Apple or Google engaging with the cognitive disability community. These are corporations that value intellect; perhaps they find cognitive disability distasteful. Government regulation and/or ADA litigation may be needed.

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