iPhone UNLOCK left handed not implemented by Apple - violation of Telecommunications Act Section 255

The problem

The iPhone needs to be unlocked for usage, and also to pick up a telephone call.

In the second instance, the unlocking has to be done reasonably fast.

The unlocking features is a slider that needs to be pushed across the screen, horizontally from left to right. There is no way to alter position or direction of this virtual button that is provided by Apple.

This is obviously laid out to be used by two-handed individuals or by right handed on-handed individuals; other ways to operate the switch are possible but lack safe and fast access. Missing phone calls then is the rule rather than an exception, I have to return them rather than being able to pick them up in time, and that is where discrimination becomes an issue.

What do I use this for? Mainly for work. Because among other stuff, the iPhone is a tool for time of death estimation.

Unlocking the iPhone with a left hand and a safe grip is difficult or impossible for me; I will have to rotate the device and thus make the grip less secure.

If I hold this iPhone firmly in my palm (see video) I am not able to complete this motion.

Reason is that my thumb deviates from an extension away from the slider towards the end of the 'unlock' motion. Either my thumb is too short, or not mobile enough. It is really a problem. I am not the only person with a problem.

The Apple unlock slider resides asymmetrically (which those of you with observation skills surely noted): the start of the unlock tap is located around 2cm from the left edge of the device, but the end of the lock motion is only ~ 3 mm of the right edge, about 6 cm of the left edge. If the device is turned around, the metrics are differently.

Apple is an obstructive company when it comes to persons with disabilities PWD

By their reaction to these types of requests, Apple comes across as a company that would have had a great time during some years a few decades back in Germany. They act as if reacting to disability related issues is a transmittable disease. They act as if these requests are made by cockroaches. Their sheer disgust is palpable.

Also, a man trying to get his iPhone fixed to his prosthetic arm had such an Apple reaction. It might be deplorable but it is a reality we all have to live with. From http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20125446-1/man-embeds-smartphone-into-prosthetic-arm/:

Prideaux thought he could embed the iPhone in his prosthetic so that he can hold his arm up to his ear for calls or hit the speakerphone button more easily. The Telegraph notes that he contacted Apple for "blank iPhone casing" during development, but discussions with the company fizzled.

Apple lives with inherent contradictions - a seriously ill CEO that Steve Jobs was, a seriously anatomically incapacitated fruit logo that Apple sports - yet Apple does all it can to avoid PWD in their advertising, to allow PWD a left handed access to the very basic functions of their telephone (if it was a gadget no problem, there's no Gadget Act). Shame on you, Apple.


  • I will have to swivel the device (video: 0:18) and that means to losen the grip - and in any given situation (believe me I have tried) the iPhone then gets unstable or slides out of the hand. It has happened.
  • I can use my prosthesis but disclaimer notices of prosthetic devices clearly deny any responsibility for failure of such acts - and anyone using prosthetics knows these are great approximations but not perfect. Furthermore, the iPhone is shaped ovally and does not ship with a case or enclosure that allows prosthetic terminal devices to safely hold on to them. The oval shape is a real bitch when trying to hold the device on its outer margin using a hook; if the case was straight, it would be absolutely no problem. Covering the the device with a rubber sleeve makes it safer to drop, but also harder to find the buttons. I still cannot hold it safely with the prosthesis as the oval geometry has not changed. I cannot safely hold it using a prosthesis also for operation as the only halfways sensible option ends up pushing and setting volume or home buttons. It's a screwed up situation unless we can have the screen laid out for single left hand thumb operation.
  • There are workarounds that alter the unlock switch [tap to unlock], but only if the iPhone is jailbroken. So obviously the user community has already come up with a fix for the issue that, for some reason, is blocked by Apple in the Apple-authorized iPhone version. I am not ready to jailbreak this telephone as I am unwilling to void the warranty. Twitterific is a free application that has an optional 'left handed' layout for users and this alone proves that reversal of directions is very well possible with this device.
  • Switch off auto lock for all situations necessary.


After increasing grip strength the Dorrance 555 model turned out to work well. Or not wearing the prosthetic arm at all.

Apple's role in this

Now, lets us be clear on this:

  • Apple's choice to fashion the iPhone in a curved shape and thus make it hard or impossible to reliably hold it using a prosthetic device is intentional;
  • Apple's choice to omit an unlock-switch modification (by turning it in 30, 60 or 90 degree steps) is intentional.
  • Apple's choice to not work with amputees to make the device so it can at least optionally be safely held using a prosthetic hook or hand -and even then, there are amputees that are simply one-handed or even more disabled.
  • Apple has been notified of this in clear terms in writing as of February 1st 2010.
  • Any add-on that I need to buy, any phone call that I miss due to the device not unlocking fast enough and that I then have to return - all that constitutes financial fall out that Apple piles up in my lap as a clear and unmistaken sign of their intentional or at least intentionally accepted discrimination of disability.

Legally, the situation is sky clear

Section 255 / 251(a)(2) of the Telecommunications Act require (they don't suggest, they require) manufacturers also of cell phones to ensure (not try but ensure) accessibility and usability (not just visual appeal) to people with disabilities (that includes me here).

  • Some true die-hard Apple aficionado wrote to me trying to tell me that "the iPhone is not a phone". Clearly that guy is a real brain surgeon. His attempt at dodging clear legislation and his attempt to try to tell a physically disabled person something delusional about product labels is to be looked at critically here. After all, the product under discussion is even called, labelled, sold as, termed, inscribed and referred to as 'iPhone', which in fact hints to the very realistic possibility that in fact we are dealing with a phone after all. Secondly, it is what I perceive as incoming phone calls which cause distress as those are the situations when I sometimes fail to unlock the phone in time, when it once fell down in an attempt to unlock it in time - so clearly, the unlock issue is one of urgency brought about by the iPhone being, in fact, a phone. Were it otherwise we'd not have this issue as subject now.

What now?

I am confident that Apple can release a way to get this done - either by reversing the slide, by allowing users to turn the slider in 90 degree steps or at oblique angles. If they study thumb sweeps for one-handed operation they will find a "left top to bottom right" sweep to work best. They would want to avoid to force the user to do risky balancing acts.

Even if Apple fixed this tomorrow, it would not be "great". It would have been "great" if they would have done what the iPhone-application "Twitterific" contains: a "left handed operation" switch. If they remedy the situation now, they simply stop violating Section 255 which they should not have done in the first place. There are other aspects about this device that are great. This isn't one of them.


Leave feedback: http://www.apple.com/feedback/iphone.html
Get disability legislation to look up for iPhone: http://itunes.apple.com/ch/app/dlaws/...
FCC link: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/section255...
File a complaint: http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm

Keywords: Apple iPhone slider unlock amputee amputation prosthesis lefty left handed disability discrimination telecommunications act accessibility access

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - iPhone UNLOCK left handed not implemented by Apple - violation of Telecommunications Act Section 255; published 02/02/2010, 13:58; URL: https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=276.

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1618627688, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - iPhone UNLOCK left handed not implemented by Apple - violation of Telecommunications Act Section 255}}, month = {February},year = {2010}, url = {https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=276}}