Fitbit Exercise Tracker - Accessibility and Usability Part 2

Why an Exercise Tracker?

Is it just me or does anyone else have trouble getting motivated to go out and exercise?  Whew, glad I’m not the only one! 

If you’re anything like me, you can get preached at about how exercise can lower your cholesterol, decrease stress, and alleviate depression and anxiety.  And you don’t just hear about it at the doctor’s’s all over the media.  There’s always something about the benefits of exercise or the rise in obesity on the news, in the paper, or even social media. 

You know what’s worse?  The doctor and the media and even your mother who tells you you shouldn’t gain any more weight and should probably pass on that second helping of sweet potato pie are right.  Bummer. 

So what are you going to do about it?  It’s hard to get motivated.  Especially if all the guys at work play football on the weekends or the girls from your sorority play volleyball…  Bonding over that sort of shared activity kind of loses something when you’re trying to hit a ball and whack your teammate or constantly miss when someone is trying to toss you a pass.  Or worse yet...your family’s baseball team puts you in LEFT FIELD because hey, you can’t possibly sabotage their game from all the way out there. 

I’m not trying to’s a reality and fact of life.  Most people with low vision or no vision are not included in sports in the same way as their sighted peers. 

I’m not saying there isn’t the occasional person who isn’t included, or even gifted in team sports.  I’m saying it is the exception rather than the rule.  And trust me, there are days I feel like I define that particular rule. 

Feeling connected to a group is a key motivator to being active.  Having a team, a workout buddy, or pretty much anyone to be accountable to or even competitive with can be the catalyst for success. 

Yet again, technology has a’s not perfect and it certainly won’t guarantee the same connectedness you experience on a team, but in it’s own way, it serves as a motivator. 

Fitbit: Yes, There is an App for That

In a previous article “Fitbit Exercise Tracker: Accessibility and Usability Part 1” I broke down the main features of three of the Fitbit trackers.  This article will focus on the Fitbit app and it’s VoiceOver accessibility. 

Getting Started Screenshot of the Fitbit app prior to connecting a tracker.

Once the app is downloaded, you will need to create an account.  The process is pretty simple and requires you answer some questions such as height, weight, and activity level.  The fields are easy to fill in and all you really need to do is follow the app prompts. 

Once your account is created, the app will look similar to this.

Adding a Tracker

At this time, you will need to add your tracker.  Rather than give you blow by blow instructions, here are some basic tips.  Please also note that the setup process may look a bit different depending on which tracker is being set up.  This portion of the app is accessible with VoiceOver.

NOTE: If you are a totally blind user and purchased a tracker with a screen, such as the Charge or Blaze, you may wish to set up your tracker with a sighted friend because during the process, a code will need to be read off of your tracker’s screen.

  1. In the top right of the screen, double tap the button labeled “account” then swipe right until you hear “set up a device” then double tap on it.
  2. You will be able to independently choose which device you want to connect and the app will open a walk-through tutorial of your tracker.
  3. At some point during the walk-through, you will get two prompts.  The first will ask if you want the app to be able to access your location even when not using the app.  The second prompt is asking to make data available to nearby bluetooth devices even when not using the app.  To ensure the best experience, you may wish to enable both options.  This is also when you may be asked to enter the code that appears on your tracker’s screen.
  4. The walk through will resume at this point.  You will need to choose which hand you will wear the tracker on and progress though the series of screens until you have completed the process. 

 Fitbit App with Voiceover

Screenshot of Fitbit app after setup Once you have set up your account and your tracker, you are all set!  If you are using VoiceOver, the swipe gestures work very well and all page elements are clearly labeled.  Low vision users will appreciate the print size in the app and the ability to customize it so that only the specific information you are interested appears on the dashboard (thus making it appear less cluttered). 



So, About that Competition...

Screenshot of the "challenges" area of the app Some individuals who benefit from competition enjoy participating in challenges against friends who also own fitbits.  You may be able to find friends by entering user names or email addresses.  Once you’ve added friends, you can see how many steps they’ve done, determine how you rank, and provide/receive encouragement.

There are also “solo challenges” such as exploring New York (after a certain number of steps you pass landmarks in the city).  VoiceOver is not always reliable during these challenges but low vision users may appreciate some of the pictures and information the app provides at each “point of interest”. 

Caveats for VoiceOver Users

Generally, the fitbit app works quite well for VoiceOver users.  It reads all elements of the app including total steps, calories burned, distance traveled, and other information.  There are a few things that VoiceOver does not support:

  • Decluttering the dashboard - As of the time of this writing, VoiceOver users cannot independently remove or rearrange information on the dashboard.  Personally, I’d rather know how many steps I’ve walked before the number of calories I’ve burned but the two items cannot be rearranged using VoiceOver.  I also don’t track my water intake (hearing VoiceOver tell me that I’ve ingested zero ounces of water can get pretty annoying) so having a friend who can remove or rearrange that information is helpful.
  • Challenges: When participating in challenges with friends, VoiceOver will not read the total number of steps of the individuals in the challenge.  So you may be in third place, but may not know either your total for the week or the total of the two individuals ahead of you. Without actually double tapping on the challenge (I’m fond of 
The Workweek Hustle myself) the app will let you know if you are, for example, 435 steps in front of Jane or 945 steps behind John.  It gives you a basic idea of where you are in the ranking.
  • Screenshot of the "sleep" section of the Fitbit App Sleep - When you initially open the “sleep” icon to get more detailed information on your night’s rest, you open three-screen introduction.  Yes, it’s great that VoieOver reads all of the text and with a three finger scrub it’s easy to get to the next screen.  That is until you try to exit the area.  For some reason, there is not “done” or “close” button.  Once you get past this issue however, the information you have access to is pretty good. 

The Bottom Line

The first time you set up and use the app, it might not be a bad idea to be in shouting distance of a willing friend or partner that can navigate those pesky issues like entering the pairing code on the tracker, choosing what information is available on your dashboard, or getting out of the sleep menu. Overall though once the app is set up it is very accessible and user friendly aside from the few issues mentioned in this article.

Using the Fitbit isn’t going to make you fit.  Sorry, it doesn’t work like that.  But it will help give you some tools to start becoming more active in ways that you can participate in and may be meaningful to you.  The initial investment of between $100 and $200 as well as time to learn how the app works and what is the most effective way for you to take advantage of it might just help give you a nudge in the right direction.  Good luck!

Read more about: Assistive Technology