New Set Of Accessible Tools Designed To Help Users With Disabilities Coming Soon From Apple

NEWS: – Apple’s software platforms are about to get even more useful for persons who are disabled.

Earlier this week — days ahead of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (and weeks in advance of Apple’s annual worldwide developers conference in June) — Apple (via a press release) gave a preview of a new set of accessible tools coming later this year to its software platforms. From communication for the hearing impaired to navigation for the visually impaired, these accessibility features have been specifically designed to help users with disabilities get the most out of the Cupertino, California-based company’s products.

Apple Accessibility iOS
A new set of accessible tools for communication, navigation, and more will be coming later this year to the iPhone and Apple Watch via a software update from Apple. (Photo: Apple, Inc.)

This new set of accessible tools, per the press release, “build on Apple’s long standing commitment to making products that work for everyone.”

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Assistance With Communication, Navigation, & More

For the hearing impaired, Apple is introducing Live Captions, a communication feature which allows users who are deaf or hard of hearing to follow along more easily with any audio content (e.g., when on a phone call, using a video conferencing app, having a conversation with someone next to them, etc.). With Live Captions, group video calls in FaceTime become more accessible for users who are deaf or hard of hearing as the conversation is auto-transcribed to all participants on the call. Additionally, for FaceTime calls on a Mac, Live Captions allows a response typed by a user who is hearing impaired to be spoken aloud in real time to other participants in the conversation who can hear.

Live Captions will be coming soon to the iPad, iPhone, and Mac.

For the visually impaired, Apple is introducing Door Detection, a navigation feature for users who are blind or have low vision which combines the camera and LiDAR scanner on the iPad and iPhone along with on-device machine learning to allow users to detect the presence of a door in their surroundings. With Door Detection, people who are blind or have low vision can locate doors, understand how far they are from it, and detect door attributes including if it is open or closed (if the latter, a user can tell whether the door can be opened by turning a knob, pulling a handle, or pushing it open). Additionally, Door Detection can read signs and symbols around the door (e.g., the room number at an office).

Door Detection, which is a feature of the new Detection Mode in the Magnifier app, will be coming soon to the iPad and iPhone (only on models featuring a LiDAR Scanner).

For people who are physically impaired, Apple is introducing Apple Watch Mirroring, which uses hardware and software integration to allow users with motor disabilities to benefit from Apple Watch-only apps (e.g., Blood Oxygen, Heart Rate, Mindfulness, etc.). With Apple Watch Mirroring, users can control an Apple Watch from a paired iPhone using its assistive technologies like Switch Control and Voice Control — or inputs such as head tracking, sound actions, and voice commands — as alternatives to tapping the watch’s display. Additionally, for people who have upper body limb differences, with Quick Actions, users have the option to control an Apple Watch through a simple hand gesture, specifically, by performing a double-pinch, to answer (or, end) a phone call or dismiss a notification on the screen.

In addition to the aforementioned new set of accessible tools, Apple also noted the following in the press release:

  • with Text Checker, people who are blind or have low vision can discover common formatting issues (e.g., duplicate spaces or misplaced capital letters) which makes proofreading documents or other text even easier when using a Mac
  • with Siri Pause Time, users with speech impairments can adjust how long Siri waits before responding to a request
  • with Buddy Controller, users with disabilities can ask a family member, friend, or care provider to help them play a game (Buddy Controller combines any two game controllers into one, so multiple controllers can drive the input for a single player)

All of these accessibility features will be available via a software update later this year.

“Apple embeds accessibility into every aspect of our work, and we are committed to designing the best products and services for everyone,” said Sarah Herrlinger, Apple senior director of accessibility policy and initiatives (in the press release). “We’re excited to introduce these new features, which combine innovation and creativity from teams across Apple to give users more options to use our products in ways that best suit their needs and lives.”

Throughout this week, in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which is held on the third Thursday of May each year, Apple has been holding special live sessions at all of its retail store locations around the world in order to help customers discover and learn more about the accessibility features that are available on the iPhone (in addition, Apple Support also has been showcasing accessibility-oriented “how to” content online across all of the company’s social media channels).

A Note from the Author: this article is one of a number of stories with Accessibility or disability related topics as its subject matter which this writer features periodically in this column due to his own disabilities (being visually impaired and partially hearing impaired) and, whenever the opportunity arises to share such stories, it is published here.

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