Apple announced today a collection of new accessibility features that will aid users with disabilities in navigation, health and communications set to debut later this year. The company has consistently developed new tools that make it easier for people with disabilities to not only use their products but also experience the world around them better with the help of technology. In the settings menu of Apple‘s mobile devices and the system preferences tab on macOS, there is an accessibility page that offers a slew of ways to change the user interface of a product. For example, there’s a way to do many tasks differently, from adding a digital home button to changing the default size for text at the operating system level. With the new announcements revealed in honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, there will be more ways to make Apple devices more accessible.
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Currently, the most powerful accessibility tool available is VoiceOver, a feature that dictates what is shown to the user onscreen through audio. It’s beneficial for people who are blind or have visual impairments that prevent them from easily viewing on-screen information. VoiceOver can tell a user what the current battery percentage of the smartphone is or read small text, which helps make Apple products work for everyone. However, the accessibility features aren’t just useful for people with disabilities. In some cases, the tools first designed for accessibility make their way into the main operating system. For example, the ‘Announce Messages’ feature, which dictates text messages to iPhone users when AirPods or compatible Beats headphones are connected, is a derivation of VoiceOver. Additionally, iPadOS now supports Bluetooth and wired mice, which were first added as an accessibility input device. Everyone should pay attention to the newest accessibility features because they might one day be a part of the main operating system.
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The collection of accessibility features will make it easier to use Apple Watches, iPhones, and more, the company announced in a press release. One of the fascinating new tools is Apple Watch Mirroring, allowing users to control their Apple Watch from their iPhone remotely. The watch has to be paired to the smartphone and within Bluetooth range of the connected iPhone to use the feature built on AirPlay technology. It has a lot of benefits for people with disabilities who stand to benefit from the health monitoring capabilities included in the Apple Watch but may not be able to easily use a device with such a small form factor. With Apple Watch Mirroring, users have a larger graphical-user interface to control their smartwatch. Moreover, all of the accessibility tools found on the iPhone — such as Voice Control and Switch Control — can be used to control an Apple Watch remotely. The smartwatch will also receive a few new gestures to make it easier to control the device, such as pinches and swipes.
Door Detection, Live Captions, And More
For blind or visually impaired people, Door Detection helps iPhone and iPad users carefully and safely navigate the world around them. The software feature uses the LiDAR scanner found on the latest ‘Pro’ version of the iPhone and iPad to map out the user’s surroundings, giving them the information they need to proceed. Door Detection can identify where a door is, whether it is open or closed, and how to open it. The feature can also read signs on and around the entrance to the user, which can provide identifying information like a room number. Apple will incorporate it in the Magnifier app, which is an accessibility app that is already available for visually impaired users, but Door Detection won’t be available until later this year.
Apple is also adding Live Captions to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac that can provide closed captioning for just about any sound that comes from the device. The company used FaceTime as an example where Live Captions can show written text displaying what a caller says, but the feature is also available for third-part sounds. That includes videos from social media applications, video conferencing apps, and streaming content that doesn’t have closed captioning. On FaceTime, the feature is even more helpful — spoken words are attributed to the speaker via text, and the user can type a response that will be digitally spoken aloud to the group. The collection of features set for release later this year will make it easier for people with disabilities to use Apple devices. Some features might eventually make their way into the main operating system.