Apple today previewed software features for cognitive, vision, hearing, and mobility accessibility, along with innovative tools for individuals who are nonspeaking or at risk of losing their ability to speak. These updates draw on advances in hardware and software, include on-device machine learning to ensure user privacy, and expand on Apple’s long-standing commitment to making products for everyone.
Apple works in deep collaboration with community groups representing a broad spectrum of users with disabilities to develop accessibility features that make a real impact on people’s lives.
Coming later this year, users with cognitive disabilities can use iPhone and iPad with greater ease and independence with Assistive Access; nonspeaking individuals can type to speak during calls and conversations with Live Speech; and those at risk of losing their ability to speak can use Personal Voice to create a synthesized voice that sounds like them for connecting with family and friends.
For users who are blind or have low vision, Detection Mode in Magnifier offers Point and Speak, which identifies text users point toward and reads it out lot to help them interact with physical objects such as household appliances.
Assistive Access Supports Users with Cognitive Disabilities
Assistive Access uses innovations in design to distill apps and experiences to their essential features in order to lighten cognitive load. The feature reflects feedback from people with cognitive disabilities and their trusted supporters – focusing on the activities they enjoy – and that are foundational to iPhone and iPad: connecting with loved ones, capturing and enjoying photos, and listening to music.
Assistive Access includes a customized experience for Phone and FaceTime, which have been combined into a single Calls app, as well as Messages, Camera, Photos, and Music. The feature offers a distinct interface with high contrast buttons and large text labels, as well as tools to help trusted supporters tailor the experience for the individual they support.
For example for users who prefer communicating visually, Messages includes an emoji-only keyboard and the option to record a video message to share with loved ones. Users and trusted supporters can also chose between a more visual, grid-based layout for their Home Screen and apps, or a row-based layout for users who prefer text.
Live Speech and Personal Voice Advance Speech Accessibility
With Live Speech on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, users can type what they want to say to have it be spoken out loud during phone and FaceTime calls as in-person conversations with family, friends, and colleagues. Live Speech has been designed to support millions of people globally who are unable to speak or who have lost their speech over time.
For users at risk of losing their ability to speak – such as those with a recent diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or other conditions that can progressively impact speaking ability – Personal Voice is a simple and secure way to create a voice that sounds like them.
Users can create a Personal Voice by reading along with a randomized set of text prompts to record 15 minutes of audio on iPhone or iPad. This speech accessibility features users on-device machine learning to keep users’ information private and secure, and integrates seamlessly with Live Speech so users can speak with their Personal Voice when connecting with loved ones.
Detection Mode in Magnifier Introduces Point and Speak for Users Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision
Point and Speak in Magnifier makes it easier for users with vision disabilities to interact with physical objects that have several text labels. For example, while using a household appliance – such as a microwave – Point and Speak combines input the LiDAR Scanner, and on-device machine learning to announce the text on each button as users move their finger across the keypad.
Point and Speak is built into the Magnifier app on iPhone and iPad, works great with VoiceOver, and can be used with other Magnifier features such as People Detection, Door Detection, and Image Descriptions to help users navigate their physical environment.
For users with low vision, Text Size is now easier to adjust across Mac apps such as Finder, Messages, Mail, Calendar, and Notes.
Personally, I think these features will be incredibly helpful for people who have cognitive disabilities, those who are unable to speak, and those who are blind or have low vision. Apple is doing a great job with accessibility!