Apple Announces New Accessibility Features Across All Products

Image: Apple

Apple on Tuesday announced new accessibility features for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and more. The Cupertino, California-based tech giant said the features will offer “new ways for users with disabilities to navigate, connect, and get the most out of Apple products.”

The new functionalities harness advancements in hardware, software, and machine learning.

“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, senior director of Accessibility Policy and Initiatives at Apple.

“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.”

The announced software features will start rolling out to users later this year as part of firmware updates, said Apple, but the company did offer up a preview in the meantime. Apple’s upcoming accessibility features include:

Door Detection

A new navigation feature that is designed to allow people who are blind or have low vision to locate and be guided to a door by their iPhone or iPad upon arriving at a new destination.

Door Detection uses LiDAR, the device’s camera, and on-device machine learning to locate a door, determine how far away it is, recognize attributes such as whether it is open or closed, and work out how it can be opened (by pushing or by turning a knob, for example).

Apple Watch Mirroring

The new feature will allow users, especially those with physical and motor disabilities, to control their Apple Watch remotely from their paired iPhone.

Users will also be able to use assistive features like Voice Control and Switch Control on the iPhone to control their Apple Watch as substitutes for tapping the Apple Watch display. Apple has also expanded hand gesture controls for the Apple Watch by adding new Quick Actions.

Live Captions for iPhone, iPad, and Mac

Apple is bringing Live Captions to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac to make audio easier to follow for users who are deaf or hard of hearing. The feature works completely on-device and supports phone and FaceTime calls, video conferencing apps, social media apps, content streaming platforms, and more.

Additional Features

  • With Buddy Controller, users can ask a care provider or friend 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.

  • With Siri Pause Time, users with speech disabilities can adjust how long Siri waits before responding to a request.

  • Voice Control Spelling Mode gives users the option to dictate custom spellings using letter-by-letter input.5

  • Sound Recognition can be customized to recognize sounds that are specific to a person’s environment, like their home’s unique alarm, doorbell, or appliances.

  • The Apple Books app will offer new themes, and introduce customization options such as bolding text and adjusting line, character, and word spacing for an even more accessible reading experience.

Apple also announced 20 new languages and locales for its industry-leading screen reader, VoiceOver.

“At Apple, we design for accessibility from the ground up and we’re constantly innovating on behalf of our users. The cutting-edge features we are sharing today will offer new ways for people with disabilities to navigate, connect, and so much more,” said CEO Tim Cook on Monday.

The new accessibility features will likely be a part of iOS 16 (and its sister updates for other Apple product lines). Apple is expected to unveil iOS 16 at its upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which is slated for June 6-10.

Recent speculation says iOS 16 won’t change much in terms of the operating system’s looks, but it will bring new stock Apple apps and more ways to interact with devices. The first public beta for iOS 16 will reportedly be available in July, which is later than Apple’s usual schedule for new iOS versions.