Apple (AAPL) Announces New Accessibility Features

Disabled users to get new tools for navigation, health, communication, and more

Mark Kolakowski has been a business consultant, freelance writer, and business school lecturer, after a career at Merrill Lynch. An investor and market watcher since the 1970s, he received an AB in economics from Harvard College, an MBA in finance from The Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania, and authored the book Career Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Business.

Apple Inc. (AAPL) announced, on May 17, 2022, upcoming software enhancements designed to give users with various disabilities new ways "to navigate, connect, and get the most out of Apple products." Apple says that it has made key advancements involving hardware, software, and machine learning to deliver the upcoming enhancements. These features will be available later in 2022 through software updates across Apple platforms.

The potential impact on Apple’s revenues and earnings are unclear at this point. However, upgrading functionality for impaired users is bound to benefit Apple in terms of corporate image, which is especially important during this period of heightened political scrutiny directed at leading technology companies. It also helps to enhance Apple’s reputation as a leader in innovation and could help to cement its leadership position in key markets, most notably education.

Key Takeaways

  • Apple has announced various software enhancements designed to assist users with vision, hearing, or physical impairments.
  • To be released later in 2022, they will work with one or more of these Apple devices: iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple Watches.

For Blind and Vision Impaired Users

Users who are blind or have low visual acuity will be able to use an iPhone or iPad to navigate the last few feet to their destination with a feature called Door Detection. It can help users to locate a door upon arriving at a new destination and to know how far they are from it. Door Detection also can indicate if a door is open or closed, and if it is closed, whether it can be opened by pushing, turning a knob, or pulling a handle. Door Detection can also read signs and symbols around the door, such as a room number or the presence of an accessible entrance symbol.

Door Detection will work with iPhone and iPad models that have LiDAR scanners. Associated features include People Detection and Image Descriptions. In addition, Apple Maps will offer sound and haptics feedback (i.e., touch cues such as vibration) to assist VoiceOver users in finding the starting point for walking directions.

For Physically Impaired Users

Users with physical or motor disabilities who rely on assistive features such as Voice Control and Switch Control can control an Apple Watch remotely from an iPhone with a feature called Apple Watch Mirroring. This feature will use the iPhone’s assistive features such as Voice Control and Switch Control. Inputs will include voice commands, sound actions, head tracking, or external Made for iPhone switches as alternatives to tapping the Apple Watch display. Simple hand gestures also can be used to control an Apple Watch.

For Deaf and Hearing Impaired Users

Those who are deaf or hard of hearing can follow Live Captions on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Apple is also expanding support for its industry-leading screen reader VoiceOver with over 20 new languages and locales.

Live Captions are designed to allow users to follow any audio content with more ease. This includes phone or FaceTime calls, video conferencing or social media apps, streaming media content, or having an in-person conversation next to someone. Users also can adjust the font size.

When Live Captions are used in FaceTime, it can attribute auto-transcribed dialogue to call participants. When Live Captions are used for calls on a Mac, users can type a response and have it spoken aloud in real time to other participants.

Additional Features

Buddy Controller allows a care provider or friend to help the user to play a game by having multiple controllers drive the input for a single player.

Siri Pause Time allows users with speech disabilities to adjust how long Siri waits before responding to a request.

Voice Control Spelling Mode allows users to dictate custom spellings using letter-by-letter input.

Sound Recognition can be customized to recognize sounds that are specific to a person’s environment, such as a 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.

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