Apple has provided a sneak peek into the upcoming iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, showcasing a range of new accessibility features to enhance user experience for individuals with disabilities. While the official announcement of iOS 17 is set to take place at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, Apple offered a preview of the accessibility updates, focusing on cognitive accessibility, speech impairments, and visual impairments.
One of the key additions is Assistive Access, designed to assist individuals with cognitive disabilities. This feature introduces larger high-contrast buttons, prominent text labels, and customizable options to facilitate easier navigation and selection on the screen. Users who rely on visual communication will benefit from features like a message keyboard with pictograms and video message recording. The home screen will offer larger icons, grid-style visual layouts, and text-based columns.
Live Speech, available on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, enables users to input text for real-time audio output during phone calls, FaceTime calls, and in-person meetings. Additionally, a feature called “Personal Voice” generates a voice that closely resembles the user’s own, allowing individuals at risk of losing their voice, such as those with ALS, to maintain a more personal and authentic voice for speech synthesis.
Apple has also introduced Point and Speak in Magnifier, an update to the Detection Mode of the Magnifier tool. This feature assists visually impaired individuals in reading text labels on physical objects and devices. By utilizing the camera app, LiDAR technology, and on-device machine learning, users can glide their fingers across the surface to have the text on buttons or labels read aloud.
In addition to these major enhancements, Apple has made several other improvements to accessibility across its devices and platforms. Made for iPhone, hearing devices can now be directly paired with Macs, Voice Control offers word suggestions for voice typing, and Switch Control allows users to turn any switch into a virtual game controller. Apple has also introduced various customization options for low-vision users, including adjustable text sizes in Mac applications and the ability to automatically pause images with moving elements in Messages and Safari for those sensitive to rapid animation.
Apple’s accessibility features preview coincides with Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 18th. In celebration, Apple is offering new features and curated collections in its apps, showcasing the impact of augmented and alternative communication applications, presenting movies and series curated by members of the disability community, and introducing American Sign Language music videos on Apple Music, among other initiatives.
As Apple continues to prioritize accessibility, these forthcoming features aim to empower individuals with disabilities, making technology more inclusive and ensuring that everyone can fully benefit from the capabilities of iOS and iPadOS.