Apple boosts diversity with its latest accessibility tools

What can humans do alone? What can computers do? And what can humans and computers do when they work together? Apple’s latest accessibility features give us an idea of ​​the new ways technology and humans can complement each other.

Happy World Accessibility Awareness Day

This week, Apple is celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day with information about these upcoming enhancements, plus a range of special sessions, curated collections, and more.

The company will also launch SignTime in Canada on May 19, a service that connects Apple Store and Apple Support customers with on-demand sign language interpreters. SignTime was introduced in time for Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021 and is already available in the US, UK and France.

But what I think is most interesting is that Apple plans to extend its existing accessibility features with machine learning to provide sophisticated solutions to help people with disabilities move around, communicate, to take care of their health, etc.

It seems a helpful illustration of how computers can augment human beings.

“Apple embeds accessibility into all aspects of our work, and we are committed to designing the best products and services for everyone,” said Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s senior director of accessibility policy and initiatives, in a statement. She noted that these new features reflected contributions from teams across the company.

They also reflect a long-standing commitment from the company, which has incorporated accessibility solutions into its products from day one. Apple CEO Tim Cook remains committed to this; in 2018, he described it as follows:

“…A core value of Apple. We do not manufacture products for a particular group of people; we make products for everyone. We believe that everyone deserves equal opportunity and equal access. »

Apple’s accessibility improvements continue to close the gap, giving people with disabilities tools every business should also use to build a hybrid, resilient workforce, empowered by the shared insights you get always when your teams come from diverse backgrounds and backgrounds.

So what’s next?

Apple has announced four main features, which it says will be introduced “later this year”:

A tool that helps blind or visually impaired people to cover the last few meters to their destination. This will help locate a door, tell users how far they are from that door, if it is open or closed, and how it is opened. The system uses LiDAR on supporting devices and can also read signs and symbols, such as door numbers.

Door detection will be available in a new detection mode in Magnifier. In Discover Mode, visually impaired users can use a set of customizable tools to help them navigate and access detailed descriptions of their surroundings. Apple Maps will offer audio and haptic feedback designed to help VoiceOver users identify the starting point of walking directions.

This allows users with physical and motor disabilities to control an Apple Watch using Voice Control or Switch Control on their iPhone – this extends to Made for iPhone external switches, head tracking and voice commands . The idea is that users with such disabilities can still use the health support tools provided by the watch, including Blood Oxygen.

Apple has also improved Quick Actions on Apple Watch: now a double pinch gesture can answer or end a phone call, dismiss a notification, take a photo, play or pause media in the Now Playing app , and start, pause, or resume a workout. This builds on Apple’s existing AssistiveTouch technology, which empowers people with upper body limb differences with gesture controls on Apple Watch.

Live captions will be available on iPhone, iPad and Mac. A universal feature, it essentially turns your Apple product into a captioning machine for your life and is meant to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing community.

In use, your device can listen to any form of audio and provide real-time transcription. It will work with any audio content – a WebEx call, social media, phone conversation, or even an in-person conversation.

When used with FaceTime, Live Captions can also assign dialogue to specific speakers, while Mac users can type responses to what is said and have their Mac speak those responses to others in the conversation. . Font sizes are adjustable and the information remains only on the device.

  • New voices and tools for VoiceOver

A big boost for proofreaders, VoiceOver on Mac gets a new text checking tool to identify common formatting issues like duplicate spaces or misplaced capitals.

Apple will add support for 20 more languages, including Bengali, Bulgarian, Catalan, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese, as well as VoiceOver locales. Users can choose from dozens of new voices optimized for assistive functions in all languages. The new languages, locales, and voices will also be available for the Speak Selection and Speak Screen accessibility features.

There are other improvements:

  • Siri Pause Time allows users with speech disabilities to adjust how long Siri waits before responding to a request.
  • Buddy Controller combines two game controllers into one, so multiple controllers can drive input for a single player.
  • Sound recognition can be customized to recognize sounds specific to a person’s environment, such as those made by alarm systems, doorbells or appliances.
  • The Apple Books app will feature new themes and introduce customization options such as bolding text and adjusting line, character and word spacing.

Celebrating accessibility across Apple’s channels

This week, Apple is celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day with special sessions, curated collections, and more. Its retail stores will host live sessions to explain existing accessibility features, and it’s introducing an Accessibility Assistant shortcut in the Shortcuts app on Mac and Apple Watch to help recommend accessibility features based on user preferences. ‘user.

Apple’s online services and portals also focus on accessibility, including movies and shows, workouts and fitness apps, books, music, podcasts and other content storefronts.

Apple Maps will also offer new tools to help users discover accessible features and services in the parks, while guides from Gallaudet University will also be made available. Cook recently delivered the commencement address at Gallaudet. (It’s about 1:57 in the video here).

These many improvements are making valuable differences in people’s lives.

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