Apple’s Big Push to Improve Accessibility in iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS Catalina

Apple is introducing several accessibility-friendly features with iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS Catalina, including Voice Control, Hover Text, and Mouse Pointer Support for iPhones and iPads.

After the company's WWDC keynote on Monday, TechCrunch's iOS accessibility expert Steven Aquino sat down with Apple's Sarah Herrlinger, director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives, who offered further details on the thinking behind Apple's latest, and arguably greatest, accessibility push.


Voice Control


Herrlinger first opened up about Apple's new Voice Control feature, which earned its own slide space during Craig Federighi’s onstage presentation. Voice Control supports editing and menu navigation in both macOS Catalina and iOS 13, but it was the feature's advanced dictation capabilities that Herrlinger was most eager to highlight.
For example, Herrlinger explained how you can say "show numbers" in Safari's Favorites view and little numbers, corresponding to the number of favorites you have, show up beside a website's favicon. Say TechCrunch is No. 2 in your list of favorites. If the glyph is hard to make out visually, saying "open 2" will prompt Voice Control to launch TechCrunch's page. Likewise, you can say "show grid" and a grid will appear so you perform actions such as clicking, tapping or pinching-and-zooming.
Herrlinger said Apple has worked hard to improve Voice Control's speech detection system, so that it can more adeptly parse users with different types of speech, such as those who stutter.

On iOS, the feature also utilizes attention awareness to know when a user with physical motor limitations is interacting with their device. Allaying privacy concerns, Apple says that none of the audio processed by Voice Control can be accessed by anyone else, including Apple, thanks to built-in anonymity and encryption.

Hover Text for macOS


Another feature Herrlinger was keen to demo was something called Hover Text on macOS. Described as a subset of the existing Zoom functionality, Hover Text enables the user to place the mouse pointer over a selection of text to get a bubble with the text enlarged.
Herrlinger told me the feature works system-wide, even in places like the menu bar. And yes, Hover Text is indeed customizable; users have access to a wide variety of fonts and colors to make Hover Text's "bubbles" their own. Text size can be enlarged up to 128pt, Herrlinger said. What this means is users can play with different permutations of the feature to find which label(s) work best — say, a yellow background with dark blue text set in Helvetica for the highest contrast. The possibilities are virtually endless, a testament to how rich the feature is despite its simplicity.
According to Herrlinger, Apple could have brought iOS feature Dynamic Type to the Mac, but found Hover Text accomplished the same goal of enlarging text in a way that felt better suited to its desktop operating system.

Mouse Support for iPhone and iPad


iPadOS and iOS 13 introduces mouse support for the first time, allowing a USB mouse to be connected to an iPad and iPhone for the first time.

Mouse support is not a standard feature, but is instead available as an AssistiveTouch option, designed for users with physical motor delays who can’t easily interact with the touchscreen itself. Apple says it works with both USB and Bluetooth mice, although the company doesn’t yet have an official compatibility list. According to developer Steve Troughton-Smith, who first discovered the feature, it also works with the Apple Magic Trackpad.
When I asked why build pointer support into a touch-based operating system, Herrlinger was unequivocal in her answer: it serves a need in the accessibility community. "This is not your old desktop cursor as the primary input method," she said.

The reality is, it's not your secondary choice, either. The bottom line is that, while Apple loves the idea of accessibility features being adopted by the mainstream, pointer support in iOS 13 and iPadOS really isn't the conventional PC input mechanism at all. In this case, it's a niche feature that should suit a niche use case; it's not supposed to represent the milestone of iPad's productivity growth that many think it could be. Maybe that changes over time, but for now, it's the new Mac Pro of software: not for everyone, not even for most people.
According to Herrlinger, Apple recognizes that people without disabilities will use this feature. "For example, many people find value in closed captions," she said. "Our goal is to engineer for specific use cases so that we continue to bring the power of our devices to more people."


That being said, Herrlinger was quick to emphasize that mouse support should be seen in context. In other words, Apple hasn't introduced it to drastically alter the primary user input landscape of iOS, although that being said, it's not going to stop anyone outside its intended use case from plugging a mouse into their iPad Pro.

iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS Catalina are only available to registered developers at this time, but later in the summer, Apple plans to make public betas available, giving public beta testers a chance to try the software before it sees a public launch in the fall.

Related Roundups: iOS 13, iPadOS

This article, "Apple's Big Push to Improve Accessibility in iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS Catalina" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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Apple Reveals ‘Voice Control’ Accessibility Feature Coming to Mac and iOS

As part of its macOS Catalina unveiling today at WWDC, Apple announced a new accessibility feature called Voice Control, allowing users to control their Mac and iOS devices entirely using vocal commands.


Voice Control supports dictation and editing in both operating systems, along with comprehensive menu navigation.

On iOS, the feature utilizes attention awareness to know when a user with physical motor limitations is interacting with their device.

To allay privacy concerns, Apple says that none of the audio processed by Voice Control can be accessed by anyone else, including Apple, thanks to built-in anonymity and encryption.

More to follow...


This article, "Apple Reveals 'Voice Control' Accessibility Feature Coming to Mac and iOS" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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Apple Highlights Global Accessibility Awareness Day With Front-Page Feature

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, an event that promotes inclusion and access to technology for anyone with a disability. As it has over the past few years, Apple is marking the day by updating Apple.com in a few regions around the world with a message promoting accessibility: "Technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone."


On the Apple.com front page in the United Kingdom, visitors are encouraged to explore more accessibility features, which is linked to Apple's existing accessibility page. The page doesn't appear to have been updated yet this year; it highlights areas where Apple helps users with disabilities related to vision, hearing, physical and motor skills, learning, and literacy. The front page updates haven't appeared yet in the United States and other regions, but they will likely be refreshed as the day progresses.

On the accessibility page, Apple highlights its short commercial from 2016 about real people with disabilities who use its products in everyday life, narrated by Sady Paulson, who uses Switch Control on a Mac. Otherwise the page showcases Apple accessibility features like VoiceOver, Live Listen, Switch Control, and more, with the help of products including the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and HomePod.

In years past, Apple celebrated Global Accessibility Awareness Day with a series of "Designed for" videos that highlighted interviews conducted between CEO Tim Cook and three accessibility activists. Apple has also previously held a Stevie Wonder concert at One Infinite Loop and hosted global events promoting inclusive design at Apple corporate offices in Cupertino, Austin, Cork, and London. The company also usually holds accessibility-related Today at Apple sessions at its retail stores.


This article, "Apple Highlights Global Accessibility Awareness Day With Front-Page Feature" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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How to Make Your iPhone Display Dimmer Than Standard Brightness Controls Allow

If the screen of your iPhone or iPad is too bright for comfort, the usual solution is to go to Settings -> Display & Brightness and drag the Brightness slider to the left, or open Control Center and adjust the corresponding setting from there.


However, if the lowest setting offered by the Brightness level just isn't dim enough for you, there are a couple of ways to make your screen even darker. One method we've covered previously is to adjust white point using the Accessibility Shortcut. Another way is to enable a low light filter, which you can do by following the steps below.

  1. Launch the Settings app on your iOS device.

  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap Accessibility.

  4. Tap Zoom.

  5. Tap Zoom Region.

  6. Select Full Screen Zoom and return to the main Zoom menu.

  7. Tap Zoom Filter.

  8. Select Low Light and return to the main Zoom menu.

  9. Now, turn on Zoom by toggling the switch at the top of the Zoom menu.

  10. Double-tap the screen with three fingers to zoom out to fullscreen.

Your device's display brightness should now be extra dim. Note that you can disable the low light filter at any time: Simply triple-tap the screen with three fingers, tap Choose Filter from the overlay panel and then select None.


This article, "How to Make Your iPhone Display Dimmer Than Standard Brightness Controls Allow" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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How to Create a Virtual Home Button in iOS Using Assistive Touch

After testing some apps on an old iPhone 6s recently, I started to notice the device's Home button was becoming less and less responsive to finger presses, especially when it came to double-clicking it. Sure enough, after a few more days' use, the Home button stopped working completely.

In memory of the Home button

Now, ordinarily this would have left me in the unenviable position of having to power off my iPhone and turn it on again whenever I wanted to exit out of a launched app, until I relinquished the device and sent it away for a costly repair.

Fortunately, however, the event jogged my memory of a friend who was able to continue using their iPhone even after a drop had left its Home button dangling by a wire (by some miracle, Touch ID still worked). They had set up iOS's Assistive Touch feature as a virtual Home button while they waited until they could afford a replacement.

If your iPhone's Home button is dead or dying and you want to take similar action, or if you just fancy reminding yourself what using a Home button was like before Apple removed them from its latest iPhones, here's how to set up Assistive Touch to mimic a virtual one.

Note that if your Home button is already broken and your iPhone is stuck in a launched app, simply power off the device and turn it on again to boot back into the Home screen and follow these steps.

  1. Launch the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap Accessibility.

  4. Scroll down and tap AssistiveTouch.

  5. Slide the AssistiveTouch toggle to the green position to turn it on.

  6. Next, under Custom Actions, select Single-Tap.

  7. In the next screen, tap Home to check it in the list.
With the AssistiveTouch virtual button enabled, simply touch it and it will behave just like a physical Home button.


Note that you can drag it around the screen to another location, and it will remain there until you move it again. You can also access it in running apps, as well as the Control Center.


This article, "How to Create a Virtual Home Button in iOS Using Assistive Touch" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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How to Use the Magnifier Feature on iPhone and iPad

Apple includes an accessibility feature in iOS that's useful if you have a visual impairment, but can even come in handy if your eyes are simply tired or you're struggling to read something like small print, especially in poor light.


It's called the Magnifier, and has several advantages over just opening up the camera app and zooming in to get a better look at something.

Enabling it is easy: Launch the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad, navigate to General -> Accessibility -> Magnifier, and toggle on the Magnifier switch.


After that, all you need to do to use it is triple-click the Side button (or Home button, depending on your device). You can also add it to the Control Center by going to Settings -> Control Center -> Customize Controls, and tapping the green plus button next to Magnifier.

When you launch Magnifier, you'll see a camera-like interface at the bottom of the screen, but with some unique features. The slider controls the magnification of the scene in the lens frame, while the button at the bottom left turns on the flashlight so you can illuminate it. The padlock button next to that locks the focus.


Tapping the big button in the center freezes the image (a frozen image is indicated by a yellow ring around the button), allowing you to move your phone around freely and still look at the image. You can also use the magnification slider to zoom in and out of the frozen image.

Note that when you freeze an image in the Magnifier, it isn't saved to your photo album. But if you want to save the entire image, you can.

Simply tap and hold on the frozen picture and select Save Image from the contextual popup menu. You'll find a Share option in there, too.


Over on the far right of the Magnifier interface is a button made up of three circles that provides access to additional sliders for adjusting brightness and contrast.

If you suffer from color blindness or another visual impairment, you can swipe through several color schemes in this extended menu and even invert the colors to find which combination works for you.


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Apple Highlights How iPhone Allows Blind Veteran and Surfboarder Scott Leason to Live Independently

Apple today shared a story about how the iPhone's accessibility features enable blind veteran and surfboarder Scott Leason to live independently.

Scott Leason surfboards at Mission Beach

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Leason was blinded in 1993 after seven years of service. After years of adapting to his new normal, he received an iPhone 5 in 2012, along with training from Sarah T. Majidzadeh, assistant chief of blind rehabilitation at the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California.

Leason is one of many individuals who are blind or have low vision who rely on the iPhone's built-in VoiceOver screen-reading software for daily tasks.

"It's a lot easier to navigate with the phone," Leason told Apple for its story. "I think a lot of the visually impaired prefer the iPhone because they can do everything on it. And VoiceOver works pretty darn good."

VoiceOver is a gesture-based reader introduced on iPhone in 2009, which made it the world's first fully accessible smartphone user interface for the blind, according to Apple. 76 percent of blind and low-vision people using a mobile screen-reading platform choose VoiceOver, per a December 2017 survey by WebAIM.

Scott Leason uses his iPhone XR to prepare for a surf

A competitive surfboarder, Leason has since upgraded to an iPhone XR, which he uses to review the day's surf reports via the Surfline app to prepare for the day's ride, typically at Mission Beach in San Diego. He also wears an Apple Watch Series 4 to track his surfing workouts in the water and at home.

"It's amazing how long ago 10 years feels in the world of technology," said Kevin Waldick, assistant director at the Mission Bay Aquatics Center. "He was not very technologically savvy at all, but when he got his iPhone he was like 'I can just do it. This is amazing.' And so Apple does a really amazing job of making that accessible."

Scott Leason starts a surfing workout on Apple Watch Series 4

Leason was the first blind champion at the USA Adaptive Surfing Championships at Oceanside Harbor North Jetty in June 2016. The same year, he won second place in men's tricks at the USA Water Ski competition in Harmony, North Carolina. In 2018, he competed in seven competitions in four different sports.

"I'm independent," Leason concluded. "That's the best way to describe the iPhone: independence."


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Google Adds Morse Code Accessibility Feature to Gboard on iOS

Google has added support for Morse code typing to its Gboard app for iOS, providing an accessible method of digital communication for people with disabilities.

The customizable feature replaces the letters of the keyboard with large dot and dash keys to enter text, and offers text-to-Morse sequences to the auto-suggestion strip above the keyboard.


Google has also launched a Morse Typing Trainer web game that teachers users how to communicate in Morse code using Gboard.

Tania Finlayson, an assistive tech developer with cerebral palsy who works on the Gboard project, explained in a Google blog post how Morse code has helped her communicate more effectively:
"At first I thought learning Morse code would be a waste of time, but soon learned that it gave me total freedom with my words, and for the first time, I could talk with ease, without breaking my neck. School became fun, instead of exhausting. I could focus on my studies, and have real conversations with my friends for the first time. Also, I did not need an adult figure with me every moment at school, and that was awesome."
For existing Gboard users, the Morse code feature is delivered in an update (version 1.29). Gboard is a free download for iPhone available on the App Store. [Direct Link]


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Live Listen Coming to AirPods in iOS 12

Apple in 2014 introduced a Live Listen feature that's designed to allow the iPhone to pair with hearing aids and then serve as a remote microphone that beams the audio the iPhone picks up to the hearing aids.

As noted by TechCrunch, Live Listen is coming to the AirPods with the iOS 12 update, letting iPhone users position their iPhones as a directional mic and have the audio relayed through the AirPods.


With this feature, an iPhone user could, for example, put an iPhone on the table in a noisy restaurant and then have the voice of whomever is speaking routed to the AirPods as a stand-in for hearing aids for those who are hard of hearing or need a bit of extra help separating voices in a loud environment.

Live Listen with AirPods is not going to replace a traditional hearing aid and people with hearing issues should still get a checkup from a doctor, but this feature is handy for people who need something in a pinch without carrying extra hardware.

Related Roundup: iOS 12

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Apple Backs New USB Standard for Using Braille Displays Across Ecosystems

Apple has voiced support for a new Human Interface Device standard that will bring versatile support and overall improve the technology of future USB-connected Braille displays [PDF].


Set forth by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), a non-profit organization for the advancement and adoption of USB technology, the new standard will help make it easier for blind and low-vision users to use Braille displays "across operating systems" and with "different types of hardware." This way, users won't be locked into one ecosystem and can more easily go about reading and interacting with their devices no matter the manufacturer.

Additionally, the standard is set to simplify the development process by removing the need for Braille devices to have custom software and drivers created for a particular operating system or screen reader. According to Apple's director of global accessibility policy and initiatives, Sarah Herrlinger, the company is "proud" to help advance the new USB-IF standard.
“Technology should be accessible to everyone and Apple designs all products with that in mind,” said Sarah Herrlinger, director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives at Apple. “We’re proud to advance this new USB-IF standard because we believe in improving the experience for all people who rely on braille displays to use their Apple products or any other device.”
A few other executives from other companies chimed in on the news as well, including Microsoft accessibility program manager Jeff Petty, who said, "Developing a HID standard for braille displays is one example of how we can work together, across the industry, to advance technology in a way that benefits society and ultimately improve the unemployment rate for people with disabilities."

Helen Keller Services president and CEO Joseph Bruno applauded the USB-IF and its members like Apple, Intel, HP, Microsoft, and others, pointing out that the new standard will greatly reduce the friction that visually impaired, blind, or deaf-blind users can face when navigating between accessible devices. "It allows these individuals to more seamlessly connect to their favorite devices, which is a major step in helping them connect to the world around them."

Since the standard has just been detailed, no physical USB hardware products have yet to be shown off from any company. Currently, Apple has an entire accessibility store on Apple.com so users with disabilities can use devices crafted just for them to create music in GarageBand, navigate a Mac with a custom trackball, and more. There are no Braille-enabled devices sold by Apple yet, however, so the incoming HID standard could mark the first time that such a device is sold on Apple.com and potentially in retail locations.


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