Working for People with Sight Loss

Apple Doubles Down on Accessibility

Logo of braille brick

Apple has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to native accessibility features in its Operating Systems. Its native screen reader “VoiceOver” revolutionised mobile use for blind and low vision users by allowing them to enjoy all aspects of smart devices that fully sighted people enjoy.

In October of this year Apple released iOS 13, iPadOS and macOS Catalina.

Front and Centre

In previous iOS versions accessibility features were hidden away deep in sub-menus. We had to go Settings, then to General and then look for the Accessibility settings, but in iOS 13 and iPad OS these settings are near the top of the first settings page. This allows users to access them faster and puts them front and centre and more easy to find for users unfamiliar with them.

The Usual Suspects

All the typical features that we all know are still there.

  • VoiceOver – the hugely popular screen reader that lets users operate their iOS device without the need to see the screen
  • Zoom – the screen magnifier that works wherever you are in iOS
  • Magnifier – the object magnifier tool that lets you use your iPhone or iPad as a magnifying glass
  • Speak Screen – the convenient and easy-to-use iOS feature that lets you use your iPhone and iPad to read websites and apps aloud

There are also some notable improvements such as the implementation of voice with neutral Text to Speech. This allows Siri (the device’s virtual assistant) to speak more naturally and also to learn from our voices making dictation better over repeated use.

The New Arrivals

Dark Mode

iOS and iPad OS now come with the option of Dark Mode. The menu system traditionally had a white background with black text. This could sometimes affect people with glare sensitivity. Dark Mode allows us to change this to White Text on a Black background. Dark Mode now carries over to a lot of native apps like Mail and Safari and is expected to be supported by many Third Party Apps.

IOS dark mode

New Emoji

iOS 13.2 and iPadOS 13.2 Apple introduced over 70 brand-new emoji characters including 13 emoji characters that are disability-themed. These include a guide dog, a woman with a white cane, a man with a white cane, and an ear with a hearing aid. These are all accessible with VoiceOver.

new emogis, a girl in a wheelchair, a guy using a white cane, a guide dog, a prosthetic arm.

iOS and iPad OS Mouse Support

For the first time on iPhones and iPads, users can connect a Bluetooth or wired mouse. This allows low vision users to be more productive when using these devices with a mouse combined with their favourite accessibility settings.

Ipad with mouse

macOS Catalina

macOS Catalina, the latest operating system for Mac, comes with many of the same features we are already familiar with in iOS such as VoiceOver and Zoom. These are native to the system and don’t have to be installed or bought separately. In the long term this offers huge savings over buying a PC and then additional software to allow them to be accessible.

Accurate Dictation

Apple has improved the voice control feature using the Siri speech recognition engine so you get the latest advances in machine learning for audio-to-text transcription. You can now also use custom words when you are writing documents or emailing about a favourite topic.

Comprehensive App Navigation

With app navigation you can rely entirely on your voice to navigate an app. Comprehensive navigation is provided by navigation commands, names of accessibility labels, numbers and grids. Navigation commands give you quick ways to interact with macOS and apps. You can open apps, search the web, open Spotlight and more.

Zoom Display

One of my favourite features has now gotten even better – while using a second display, you can see the same screen up close and at a distance simultaneously. You can keep one monitor zoomed in and another at a standard resolution. Or keep a personal Mac zoomed in while giving a presentation.

Tint your entire display

A new display option lets you tint your entire screen using a colour of your choice. Some users may find that certain colour tints help make text easier to read.

Apple TV+

Apple TV +

November 1st was the worldwide launch date of Apple TV Plus, Apple’s new streaming service available on the Apple TV app on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac and other platforms. So what exactly makes Apple TV Plus stand out from other streaming services and how accessible is it for blind and low vision users?

What’s exciting about this service for those that are visually impaired or blind is that the app supports all of the accessibility features that you love and EVERY piece of new content that Apple is producing will have full audio descriptions.

For the audiophiles among us we are about to get geeky – hang in there!

The audio descriptions on this new TV service are based on the Dolby Atmos standard which will make the experience for those using audio descriptions even more immersive.

In the NCBI Head Office, we have a dedicated demo area where you can see any of the devices mentioned in these articles.

If you need any help with purchases or would like advice and support you can contact the NCBI Labs Technology Helpdesk.