Apples are certainly a creature of habit. From their unwavering commitment to ensuring what happens in Cupertino stays put in Cupertino to holding the WWDC every June to launching new iPhones every September and more, the company is (somewhat) predictable in what they do and when they do it. As a fan or a member of the media, follow them closely within enough time and it’s easy to spot patterns.
Another example of Apple’s predictability is its cadence to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) year after year. Now in its eleventh year, which takes place on the third Thursday in May, the holiday is there “to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access, inclusion and more. [a billion] People with Disabilities.” GAAD is the brainchild of Joe Devon, now CEO of Los Angeles-based Accessible Diamond Design, who wrote in a 2011 blog post about “how knowledge about accessibility should become mainstream.”
“GAAD is one day of the year that the technology community comes together to highlight the importance and benefits of designing digital products that can be used by everyone, including people with disabilities. Accessible products benefit everyone — not just people with disabilities,” Devon said in a statement to me. It enables companies to drive innovation and expand their market reach.” The accessibility market is larger than the entire Chinese market. For example, videos account for 80% of all internet traffic and get 40% more views when you comment on them.”
In keeping with tradition, Apple on Tuesday published a press release ahead of GAAD Thursday in which it announced a slew of new programs designed for the disabled community. The tools, which include connectivity, navigation, and more, are scheduled to launch “later this year,” according to the company. Apple, of course, envisions the best at making industry-leading assistive technologies that make their products accessible to a diverse group of people.
“Apple embeds accessibility into every aspect of our business, and we are committed to designing the best products and services for everyone,” Sarah Herlinger, Apple’s senior director of access policy and initiatives, said in a statement included in the press release. “We’re excited to introduce these new features, which combine innovation and creativity from teams across Apple, to give users more choices to use our products in the ways that best suit their needs and their lives.”
Today, Apple is highlighting four marquee improvements.
Uncover the door. Door Detection, part of the Magnifier app on iOS, is an offshoot of the People Detection feature introduced in iOS 14.2. Using LiDAR technology and machine learning, the door detection feature helps blind and visually impaired people identify doors. (This would be particularly useful in Apple retail centers, where admittedly beautiful glass designs can make finding entrance/exit… difficult, to say the least.) Apple says Door Detection, as well as People Detection, lives on. In a new place in the magnifier is called detection mode. The software is able to help tell someone if a door is open or closed, how it should be opened, and even read any signs such as those on accessible restrooms. Door detection is supported on iPhone Pro and iPad Pro models that support LiDAR.
Apple Watch mirroring. Built on top of AirPlay technology, Apple Watch Mirroring gives people with certain movement conditions the ability to control their watch through their paired iPhone. This allows people to control their watch via the phone’s accessibility features such as switch control and voice control. For those experiencing motor lags, this technology helps them experience unique watchOS apps like wakefulness and heart rate. Related to that, there are new quick actions that allow someone to answer a phone call with a pinch gesture, for example.
Direct comments. New for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, Live Captions are available for voice text messages and FaceTime calls, for example. On macOS, you can type a response and have it read out loud to others in the conversation. The font size is customizable for easier reading, and Apple says the copies are private and secure because processing is done locally on the device — nothing is transferred to iCloud or another server.
New VoiceOver languages. Perhaps Apple’s essential accessibility feature, the venerable screen reader has been updated to support a host of new languages; The official word is “more than 20 additional languages”. They include Bulgarian, Ukrainian and Vietnamese. New languages have full support for Speak Selection and Speak Screen Accessibility. The Mac version of VoiceOver has a Text Checker tool which, according to Apple, “[discovers] Common formatting issues such as duplicate spaces or misplaced capitalization, correcting documents or [writing] E-mails are easier. “
In addition to the support features, Apple has also announced various new features such as Siri Pause Time, which forces Siri to wait before responding to inquiries or commands. Users can adjust the amount of time the digital assistant has to wait, which should be a tremendous ability for those with speech impairments (myself included). Elsewhere, voice recognition — introduced this time last year — will be able to recognize environment-specific sounds like doorbells and small appliances, and Apple Books has customization options like bold formatting, line spacing, letters and words, and Apple says the goal is Including creating a “more accessible experience” for readers.
Besides the upcoming jobs, Apple also has a slate of activities around its various properties in celebration of GAAD. Among the activities: SignTime, which connects customers with on-demand sign language interpreters, will launch in Canada on Thursday. Apple Support plays many short how-to videos on its social media channels. The TV app highlights movies and TV shows that show a true representation of people with disabilities.
Today’s news comes a year after Apple announced its then-new accessibility features, voice recognition, AssistiveTouch on watchOS, and more.