In a remarkable display of commitment to inclusivity, Apple has announced a range of software features and tools aimed at empowering individuals with disabilities. These innovative accessibility updates, drawing on advancements in both hardware and software, are designed to enhance the lives of users with cognitive, vision, hearing, and mobility disabilities. The company’s unwavering dedication to making products accessible to everyone is demonstrated by their collaboration with community groups representing diverse users with disabilities.
Among the forthcoming features, Assistive Access stands out as a significant advancement. This feature simplifies apps and experiences by distilling them to their essential features, reducing cognitive load for users with cognitive disabilities. Based on feedback from individuals with cognitive disabilities and their trusted supporters, Assistive Access focuses on activities such as connecting with loved ones, capturing and enjoying photos, and listening to music. The customized experience includes a Calls app that combines Phone and FaceTime, high contrast buttons, large text labels, and tools for tailoring the experience to the user’s needs.
Apple’s Live Speech feature revolutionizes speech accessibility for individuals who are unable to speak or have lost their ability to speak over time. Users can now type what they want to say, and their words will be spoken aloud during phone and FaceTime calls, as well as in-person conversations. Additionally, commonly used phrases can be saved for quick input, enhancing communication with family, friends, and colleagues. For individuals at risk of losing their ability to speak, such as those diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Apple introduces Personal Voice—an easy and secure way to create a synthesized voice that resembles their own.
The Detection Mode in Magnifier, another groundbreaking feature, caters to individuals who are blind or have low vision. Point and Speak, integrated into the Magnifier app on iPhone and iPad, facilitates interaction with physical objects containing multiple text labels. By utilizing the Camera app, LiDAR Scanner, and on-device machine learning, Point and Speak can announce the text on each button as users move their fingers across the keypad. This functionality is complemented by other Magnifier features, including People Detection, Door Detection, and Image Descriptions, enabling users to navigate their physical environment with greater ease.
Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed his excitement about the new features, stating, “At Apple, we’ve always believed that the best technology is technology built for everyone.” He emphasized the company’s long-standing commitment to accessibility, enabling everyone to create, communicate, and engage in activities they love. Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s senior director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, highlighted the collaborative approach taken in the development of these features, ensuring that they cater to the diverse needs of users with disabilities.
The positive impact of these accessibility features cannot be overstated. Katy Schmid, senior director of National Program Initiatives at The Arc of the United States, acknowledged the transformative potential for individuals with cognitive disabilities, saying, “To have a feature that provides a cognitively accessible experience on iPhone or iPad—that means more open doors to education, employment, safety, and autonomy. It means broadening worlds and expanding potential.”
Philip Green, a board member and ALS advocate at the Team Gleason nonprofit, emphasized the significance of being able to communicate with loved ones in a voice that sounds like his own. He lauded the ease and speed of creating a synthetic voice on the iPhone, stating, “Being able to create your synthetic voice on your iPhone in just 15 minutes is extraordinary. It truly makes a world of difference in maintaining meaningful connections with friends and family.”
Apple’s introduction of Assistive Access, Live Speech, and Point and Speak features represents a significant leap forward in accessibility. By combining hardware and software advancements, on-device machine learning, and close collaboration with disability communities, Apple has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to inclusivity. These groundbreaking features empower individuals with disabilities, allowing them to engage with technology, communicate effectively, and navigate the world more independently. With Apple leading the way, the future looks brighter for individuals with disabilities, as barriers continue to be dismantled and opportunities for connection and expression become more accessible than ever.