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WWDC 2021: accessibility at Apple goes mainstream

At its WWDC event last week, Apple unveiled the latest versions of its major operating systems: iOS 15, iPadOS 15, MacOS Monterey and WatchOS 8. While these updates include some eagerly-anticipated new features — like enhanced privacy options, FaceTime calls coming to Android users and dual-screen controls for working across Macs and iPads – there were some features that didn’t get highlighted as accessibility features in the keynote but will be extremely useful for people with physical disabilities. Here are some of the software features and tools coming to your Apple devices later this year that will be a boon for some in the disability community. Announce Notifications It may not be immediately obvious that there were any big, new accessibility announcements at WWDC 2021, (A...

Apple Announces AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch

Apple has just announced a range of new accessibility features that are designed for people with mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive disabilities. One of the most interesting concerns the Apple Watch. Following a software update later this year, people with upper limb mobility problems should be able to use AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch to control the wrist-worn device without touching the display or controls. The company says the Apple Watch will soon be able to detect muscle movement and tendon activity through its built-in gyroscope and accelerometer sensors, allowing users to control a cursor on the watch screen, answer calls, access notifications, and more by making various movements and gestures. (You can see the new capabilities in action in this video) A long time coming The ...

8 ways for Apple to be more disability aware

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is in its tenth year of promoting digital access and inclusion for the more than one billion people worldwide with disabilities. Apple is celebrating the day by making its most popular virtual Today at Apple sessions even more accessible with sessions presented in sign language. It has to be said the Cupertino company has certainly been punching its weight recently as accessibility for disabled iPhone users received a major boost with the release of iOS 14.5. The update now lets users answer phone calls using Siri voice commands hands-free without having to touch anything. The option is part of the Announce Calls with Siri feature, which lets you hear the name of who is calling when using AirPods, the company’s popular headphones. However, as well as tell...

Domiciliary care ignored by the vaccine rollout

Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment, has said he is confident the government will meet its vaccine targets. The first of these targets that government ministers have set themselves is to vaccinate the following priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) by 15 February: • Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers • All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers • All those 75 years of age and over • All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals Under the rollout, the government hopes to offer almost 15 million people in these first four priority groups a vaccine by mid-February. To stay on track, two million jabs a week will need to be ...

Digital divide: disabled people and Covid-19

For some, being forced to stay home and work remotely via Zoom during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a temporary reprieve from the daily commute. Employers have supported workers to work from home, and for those with the technology, and an income from employment, the inconveniences of the Covid lockdowns have been eased. For others there has been little support and Coronavirus has brought into sharp focus the digital divide that exists in the UK. Poorer parents have struggled to afford laptops and broadband connections to help school their children at home, and families have found it difficult to keep in touch with loved ones locked down in care homes and Covid wards. According to the Office of National Statistics disability is one of the main factors that influence the digital divide in t...

iOS 14 review: access all areas?

After three months of beta testing over the summer Apple has released iOS 14 to the public. It includes a range of new features, including widgets on the Home screen, an all-new App Library, and much more. Having tried the software over the past couple of weeks this is my take on the good, the bad and the work still to do to make iOS 14 and the iPhone accessible for people that have a difficult or impossible time using their iPhone with their hands. I have a severe physical disability, muscular dystrophy – a muscle-wasting disease which leaves me effectively quadriplegic, unable to do much with either arms or legs. I rely on my voice to control and interact with my Apple iOS gear. Phone calls iOS 14 introduces a minimised phone call pop up that doesn’t take over the entire screen, wh...

SpeechWare TwistMike review

SpeechWare is a Belgian company with a great reputation in the speech recognition industry for professional microphones that are regarded as among the very best you can get. I have been using the company’s USB 9-in-1 TableMike for about three years and have always been impressed with the accuracy of dictation when using it with Nuance’s Dragon Professional Individual 15 speech recognition software. You can read more about the USB 9-in-1 TableMike in this excellent online review. Before I discovered the TableMike I had used many different kinds of microphones, including wired and wireless Bluetooth headsets, with fairly mediocre results when it comes to dictation accuracy. Few consistently delivered the 98 per cent plus accuracy, which should be the minimum acceptable for speech...

Echo Frames review: Amazon’s smart glasses

Echo Frames are an Amazon Day 1 product released earlier this year. Day 1 products are pilot products for testing that may or may not get released to consumers. In autumn 2019 Amazon announced it would be launching smart glasses with Alexa built in called Echo Frames as a Day 1 product. The company invited people to register their interest to get the glasses at a lower price than what the full price will be if they get released to the public. As a early tech adopter I couldn’t wait to get hold of them so I registered for an invitation on the Amazon website but didn’t receive an invite to purchase the device at a reduced $179.99 preview price until mid July. I am based in the UK and was surprised that despite making my location known, when I registered my interest in testing the...

The next big electric wheelchair innovation is right under your nose

I have been using an electric powered wheelchair for more than 40 years. In the 1980s powered wheelchairs were very basic and did little more than take you from A to B. Thankfully, over the decades technology has progressed and today there are a lot more options for users. Powered actuators will let you tilt the seat, recline the backrest, extend the leg rests, and raise and lower the height of the seat, all with the press of a button. Improvements like advanced seating systems, lights, suspension systems, and intelligent steering have been the main developments in electric powered wheelchairs I have seen during my lifetime but all this progress has still left me with a big question, “What’s the next real innovation?” A voice-driven electric powered wheelchair? Instead of...