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Apple accessibility 2021: the good and the bad

Autumn has been a busy period for Apple. Following a summer of beta testing it released major updates to its operating systems, including iOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey. The company also released a bunch of new hardware, including iPhone 13, Apple Watch Series 7, AirPods 3 and new Apple Silicon MacBook Pro laptops. Over the past few weeks, I have managed to get my hands on the new iPhone 13 Pro, Apple Watch Series 7, and AirPods 3 and have been trying them out along with iOS 15 and watchOS 8. Here’s my experience of how accessible Apple gear is in 2021 for anyone who uses a wheelchair and has limited use of their hands. Auto-answer A new option to have calls answered automatically with the introduction of a auto-answer feature on the Apple Watch cellular has been one of the st...

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...

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...

Laughing Man on Apple WWDC 2020

Apple, arguably, has a great record on tech accessibility but sometimes the company gets things oh so wrong. As a bit of a laugh, as we wait for its WWDC 2020 showpiece keynote event, where Apple unveils details of its operating system updates for the year, here are a few areas that need improving to ensure iOS 14 and watchOS 7, and macOS 10.16 are as accessible as possible to people with severe physical disabilities. We love you Apple but come on guys you can do better than this! My roundup of what the tech giant needs to do to make its devices accessible to everyone.

WWDC 2020: Ultimate accessibility wish list

We’re just a few hours away from WWDC 2020 — Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. This year it is a completely online event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual keynote is later today where the company will unveil the next major releases of its operating systems, such as iOS 14, watch0S 7 and macOS 10.16, as well as new hardware. Read on as I recap all the new features and improvements I hope to see at WWDC 2020 to make Apple devices much more accessible to people with severe physical disabilities who have problems interacting with screens, keyboards and trackpads. iOS 14 iOS 14 will be a prominent announcement, and WWDC is where Apple unveils details of the latest version of iOS to give developers time to prepare their apps before it’s released to the public. There follows...

Hey Siri open sesame: controlling a smart home with Apple’s assistant

Readers of Aestumanda may recall I had my electric door opener automated with Amazon Alexa voice control just before the UK went into Covid 19 lockdown earlier this year. Due to the lockdown I have had few opportunities to use the new functionality, which helps me get in and out of my flat unaided, because I have been shielding. I’ve only used it with my indoor Amazon Echo smart speakers when I have received the occasional home shopping delivery. Outside my flat in the street, where there are no indoor Amazon smart speakers handy, the solution relied on me wearing Amazon’s wireless Echo Buds to summon Alexa to open the door but they don’t have deep integration with my Apple iPhone. For this reason Apple’s Airpods were always my preferred option for controlling my electric door ...

4 ways Apple can improve Voice Control

It’s a year since Apple first unveiled its flagship accessibility feature called Voice Control at WWDC 2019. With an inspiring short film the company showed Ian McKay, a disability advocate and outdoor enthusiast, using voice commands to control his Mac computer. Voice Control is a speech to text application that is now baked into Apple devices and offers physically disabled people, and anyone who owns a Mac computer, iPhone or iPad the ability to precisely control, dictate and navigate by voice commands alone. I’ve been trying to use the application over the past year and have been left feeling frustrated and disappointed. With the next version of macOS set to be unveiled later this month at WWDC 2020 here’s why and what Apple needs to do next to improve Voice Control. Please ...

macOS 10.16 Wishlist: 3 ways Apple can improve accessibility

Please note: when Apple unveiled the latest version of macOS at WWDC 2020 in June it bumped the version number up to macOS 11.0 A couple of weeks ago Apple invited select developers to attend an accessibility webinar ahead of WWDC 2020. It is said to not be presaging anything WWDC-related as the company does this kind of thing as part of its ongoing work around disability. Apple says its webinar is about how developers can improve their apps by supporting accessibility features. Developers will be able to interact with company engineers during the online event for the first time: “Apple believes that technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone. Join us for an online event to learn how you can take advantage of the award-winning accessibility features that come standard on A...

watchOS 7 Wishlist: 3 ways Apple can improve accessibility

Last year I wrote about how the release of voice-activated hands-free hey Siri in the second-generation Airpods improved access to the Apple Watch for people with severe physical disabilities. Where previously users had to be able to physically raise their hand to press an Airpod to trigger Siri into action on the Watch, or raise and twist their wrist significantly, (something many people with severe physical disabilities cannot do), now hands-free Siri means users can summon the voice assistant to make phone calls, send messages, play music, and much more on the Apple Watch by voice commands. However, despite this welcome development, in general, the accessibility options on the Apple Watch for people with severe physical disabilities are very limited. Aside from what Siri can do there is...

iOS 14 Wishlist: 5 ways Apple can improve accessibility

Earlier this week I installed a fairly significant update to the iPhone’s operating system iOS 13.4. Whilst it included new features such as iCloud Drive folder sharing, and improvements to the Mail application amongst others, it’s a pity Apple so infrequently improves accessibility features between annual operating system updates. I have been waiting six months for the tech giant to improve access to my iPhone, including support for UK English in Voice Control dictation; to toggle the Auto-Answer feature on and off with Siri; and the ability to hang up phone calls by a voice command as I can with my smart speakers at home, (including the HomePod). For macOS users Apple also released a new update this week, and it was encouraging to see it included new head pointer support. You can s...

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