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Empowering voices: Apple’s pioneering accessibility enhancements for speech recognition

Last August, I published an article on The Register, drawing attention to a pressing issue affecting 250 million individuals globally: the inadequacy of voice recognition technology for those with non-standard speech. This is a significant challenge for individuals with conditions such as cerebral palsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke survivors, and those with muscular dystrophy like myself. Despite advancements in AI and voice recognition, these technologies often fail to support those who need them most. In my Register piece, I outlined several critical issues with current voice recognition systems: Limited flexibility Many voice recognition systems are narrowly designed, failing to accommodate the varied speech patterns of users with non-standard speech. This has left many ...

Voicing concerns: the silent struggle for Siri accessibility on Apple Watch

The Apple Watch, often regarded as a symbol of cutting-edge technology, pledges to bring the future to our wrists. Yet, for those with severe upper limb disabilities, this future comes with a caveat. The challenge? Siri’s accessibility—or the lack thereof. Apple’s wizardry has made Siri smarter in recent times. With the voice assistant on your wrist, you can do everything from launching apps to replying to texts to setting alarms and reminders and much more. But waking Siri on the Apple Watch is a feat that remains out of reach for users with limited mobility. Here’s an exploration of this issue and potential solutions. Waking up Siri: a gesture too far Despite Apple’s efforts to enhance Siri’s capabilities on the Watch, the brutal truth is that for users like myself, activatin...

Why Apple Voice Control needs an AI upgrade

Apple’s press release for the new M3 MacBook Air launched this week described the machine as the “world’s best consumer laptop for AI.” The claim comes ahead of WWDC 2024, when the tech giant is expected to announce a raft of new artificial intelligence features across all of its platforms. Apple CEO Tim Cook has teased the company’s plans for new artificial intelligence (AI) announcements twice this year. Last month, he said Apple will share details on its AI work “later this year”, and during a shareholder meeting last week, Cook said that Apple will “break new ground” in generative AI this year. Faced with stiff competition from Microsoft, Google, and OpenAI, there is no doubt that Apple is working on a variety of new AI features for later this year, including a more powerful version of...

How I influenced Apple’s Siri updates and what other accessibility features I’m hoping for in 2024

In iOS 17.4, currently in beta testing, there is a new option to set ‌Siri‌ to read incoming messages in a specific language like French, Spanish, German, and many more.The change does not update the primary language that ‌Siri‌ speaks in and responds to, but is limited to message playback. This is something I highlighted to Apple in an email last August citing an example of how adding other languages to Siri would be helpful. I have a Polish carer and we message in Polish but all my other contacts message me in English. This was causing issues with Siri and messaging. Obviously, I am delighted my plea hit the right spot at Apple! Siri message playback in a different language is not an accessibility feature per se, but I highlighted the problem to Apple as a result of an accessibility issu...

AirPods can authenticate you for Siri requests in iOS 17

Siri has long been a game-changer for people with upper limb mobility issues, allowing voice control of a wide range of tasks on Apple devices like the iPhone. However, one frustrating user experience that I’ve highlighted regularly in the past is the “You need to unlock your iPhone first” roadblock that is common for a few crucial requests that Siri can help you perform, such as “read my messages”, “what’s next on my calendar”, etc In iOS 16, if my iPhone is locked, and stored in my wheelchair side pocket, I can’t take it out and unlock it to access my messages, and if I ask Siri to read my messages to me the assistant unhelpfully always says “You need to unlock your iPhone first”. Now in iOS 17, currently undergoing beta testing, there is a new Siri authentication system on AirPods...

6 ways Meta can improve Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses

As someone who has been using Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses all day every day for the past five months, (with added prescription lenses), I have been impressed with their ability to capture photos and videos, and chat and call hands-free without having to touch my smartphone. However, there are some areas where I think the smart glasses could be improved to make them even more convenient and accessible to use. Ray-Ban Stories are first generation smart glasses that have quickly become a popular choice among tech enthusiasts and fashion-forward individuals. Created through a collaboration between Meta (formerly Facebook) and EssilorLuxottica the company behind the Ray-Ban sunglasses brand, these glasses allow users to capture photos and videos, listen to music, and make calls and send messa...

Voice dictation game changer: My experience with Google’s Project Relate app

After a lifetime living with the effects of the progressive muscle wasting condition muscular dystrophy I would describe my speech as non-standard because I don’t have the breath to speak long sentences, and when I am tired some words are occasionally slightly slurred. I also need to use a ventilator to help me breathe parts of each day, and wearing the accompanying nasal mask also affects my speech. It’s all meant that using on-device dictation on Apple and Android phones, as well as Dragon and Apple Voice Control dictation apps, which I rely on because I cannot take to the keyboard to type, can be frustrating when it comes to accuracy. I’m constantly having to correct and clear up annoying little errors with speech recognition in emails and WhatsApp messages etc, which ...

Enhancing accessibility: WhatsApp Mac beta with native Apple Silicon support now available to all users

WhatsApp has been working on an updated Mac app that features native Apple silicon support, and a beta version of the app is now available to all WhatsApp users. This beta version is a significant upgrade from the previous version as it brings several new features and improvements, including accessibility enhancements. One of the most significant changes in this update is the optimisation for Apple silicon-based Macs. The app can now run faster and use fewer resources on machines with the M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra, M2, ‌M2‌ Pro, and ‌M2‌ Max chips. This optimisation is possible because the app is now a Universal binary, meaning it is built specifically for Apple’s new processors. Another major change in this update is the integration with Apple’s Voice Control accessibility ...

How Ray-Ban Stories help me take photos and videos for the first time

Ray-Ban Stories are wearable smart glasses that give you a new way to capture photos and video, message and call with WhatsApp, listen to music, and like all sunglasses protect your eyes from glaring rays on a sunny day. Launched in September 2021, these wearable tech spectacles are a collaboration between Facebook (aka Meta) and Luxottica (the parent company of Ray-Ban the sunglasses maker). The Wayfarer-style glasses feature a pair of cameras for photos and videos, as well as microphones and speakers. They connect to a Facebook app on your smartphone called View via a Bluetooth connection. Ever since I tried Amazon’s first attempt at smart glasses in 2019, the Echo Frames with Alexa built in, I am convinced that augmented reality AR smart glasses with voice control have huge potent...

KeyboardMike: how I invented a microphone for speech recognition

Getting high levels of accuracy in the words you dictate into a email client, website text box, or document on a computer with speech recognition applications is no easy task. Tech companies that make voice dictation apps, like Microsoft’s Voice Typing tool, Apple’s Voice Control, and Nuance Dragon Professional, don’t manufacture microphones and often they will offer up the impression that all the magic, when it comes to accuracy, happens in their applications. They even suggest the internal microphones on computers, or wireless earbuds, are all you need for accurate speech recognition. However, from my experience the situation is more complicated. The quality and characteristics of the microphone you use plays a significant role in accurate voice dictation. After all, the better the...

Apple adds useful new feature to Mac Voice Control but didn’t tell anyone

The third update to macOS Monterey for Mac computers was released last week. Among the headline grabbing new software tricks in macOS 12.3 is Universal Control, a feature that lets you control multiple Macs and iPads using a single mouse, keyboard, and trackpad. However, another feature of interest to Mac accessibility users made a quieter debut in macOS 12.3. Although it wasn’t shown in the release notes, its been added in macOS Monterey 12.3. Voice Control is designed to allow people to control their Mac using voice commands, rather than a mouse or trackpad. Text can also dictated rather than typed. Both features are important to those who don’t have full use of their arms. Voice Control and dictation on Apple devices work offline. However, this causes a problem when you replace yo...

iOS 15.4 update: Face ID works again for CPAP mask wearers

This week has seen Apple release iOS 15.4 for iPhone users. It’s a big update that brings quite a few useful new features to the iPhone, including the ability to turn off notifications for personal automations in Shortcuts, and 37 new emoji. One of the biggest feature updates for me is a new option in iOS 15.4 to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask with no additional hardware like the Apple Watch required. Last September, I highlighted how Apple made some changes to the iPhone 13 Face ID setup in terms of both hardware and software, which caused problems for some disabled people who wear Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) masks to assist with their breathing. After upgrading to a new iPhone 13 Pro I found Face ID registration was failing when I was wearing my CPAP mask – ...

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