Eloquently executed – Apple’s new accessibility features are exciting!
Every June, Apple holds an event known as the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The event itself might be for developers, but we can all get excited about some of the juicy accessibility announcements tucked inside this event.
This year, Apple showed the world the 16th version of their mobile operating systems, which will land on your iPhone or iPad as a free software update this autumn. However, we do appreciate that some of you reading this could be in two minds about another upgrade because, if you have a visual impairment, we understand that new software can mean more learning. But this year– there is a difference, as some of the new features look to be golden nuggets for accessibility!
We are going to share with you the top three features that we are most excited about, so let’s begin!
1. Stage Manager for the iPad
Ok – we get it – if you know your tech and have watched the announcement already, you’re probably thinking this isn’t an accessibility feature and you would be correct. Stage Manager for the iPad is not a feature which is intentionally designed for accessibility, but we think it could really help visually impaired people make better use of their iPad.
This new feature has two main components to it. First, it allows you to open a maximum of 4 windows simultaneously on an iPad, with these windows being stackable in a similar manner to the way they would on a computer. If you have some vision but rely on your iPad to get things done – this could be the feature for you because now you’ll be able to resize windows so that they can better suit your needs, without having to deal with the restrictions imposed by Apple’s existing split-view feature. If you are using magnification, this could be particularly helpful to reduce the amount of scrolling needed.
The new Stage Manager feature also brings with it full support for external displays, meaning that you can finally use an iPad with a large screen monitor and make use of the full display and this could be perfect for magnification, especially in an education setting. Sadly, you will need an iPad with Apple’s M1 chip to take advantage of these features, meaning you’ll need at least a 2021 iPad Pro or 2022 iPad Air, but we will know more once the software’s released this autumn.
2. The Eloquence voice pack
There’s nothing overly shiny or flashy here, but for traditional screen reader users, some familiar faces should be making an appearance. For reference, the Eloquence voice is a traditional voice model that has been used with a variety of desktop screen readers for a good while now and is a voice that is very familiar to a lot of people. Also, iOS 16 brings with it a boat load of other voice options, including some new premium voice packs that sound more lifelike than they did before.
The Eloquence voice might be new to iOS 16 but it’s not a new voice by any means – nor is it the most natural when you compare it against other options – so why is it such a big deal that it has come to your iPhone and iPad this year? The answer can be summed up in one word – speed!
The Eloquence voice model is famous because it is entirely computer-generated, without any input from specific voice actors. This is a big deal because many visually impaired users of this voice model have found that it can be much more responsive and easier to understand than other voices when used at a higher speed. Therefore, if efficiency is important to you, Eloquence voices with VoiceOver might just provide you with a welcome productivity boost.
3. Door Detection
You’ll find the Pièce de résistance through a ‘closed door 7 ft away’. Hope you left room for dessert because we’ve been saving the best till last! With this upcoming release, any iPhone or iPad that is equipped with a LIDAR sensor will receive a new feature called Door Detection. Door Detection is an exciting new feature that will be baked right into the Magnifier app, along with all the other magnification channels. The device will then be able to use artificial intelligence to look at and identify a door within the camera’s view and will then tell you approximately how far away from you this said door is. But this doesn’t stop there. The feature will also announce whether a door is closed or open and if there’s some text written on the door, VoiceOver will also read this aloud to you – so you never have to try and break into that closed coffee shop again!
For us, Door Detection is perhaps the most exciting of all the features coming this year because it could significantly improve your ability to independently navigate a space. Want to know if it will come to your device but don’t know if you have a LIDAR scanner? If you aren’t sure, the easiest way to check is to look in the Magnifier app to see if you can access the existing People Detection feature, that helps you keep your distance in a line.
Hopefully, it’s easy to see why we are so excited about software coming up this autumn; Android 13 is also on the horizon bringing with it improved braille support, so it’s all very exciting. But we must stress that whilst these features have been debuted, they could change before Apple releases them later this year so you will have to have a go yourself when you can to see what/if works for you.
Therefore, it’s critical that you put your own safety first and continue to use your cane or guide dog in a manner that keeps you safe.
But we do hope you will join us in waiting with bated breath for when you can try these accessibility features out for yourself.
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