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21 June 2021

Apple has begun rolling out its latest round of accessibility updates for people with mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive disabilities that were originally announced in May 2021 for the iPhone, iPad and Apple watch.

The major accessibility improvements include:

  • Assistive Touch for Apple watch: This feature allows users with upper body limb differences to use motion sensors like the gyroscope and accelerometer, along with the optical heart rate sensor and on-device machine learning, to detect subtle differences in muscle movement and tendon activity. This lets users navigate a cursor on the display through a series of hand gestures, like a pinch or a clench, and effectively use the watch.
  • VoiceOver image support: The VoiceOver screen reader receives an update to improve its ability to detect the contents of images which are then read out. Support is similar to Google Lens with additional functionality for specific text layouts such as tables.
  • Sound-based switch controls: Similar to switch key support, this feature allows users to make specific sounds with their mouth such as a click or pop to activate a series of commands.

In addition, Apple has commenced rolling out its SignTime feature which allows people who are Deaf or hard of hearing to visit Apple stores and use sign language through their device. This service is currently only available in the US, UK and France with no current confirmed plans for the service to be offered in Australia.

CFA Australia Dr Scott Hollier commends Apple on the inclusion of these features, stating “it is great to see Apple’s ongoing commitment to digital access across its range of new and existing products by adding accessibility improvements to its iOS, iPadOS and WatchOS operating systems”

These features are now available in the latest public developer versions of the operating systems followed by a global rollout to all users before the end of the year.