Apple announced a batch of accessibility features at WWDC 2021 that cater to a wide range of needs, some of them for people who can’t touch or speak their devices in a normal way. With Assistive Touch, voice control, and other improvements, these people have new options for interacting with an iPhone or Apple Watch.
We covered Assistive Touch when it was first announced, but recently got a few more details. This feature lets anyone with an Apple Watch operate it with one hand through various gestures. It came after Apple heard from a community of people with limb differences—whether they were losing an arm, or being unable to use it reliably, or anything else—as much as they loved the Apple Watch, were able to answer calls. Were tired with his nose.
The research team devised a way to reliably detect gestures like pinching a finger with the thumb, or clenching a hand into a fist, based on how they move the clock—be it signals from the nervous system or Not detecting anything. These gestures, as well as their dual versions, can be set to a variety of quick actions. One of them is to open the “motion cursor,” a small dot that mimics the movements of a user’s wrist.
Considering how many people don’t have arm access, this can be a really helpful way to accomplish basic messaging, calling, and health-tracking tasks without having to resort to voice control.
Talking about voice, this is also something that not everyone has. Many of those who can’t speak fluently, however, can make up a bunch of basic sounds that can carry meaning to those who have learned—not so much Siri. But a new accessibility option called “Sound Control” lets these sounds be used as voice commands. You access it via Switch Control, not audio or voice, and add an audio switch.
The setup menu lets the user choose from a variety of possible sounds: click, cluck, ee, eh, k, la, muh, oo, pop, sh and more. Choosing one brings a quick training process for the user to make sure the system understands the sound correctly, and then it can be used from launching apps to asking commonly spoken questions or implementing other tools. The wide selection of functions can be set on.
For those who prefer to interact with their Apple devices via the Switch system, the company has a big surprise: Game controllers, once only able to be used for gaming, are now also for general purposes. work. Particularly notable are the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a hub and a bunch of buttons, switches, and other accessories that improve the accessibility of console games. Many people use this powerful tool, and no doubt they’ll appreciate not having to switch control methods completely when they’re working with Fortnite and want to listen to podcasts.
Another interesting capability in iOS that sits on the edge of accessibility is walking stability. This feature, available to anyone with an iPhone, tracks (as you might have guessed) the stability of a user’s walk. Tracked over a day or week, this metric can potentially provide real insight into how and when a person’s movements get better and worse. It’s based on a slew of data collected in the Apple Heart and Movement study, including the actual falls and unsteady movement that propels them.
If the user is someone who has recently been fitted for a prosthesis, or has had surgery on their foot, or suffers from vertigo, it can be very important to know when and why they are at risk of falling. They may not realize it, but perhaps their gait is less stable at the end of the day, or after climbing a flight of stairs, or waiting in line for a long time. It may also show steady improvement as they get used to the prosthesis or a decline in chronic pain.
Exactly how this data might be used by an actual physical therapist or therapist is an open question, but crucially it is something that can be easily tracked and understood by users.
Other helpful features from Apple include new languages for voice control, improved headphone acoustic housing, support for bidirectional hearing aids, and of course, cochlear implants and oxygen tubes for Memoji. As an Apple representative said, they don’t just want to acknowledge the difference in features, but also on the personalization and fun side.