Apple Showcases Upcoming Machine Learning-Powered Accessibility Features

BY Chandraveer Mathur

Published 17 May 2022


To commemorate Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Apple showcased some new accessibility features which will be available on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac later this year. The company says the features will make it easier for people with disabilities to “navigate, connect, and get the most out of Apple products.”

Live Captions for the Deaf

One of the most uncomplicated and easy-to-use accessibility features showcased is Live Captions. It helps the deaf and hard of hearing follow audio comfortably. Apple envisions the feature playing a pivotal role in simplifying FaceTime calls, content streaming, and video conferencing for its users. On Mac, Live Captions will also allow typing out responses in group calls and social media interactions. These responses will then be spoken aloud to other participants. The iPhone maker claims Live Captions are generated on the user’s device, so privacy is ensured.


Door Detection for the Visually Impaired

Another powerful new accessibility feature Apple will roll out later this year is Door Detection. The company claims this “cutting edge navigation feature” could help visually impaired people locate doors in unfamiliar locations. Once a door is detected, the feature also tells users the attributes of the door, how far away it is, whether it is open or closed, and how it can be opened (by pushing, with a knob, etc.) The feature uses the power of machine learning and LiDAR to detect door signs and symbols around doors, such as room numbers.

Door Detection will be available in a new Detection Mode alongside Magnifier, People Detection, and Image Descriptions. The new feature will be available on iPhones and iPads equipped with a LiDAR scanner.

Quick Actions and Mirroring for Apple Watch

Differently abled Apple Watch users also have something to look forward to this year. Apple’s new Mirroring feature for the wearable will allow people to control the Apple Watch using the assistive features on iPhone, such as Voice Control and Switch Control. Instead of tapping the Apple Watch display, the feature will also enable control through voice commands, sound actions, head tracking, and external switches. This powerful feature will allow the disabled to indirectly access Blood Oxygen, Heart Rate, and Mindfulness on the wearable.

Another helpful Apple Watch feature set to roll out later this year is called Quick Actions:

“With new Quick Actions on Apple Watch, a double-pinch gesture can answer or end a phone call, dismiss a notification, take a photo, play or pause media in the Now Playing app, and start, pause, or resume a workout. This builds on the innovative technology used in AssistiveTouch on Apple Watch, which gives users with upper body limb differences the option to control Apple Watch with gestures like a pinch or a clench without having to tap the display.”


Other Accessibility Improvements

Besides the features mentioned above, minor tweaks and additions have also been made to other accessibility features:

  • With Buddy Controller, users can ask a care provider or friend to help them play a game; Buddy Controller combines any two game controllers into one, so multiple controllers can drive the input for a single player.
  • With Siri Pause Time, users with speech disabilities can adjust how long Siri waits before responding to a request.
  • Voice Control Spelling Mode gives users the option to dictate custom spellings using letter-by-letter input.
  • Sound Recognition can be customized to recognize sounds that are specific to a person’s environment, like their home’s unique alarm, doorbell, or appliances.
  • The Apple Books app will offer new themes and introduce customization options such as bolding text and adjusting line, character, and word spacing for an even more accessible reading experience.
  • VoiceOver, Apple’s industry-leading screen reader for blind and low vision users, is adding support for more than 20 additional locales and languages, including Bengali, Bulgarian, Catalan, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese. These new languages, locales, and voices will also be available for Speak Selection and Speak Screen accessibility features.
  • On Mac, VoiceOver can also be used to proofread documents with the new Text Checker tool that recognizes common formatting issues, such as double spaces and missed use of capital letters.
[Via Apple Newsroom]