WWDC 2023: Apple previews new accessibility and speech features on iPhones, iPads and Mac

The updates will be available later this year

Apple said it works in 'deep collaboration' with community groups representing a broad spectrum of users with disabilities to develop accessibility features. Bloomberg
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Apple has previewed a wide range of new accessibility features ahead of its Worldwide Developers Conference next month.

The updates, which will be available later this year, include those for cognitive, vision, hearing and mobility accessibility, as well as the latest tools to help those who are non-speaking, or are at risk of losing their ability to speak, the company said on Wednesday.

They will be available on Apple's iPhones, iPads and Macs. Apple is expected to showcase the new features at the WWDC, which runs from June 5 to 9 at its headquarters in Cupertino, California.

“Apple works in deep collaboration with community groups representing a broad spectrum of users with disabilities to develop accessibility features that make a real impact on people’s lives,” the company said.

More than one billion people live with some form of disability, corresponding to about 15 per cent of the global population. They are considered to be the world's biggest minority, according to the World Health Organisation.

Technology can help them dramatically in communicating and carrying out their daily lives, it said. Companies like Apple have been conducting research and integrating next-generation accessible technology into their devices.

“The best technology is technology built for everyone,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said.

The company's accessibility services “build on our long history of making technology accessible, so that everyone has the opportunity to create, communicate and do what they love”, he said.

Assistive Access for users with cognitive disabilities

Assistive Access will give a customised experience while on a call or on the FaceTime app, which have been combined into a single app named Calls. It will also be featured on messages, camera, photos and music.

The feature offers a distinct interface with high-contrast buttons and large text labels, plus tools to help “trusted supporters tailor the experience for the individual they support”.

For example, on Messages, if a user favours communicating visually, they can use an emoji-only keyboard or record a video message.

Let them hear what you type with Live Speech

Live Speech will allow users to type a message then have it spoken on phone and FaceTime calls. Commonly used phrases can be saved so they can easily be accessed and sent during conversations.

Personal Voice, meanwhile, is aimed at users at risk of losing their ability to speak or other conditions that can progressively impact speaking ability. Users can create a “personal voice” by reading a randomised set of text to record 15 minutes of audio on an iPhone or iPad.

Apple said these tools use machine learning to keep user information private and secure, and that they were designed “to support millions of people globally who are unable to speak or who have lost their speech over time”.

Detection Mode for users with vision challenges

For those with vision disabilities, Apple has introduced point-and-speak on its magnifier feature, which lets users interact with physical objects that have several text labels.

Citing an example of a microwave oven, Apple said point-and-speak combines input from the camera, the light detection scanner known as Lidar and machine learning to announce the text on each button as users move their finger across the keypad.

Point-and-speak can also be used with other accessibility features, including voice over, people detection, door detection and image descriptions to help users navigate their physical environment.

Other new features announced include the ability to pair made-for-iPhone hearing devices directly to Mac, and an easier way to adjust text size across certain apps and phonetic suggestions on voice control that lets users choose the right word out of several that may sound alike.

Also, users with physical and motor disabilities who use switch control can turn any switch into a virtual game controller to play games on an iPhone or iPad, while those who are sensitive to rapid animations can automatically pause images with moving elements, such as GIFs, in Messages and Safari.

Apple also revealed several new accessibility features on its devices last year aimed at assisting users who are physically challenged.

Updated: May 17, 2023, 8:55 AM