Apple’s latest accessibility features are for people with limb and voice differences

Apple announced a bundle of accessibility features at WWDC 2021 that cover a wide variety of needs, including a few for people who can’t touch or speak to their devices in the ordinary way. With Assistive Touch, Sound Control, and other improvements, these people have new options for interacting with an iPhone or Apple Watch.

We covered Assistive Touch when it was announced for the first time, but I recently got a few more details. This feature allows anyone with an Apple Watch to use it with one hand using various gestures. This happened when Apple learned from the community of people with differing limbs – that they were missing an arm, were unable to use it reliably, or whatever. – that as much as they liked the Apple Watch, they were tired of answering calls. with their nose.

The research team has concocted a way to reliably detect gestures of pinching a finger on the thumb or clenching a hand in a fist, depending on how they move the watch – it doesn’t detect them. nervous system signals or whatever. These gestures, as well as their dual versions, can be configured for a variety of quick actions. Among them, the opening of the “movement slider”, a small point that mimics the movements of the user’s wrist.

Considering the number of people who don’t have the use of one hand, this could be a very useful way to perform basic messaging, calling, and health tracking tasks without the need to resort to voice control.

Speaking of voice, it’s also something that not everyone has available to them. However, a lot of those who are not fluent can make a bunch of basic sounds, which may be meaningful to those who have learned – not so much Siri. But a new accessibility option called “Sound Control” allows these sounds to be used as voice commands. You access it through Switch Control, not audio or voice, and add an audio switch.

Images of the process of adding an audio switch to iPhone.

Image credits: Apple

The setup menu allows the user to choose from a variety of possible sounds: click, chuckle, e, eh, k, la, muh, oo, pop, sh, and more. Choosing one opens a quick training process to allow the user to make sure the system understands sound correctly, and then it can be set to a wide selection of actions, from launching apps to asking questions. current or other tools.

For those who prefer to interact with their Apple devices through a switching system, the company has a big surprise: Game controllers, once only usable for gaming, now also work for general purposes. Of particular note is the incredible Xbox Adaptive Controller, a hub and group of buttons, switches and other accessories that improves the accessibility of console games. This powerful tool is used by many, and they will no doubt appreciate not having to change their method of control entirely when they are done with Fortnite and want to listen to a podcast.

Image credits: Apple

Another interesting capability of iOS that sits at the limit of accessibility is walking stability. This feature, available to anyone with an iPhone, tracks (as you can guess) the user’s regularity of gait. This measurement, followed throughout a day or a week, can potentially provide real insight into how and when a person’s locomotion is better or worse. It is based on a set of data collected as part of the Apple Heart and Movement study, including actual falls and the unstable movement that led to them.

If the user is someone who has recently been fitted with a prosthesis, or has had foot surgery, or suffers from vertigo, knowing when and why they are at risk of falling can be very important. They might not realize it, but maybe their movements are less regular towards the end of the day, or after climbing a flight of stairs, or after standing in line for a long time. It might also show constant improvements as they get used to an artificial limb or decrease in chronic pain.

Exactly how this data can be used by a physiotherapist or doctor is an open question, but above all it is something that can be easily tracked and understood by the users themselves.

Images of Apple Memoji with a cochlear implant, oxygen tube and soft headset.

Images of Apple Memoji with a cochlear implant, oxygen tube and soft headset.

Image credits: Apple

Other assistive features from Apple include new languages ​​for voice control, better acoustic adaptation of the headphones, support for two-way hearing aids and, of course, the addition of cochlear implants and tubes. oxygen for memoji. As an Apple representative said, they don’t want to accept the differences just in functionality, but also in customization and enjoyment.

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