Apple announced a variety of new and updated features for people with disabilities today. Starting May 20, customers will be able to use the new SignTime Sign Language Interpreter service to contact AppleCare and retail customer service through their web browsers. Software updates later this year for iOS, watchOS, and iPadOS will bring even better options for Assistive Touch, VoiceOver, hearing aid support, and background sounds.
We believe that everyone should have the necessary tools to change the world. Accessibility is a fundamental right, and we always push the boundaries of innovation so that everyone can learn, create and connect in new ways. #GAD https://t.co/oZwQNG7p5x
– Tim Cook (@tim_cook) May 19, 2021
The new SignTime service will be launched for the first time in the United States, the United Kingdom and France, and will provide remote interpreters with access to American Sign Language, British Sign Language and French Sign Language. People can also use the service in Apple stores to get an interpretation without booking it in advance, which may prevent the hassle of robbing the interpreter at short notice.
People with limb differences can use AssistOS Touch in watchOS, which should allow them to use Apple Watch without touching the screen. (Apple doesn’t check what kind of watches this works for.) Apple says Apple Watch can detect muscle movement and tendon activity with its built-in sensors, allowing users to control the cursor on the clock screen, answer calls, use notifications, and more by making various movements and gestures. (You can see it in action in the video on this page.)
iPadOS supports third-party eye-tracking devices, allowing people with reduced mobility to move the cursor with their gaze and perform actions by holding eye contact instead of tapping the screen.
VoiceOver, Apple’s built-in screen reader, will be updated to include more information in the images. According to Apple, it allows people to move around images with text and data tables in rows and columns, and capture people and objects in the images. People can also add still images with Markup.
Apple also plans to update the Made for iPhone hearing aid program to support two-way hearing aids. Users can also upload their hearing test results to Headphone Accommodations to customize how the feature amplifies sounds and adjusts different frequencies.
For neurodiversity people (or anyone who likes white noise), Apple introduces Background Sounds that can be combined with other sound and system sounds. They include “balanced, bright, or dark noise, as well as ocean, rain, or current sounds,” which can be set to reproduce continuously and obscure disturbing or overwhelming sounds.
Other features Apple is planning for later years include the ability to use mouth sounds such as clicks or pop-ups instead of using physical buttons, customizing screen and text size settings for individual applications, and new Memoji options with cochlear implants, oxygen tubes, and soft helmets.
Large and small companies always have room for improvement in making their products available, but Apple has generally been the leading space in space. These updates will hopefully signify a continued commitment to design with people with disabilities in mind.