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Apple previews new features for users with disabilities

By Jessie Chiang
Wed 18 May 2022

Apple says new software features that offer users with disabilities new tools for navigation, health and communication, are set to come out later this year.

The phone company says it is also expanding support for its industry-leading screen reader, VoiceOver, with over 20 new languages.

Apple's senior director of accessibility policy and initiatives, Sarah Herrlinger, says the company embeds accessibility into every aspect of its work and is committed to designing the best products and services for everyone.

"We're excited to introduce these new features, which combine innovation and creativity from teams across Apple to give users more options to use our products in ways that best suit their needs and lives," she says.

So what's new?

Door Detection is for users who are blind or have low vision

Apple says Door Detection can help users locate a door upon arriving at a new destination and understand how far they are from it.

The new feature can also describe door attributes, including if it is open or closed, and when it's shut, whether it can be opened by pushing, turning a knob or pulling a handle. 

Door Detection can also read signs and symbols around the door, like the room number at an office or the presence of an accessible entrance symbol. This new feature combines the power of LiDAR, camera and on-device machine learning and will be available on iPhone and iPad models with the LiDAR Scanner.

Apple says Door Detection will be available in a new Detection Mode within Magnifier, Apple's built-in app supporting blind and low vision users. In addition to navigation tools within Magnifier, Apple Maps will offer sound and haptics feedback for VoiceOver users to identify the starting point for walking directions.

Improving physical and motor Accessibility for Apple Watch

Apple Watch becomes more accessible than ever for people with physical and motor disabilities with Apple Watch Mirroring, which helps users control Apple Watch remotely from their paired iPhone. 

With Apple Watch Mirroring, users can control Apple Watch using iPhone's Voice Control and Switch Control. The company says the inputs include voice commands, sound actions, head tracking or external Made for iPhone switches as alternatives to tapping the Apple Watch display. 

Apple Watch Mirroring uses hardware and software integration, including advances built on AirPlay, to help ensure users who rely on these mobility features can benefit from unique Apple Watch apps like Blood Oxygen, Heart Rate, Mindfulness and more.

The company says its new suite of Quick Actions on Apple Watch includes a double-pinch gesture that 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. 

Live Captions for deaf and hard of hearing users

Apple is introducing Live Captions on iPhone, iPad and Mac. This means users in the US and Canada can follow along more easily with any audio content, whether they are on a phone or FaceTime call, using a video conferencing or social media app, streaming media content or having a conversation with someone next to them. 

The company says users will also be able to adjust font size for ease of reading. Live Captions in FaceTime attribute auto-transcribed dialogue to call participants, so group video calls become even more convenient for users with hearing disabilities. 

Apple says when Live Captions are used for calls on Mac, users can type a response and have it spoken aloud in real-time to others who are part of the conversation. And because Live Captions are generated on the device, user information stays private and secure.

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