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Apple Announces New Accessibility Features

Apple has announced several new software features aimed at improving accessibility, which will roll out later this year.

The features include AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch, third-party eye-tracking hardware for iPad, and on-device intelligence for VoiceOver screen reader. There will also be “new background sounds to help minimize distractions”, and bi-directional hearing aids for Made for iPhone.

Aimed at limited mobility users, AssistiveTouch will make use of built-in motion sensors to detect “subtitle differences” in users’ muscle movement and tendon activity, allowing them to use hand gestures to control a cursor on the Apple Watch’s display. Meanwhile, the iPadOS’ third-party eye-tracking device support will allow compatible Mfi devices to enable pointer movement based on the user’s gaze and to perform actions with “extended eye contact”.

VoiceOver will provide screen reading services for blind and low vision users, from guiding users through a receipt photo “like a table” and describing the position of people and objects in an image. Additionally, users can use Markup to “add their own image descriptions to personalize family photos”. For the bi-directional hearing aids, they will enable “hands-free phone and FaceTime conversations”. Apple also mentions adding audiogram recognition support to Headphone Accommodations.

For background sounds, Apple says that it is introducing new sounds to “minimize distractions and help users focus, stay calm, or rest” in support of neurodiversity. The new sounds will include balanced, bright, dark noise, ocean, rain, and stream.

Other accessibility features that will be added include Sound Actions for Switch Control (to substitute physical buttons and switches with mouth sounds like “click, pop, or ‘ee’”), customizable display and text size settings in apps, and new Memoji customizations to “better represent users with oxygen tubes, cochlear implants, and a soft helmet for headwear”.

Countries with an Apple Store will also get the SignTime service, which allows customers to “communicate with AppleCare and Retail Customer Care by using American Sign Language (ASL) in the US, British Sign Language (BSL) in the UK, or French Sign Language (LSF) in France” in web browsers.

“Customers visiting Apple Store locations can also use SignTime to remotely access a sign language interpreter without booking ahead of time,” adds Apple. “SignTime will initially launch in the US, UK, and France, with plans to expand to additional countries in the future.”

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