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Apple WWDC: The Accessibility Angle

This year saw another feature-packed Worldwide Developer Conference run by Apple. There were lots of announcements about the upcoming features in the new iOS operating system for iPhones as well as the upcoming updates for MacOS, WatchOS and TVOS.

There were even a couple of new products to swoon over such as the Mac Pro and the new Pro Display XDR monitor (if you have a spare few thousand dollars to chuck around).

Ultimately here on Double Tap Online we are mainly focused on the announcements that will impact us as blind people. If you want to read about everything that happened at WWDC, we recommend that you check out the other mainstream blogs and news sites.

iOS 13

So what caught our attention from the many new features being announced in iOS13 which comes out later this year?

Voice Control

This is the feature that everyone is talking about, primarily as it was featured on stage during the main WWDC keynote. But why is it such big news?

The power of being able to speak directly to your Mac or iPhone or other Apple device without the need to touch the screen or keyboard or mouse is very powerful. Obviously there are still some issues with how this will work in practice for VoiceOver users but we can’t imagine Apple won’t have thought about that, although those numbered lists do concern us. Jury is still out for blind users, but for those who can’t use a mouse or keyboard and definitely not a touchscreen this is going to be transformative.

Accessibility Moves Up In The World

The Accessibility menu is moving from its current place in the Settings menu to the top meaning when you go into Settings in iOS13 you will be able to find Accessibility much more easily. In addition, Apple have added full customisation of all Accessibility features from the point of starting up a brand new device. No more setting up the phone with basic VoiceOver.

Custom Gestures for VoiceOVer

Yes at long last you will be able to do what your Android cousins are doing already, customising how you use VoiceOver to suit you. Information is fairly limited at the moment but this could be great and even open up the possibility of new gestures and purposes for those gestures. We will update this article when more news is available.

iPad OS 13

One of the big moments at WWDC this year was when the Company announced plans to split up its iPhone and iPad software. This has long been rumoured as the plan is clearly to combine the Mac operating system and the iPad operating system. This may take a few years but the work has already begun.

Marzipan

It may be one of those things you love, or love to hate but Marzipan is all about making Mac and iPad work better together. It does this by allowing developers to create apps for both devices without the need to write a separate app for each platform. So if a developer has created an app for the iPad, he or she can now make the same app available on the Mac. Now why is this good news for us blind people? Think about this – how many apps are fully accessible on the Mac at the moment? Not many, right? But loads on the iPad and iPhone are so if the developer only needs to do the job once which means if the app is already accessible on one platform then the app will be accessible on the other. Sounds good to me!

Files Support

For those of you looking for better files support then the latest operating systems for iPhone and iPad might just be what you are looking for. Not only are they adding additional view options such as Column View (which often is a much easier way to navigate MacOS with VoiceOver) but they are now allowing you to use external storage for once including hard drives and thumb drives. Really handy if you want to easily get your presentation or report on to your iPad.

Mouse on iPad

For those who have difficulty navigating the screen on an iPad using touch, mouse support has been added for a range of bluetooth and wired mice. Apple have told several reporters that this is purely for accessibility reasons rather than it being a mainstream option to control the device (although anyone can use it). You’ll find the new setting under Assistive Touch settings in Accessibility on iOS 13.In addition to this full keyboard control of the entire system will be available in the new iPad operating system too.

New iPad Gestures

There are three new gestures to copy and paste text now in iOS 13. You can do a 3 finger pinch to copy, a 3 finger out to paste and to undo, 3 finger left swipe.

WatchOS

There’s not a whole lot around accessibility to talk about with the new WatchOS despite the huge amount of new features announced around health and watch faces. For the blind though here’s my favourites.

Hourly Chime

As part of the new faces that are available there is now the option to get an hourly chime either as a noise of birds tweeting or as a haptic alert. Those of us who had the original talking watches that would have a rooster bellow out at the top of the hour might like this feature – I know I do!

Weather Data

As part of the new watch faces you can get a live depiction of the weather around you so if it is raining outside your watch face will alert you to this. Really handy.

MacOS

Again there are tons of new features to talk about with the new release of this software in the fall such as the new integrated apps using Marzipan that will mean Messages, Mail and more will be identical on both the Mac and iPad. There’s also the killing off of iTunes on the Mac and using Music, Podcasts and TV instead which might be great news for those of us who absolutely cannot stand iTunes! Only one accessibility feature really stood out for me and that was…

Zoom Display

One of the new features rolled out in this new release will be the ability to use your iPad as a second screen. But in addition to that the popular Zoom feature got an upgrade as well which could compliment this feature nicely. Zoom Display will now let you have Zoom enabled on one screen while the other is at normal scale. Really useful for work presentations and even if you just want one screen zoomed in.

Conclusion

It was a really interesting event with the most notable accessibility features being Dark Mode on iOS and the new Voice Control feature across all devices. While the Mac Pro and new Mac Display are going to be out of reach for the majority of us, the great news is that the Mac operating system and smart device systems are certainly not. This might be the biggest year for those of us using accessibility and it cements our thoughts that Apple and accessibility are here to stay for a very long time.

Steven Scott View All

I am an absolute geek who loves technology. I also happen to be severely sight impaired and that has meant my journey with new technology has been challenging. What I've learnt is what I want to share with others and I do that on air in the UK on RNIB Connect Radio's weekly Tech Talk radio show and podcast, and on AMI-Audio's Double Tap Canada radio show and podcast. I'm also a very lucky husband and the owner of the world's coolest dog!

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