Global Accessibility Awareness Day is Thursday, May 20. To commemorate the date and better support many of its differently-abled customers, Apple has announced a big batch of new accessibility features across multiple products and services.
Some, like a new SignTime service and Today at Apple sessions in ASL and BSL, will launch on May 20. Others, like AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch and background sounds for neurodiverse users, are coming in software updates later this year. (Apple does not specify, but it’s likely this fall’s releases of iOS 15, macOS 12, and watchOS 8.)
Accessibility updates coming May 20
Some of the accessibility features and services launching this week include:
SignTime: Enables 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, right in their web browsers. Customers visiting Apple Store locations can also use SignTime to remotely access a sign language interpreter without booking ahead of time.
Apple Fitness+: Trainer and award-winning adaptive athlete Amir Ekbatani talks about Apple’s commitment to making Fitness+ as accessible and inclusive as possible.
Shortcuts for Accessibility Gallery: Provides useful Siri Shortcuts for tracking medications and supporting daily routines, and a new Accessibility Assistant Shortcut helps people discover Apple’s built-in features and resources for personalizing them.
Today at Apple: Live virtual sessions in ASL and BSL throughout the day on May 20 that teach the basics of iPhone and iPad for people with disabilities. In some regions, Today at Apple will offer increased availability of Accessibility sessions in stores, through May 30.
App Store: Customers can read stories about Lucy Edwards, an influencer on TikTok who is blind and shares her favorite accessible apps, Apple is also spotlighting FiLMiC Pro, which is among the most accessible video apps for blind and low vision filmmakers, and more in the new Express Yourself Your Way collection.
Apple TV app: Spotlights its Barrier-Breaking Characters collection which celebrates authentic disability representation onscreen and behind the camera.
Apple Books: Adds reading recommendations from author and disability rights activist Judith Heumann, along with other themed collections.
Apple Maps: Features new guides from Gallaudet University, the world’s premier university for Deaf, hard of hearing, and Deafblind students.
Accessibility features coming later this year
In addition to those features and services coming on May 20, Apple has a lot of stuff coming in new versions of iOS, macOS, and watchOS later this year. They include the following:
AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch: Using built-in motion sensors like the gyroscope and accelerometer, along with the optical heart rate sensor and on-device machine learning, Apple Watch can detect subtle differences in muscle movement and tendon activity, which lets users navigate a cursor on the display through a series of hand gestures, like a pinch or a clench.
Eye-Tracking Support for iPad: Compatible MFi devices will track where a person is looking onscreen and the pointer will move to follow the person’s gaze, while extended eye contact performs an action, like a tap.
Enhancements to Image Descriptions via VoiceOver: Users can now explore even more details about the people, text, table data, and other objects within images. Users can navigate a photo of a receipt like a table: by row and column, complete with table headers. VoiceOver can also describe a person’s position along with other objects within images.
Support for Bi-directional MFi hearing aids: The microphones in these new hearing aids enable those who are deaf or hard of hearing to have hands-free phone and FaceTime conversations. The next-generation models from MFi partners will be available later this year.
Audiogram Support: Apple is also bringing support for recognizing audiograms—charts that show the results of a hearing test—to Headphone Accommodations. Users can quickly customize their audio with their latest hearing test results imported from a paper or PDF audiogram.
Background Sounds: Apple is introducing new background sounds to help minimize distractions and help users focus, stay calm, or rest. Balanced, bright, or dark noise, as well as ocean, rain, or stream sounds continuously play in the background to mask unwanted environmental or external noise, and the sounds mix into or duck under other audio and system sounds.
Sound Actions for Switch Control: Replaces physical buttons and switches with mouth sounds — such as a click, pop, or “ee” sound — for users who are non-speaking and have limited mobility.
Display and Text Size settings: Can be customized in each app for users with colorblindness or other vision challenges to make the screen easier to see. Users will be able to customize these settings on an app-by-app basis for all supported apps.
New Memoji customizations: Better represent users with oxygen tubes, cochlear implants, and a soft helmet for headwear.