iOS 14 is packed with accessibility improvements

Apple’s new operating systems, such as iOS 14 and tvOS 14, to be released later this year, include numerous features that should make them easier for people with disabilities to use. Apple announced the new features as part of its World Developers Conference this week, and Forbes and CNET have rounded up many of them.

These enhancements range from new features like sound recognition to enhancements to Apple’s existing accessibility features like its VoiceOver screen reader. It’s a substantial list that should make Apple products easier to use for those with hearing, vision, motor or other disabilities.

Sound recognition in iOS 14, for example, will allow you to tell your phone to constantly hear 14 different sounds, including bells, sirens, smoke detector alarms, or a crying baby. It is a feature that could be useful for people with hearing difficulties or deafness, since it allows them to know the critical sounds earlier than they could have done otherwise. (However, Apple cautions against relying on the feature in “high-risk or emergency situations.”)

Then there’s the new Back Tap feature for iOS 14. Twitter users were quick to point out that you can use the feature to make it easier to launch Google’s voice assistant if you prefer not to talk to Siri. But how Forbes points out that the most important aspect of this accessibility feature is that it can be used to replace screen gestures that might be difficult for people with cognitive or motor disabilities. You can touch the back of your phone to access the notification center instead of stretching your thumb to swipe down, for example, or even configure more complex actions using shortcuts.

There is a trend in many of these features, which while designed to facilitate the use of devices for people with disabilities, may also have benefits for everyone else. People with disabilities should always be the center of attention when designing accessibility features, but its benefits can be much broader.

Next, FaceTime, which will now be able to detect when someone is using sign language, and automatically make that person the focus, making their signature easier to see. tvOS will soon work with Microsoft’s Adaptive Xbox Controller, a controller designed specifically for people with disabilities.

There’s also a new “headphone fit” feature in iOS 14, which adjusts the sound frequencies transmitted through select Apple and Beats headphones to better match your hearing. Apple says the new accessibility feature should make “music, movies, phone calls, and podcasts” play through headphones “sound clearer and clearer.” It also works with the transparency mode of AirPods Pro to help make the quiet voices around you more audible.

In addition to great new features like these, Apple is making a number of other updates to its existing accessibility features. Your VoiceOver screen reader, for example, will now be able to recognize and describe more than what you see on the screen, such as reading text from images or photos. Apple’s voice control and magnifying glass options have also been updated, and CNET He notes that some of his Xcode encoding tools are being updated to make them more accessible.

Apple isn’t the first company to introduce features like these, and other companies are making great strides on their own (Android 11, for example, will offer major updates to Android’s voice controls), but their commitment to introducing and refining their Accessibility options should be applauded.