Update: since posting this article we have recorded an interview with Sarah Herrlinger, Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives at Apple; and Dean Hudson, Accessibility Evangelist at Apple, who discussed the enhancements mentioned below and shared a few others which we didn't already know about.
- The use of machine learning in iOS 13 and iPadOS to help VoiceOver users with unlabelled buttons.
- The ability in iOS 13 and iPadOS to customize VoiceOver's gestures and keyboard shortcuts.
- Braille Screen Input is now capable of much faster typing speeds.
- Enhancements to Zoom on tvOS 13 for low vision users.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Apple has shared details on new and changed accessibility features coming to macOS Catalina, iOS 13, and iPadOS this Fall.
During its keynote presentation Apple showcased a new Voice Control accessibility feature that allows users to fully control Mac, iPadOS, and iOS devices entirely with your voice.
Voice Control will reportedly improve on the existing Enhanced Dictation feature by using the Siri speech recognition engine, so you get the latest advances in machine learning for audio-to-text transcription.
Although Apple included a very impressive demonstration of Voice Control during the keynote, the additional information now made available offers a more complete preview of the feature's capabilities and limitations:
Add custom words: Whether you’re writing a biology report, filling out a legal document, or emailing about a favorite topic, you can add custom words to ensure that Voice Control recognizes the words you commonly use.
Rich text editing: Thanks to rich text editing commands, you don’t have to rehearse before you speak. Making corrections is quick and easy. You can replace phrases by name. Try saying “Replace I’m almost there with I just arrived.” Fine-grained selection also makes it simple to select text. Try saying “Move up two lines. Select previous word. Capitalize that.”
Word and emoji suggestions: If you need to correct a word, there’s a new interface just for that. Simply ask to correct a word, and you’ll be presented with a list of suggested replacements.
Seamless transitions from dictation to commands: Voice Control understands contextual cues, so you can seamlessly transition between text dictation and commands. For example, say “Happy Birthday. Tap send.” in Messages, and Voice Control sends “Happy Birthday” — just as you intended. You can also say “delete that”, and Voice Controls knows to delete what you just typed.
Comprehensive app navigation: You can rely entirely on your voice to navigate an app. Comprehensive navigation is provided by navigation commands, names of accessibility labels, numbers, and grids.
On iOS devices and iPadOS, Voice Control will allow you to use your voice to perform gestures, such as tap, swipe, pinch, zoom, press the Home button, and more.
Additionally, you can record multistep gestures for apps on iPadOS or your iOS device. Apple gives the example that if you love to send messages with fireworks, you can record the gestures to do this and use the recording to quickly send messages with fireworks.
If you have an iPad or iPhone that supports Face ID, Voice Control will make use of the Attention Awareness capabilities to go to sleep when you turn your head away from the TrueDepth camera. It doesn’t activate until you look back at the screen — so you can talk to a friend nearby without triggering Voice Control on your device.
All audio processing for Voice Control will take place on your device, ensuring that your personal data is kept private.
New Features and Changes for VoiceOver Users
VoiceOver improvements also feature in what's coming in macOS Catalina, iOS 13, and iPadOS.
Top of the list for many in our community might be the news that Siri is getting a new voice.
Neural Text to Speech is a new voice that’s entirely generated by software with a more natural cadence. In the on stage demonstration of the new voice, Siri sounded much more natural, especially with longer sentences.
Apple states that with macOS Catalina, VoiceOver users will enjoy simplified keyboard navigation that requires less drilling into unique focus groups. The Tab key now more simply advances through selection of elements — such as window stoplights, toolbar buttons, and scroll bars.
VoiceOver users with multiple Apple devices will be pleased to learn that any customized preferences for how punctuation marks are spoken will now be stored in iCloud, giving you a consistent experience across macOS, iPadOS, and iOS.
For blind developers, VoiceOver now reads aloud warnings, line numbers, and break points in the text editor of the upcoming Xcode 11.
Additional International Braille Tables
macOS Catalina adds more international braille tables and lets you quickly switch between them.
Apple only mentions this enhancement on its macOS Catalina preview page, so we do not know at this point if iPadOS and iOS 13 will be gaining braille improvements. Considering that braille support has appeared a lower priority than VoiceOver in recent iOS releases, we certainly hope that it will be receiving some much needed attention on iPadOS and iOS 13.
Improvements for Low Vision Users
Low vision users will be gaining some enhancements on macOS Catalina:
Hover Text displays high-resolution zoom of text, text fields, menu items, buttons, and more in a dedicated window. Just press the Control key when hovering over text with your cursor, and a window with zoomed text appears alongside the standard interface — helping you stay contextually aware. Text is crisply displayed in a font and color of your choice. And you can interact with buttons and type right in the zoomed window.
While using a second display, you can see the same screen up close and at a distance simultaneously. You can keep one monitor zoomed in and another at a standard resolution. Or keep a personal Mac zoomed in while giving a presentation.
Users with color vision deficiencies can adjust display colors using new color filter options. Your Mac shifts the colors onscreen, helping you easily differentiate areas of confusion. And you can turn this preference on and off through the Accessibility Options pane using Command-Option-F5.
A new display option lets you tint your entire screen using a color of your choice. Some users may find that certain color tints help make text easier to read.
It's possible that this Fall's software releases will include additional accessibility enhancements which Apple has chosen not to preview yet. We also hope that it will bring fixes for the outstanding bugs and issues present on all platforms.
For now, we would love to hear your opinions on what's known. Are you excited, disappointed, or simply somewhere in-between. Let us know by posting a comment below.
- Apple's full list of what's new in iOS 13
- Apple's full list of what's new in macOS Catalina
- Apple's full list of what's new in iPadOS
At this time, Apple has said nothing about any accessibility enhancements coming to either watchOS 6 or tvOS 13.