Apple Previews Accessibility Enhancements Coming with macOS Catalina, iPadOS, and iOS 13

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

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.

These include:

  • 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.

Voice Control

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.

In Closing

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.


At this time, Apple has said nothing about any accessibility enhancements coming to either watchOS 6 or tvOS 13.



Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Hope thye fix the issues with siri. It is nice that the quality of siri will be better but if she does have problem understanding you what is the point????? She does not respond well when I ask her to do so. Takes several seconds for her to respond.

Submitted by Ann Marie B on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

I'm excited about voicecontrol and how it performs in conjunction with voice over. I also likethe sound of the new Siri voice; it may become my new voice over voice. :)

Submitted by jcdjmac (not verified) on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

I'm totally looking forward to Siri, Voice Control, and simplified keyboard navigation. this, especially for me, will make it a lot easier, when it comes to using the tab key more frequently. furthermore, I hope apple fixes the bugs that was discovered in previous builds of iOS, Mac OS, and iPad OS. although, the current build of iOS is not that much buggy, as apple continues to release each enhancement for every update, so continue to keep your software up-to-date for the latest enhancements.

Submitted by alex wallis on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

I wouldn't hold your breath that voice control will work with VoiceOver, given that it uses attention aware features for phones with that joke that is face iD unless this is entirely optional I certainly won't be able to use it.
actually there isn't really anything on that list of ios 13 features or accessibility enhancements that I am excited about, maybe smaller app updates but that's about it. I didn't find the new siri voice that impressive, maybe marginally better quality, but lets be honest the audience yesterday at wwdc were going wow amazing because they are not as used to text to speech as we are. I think there are better voices out there, for example the ivona ones that are used on alexa devices.

Submitted by Greg Wocher on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

I am falling somewhere in the middle on these updates. Especially on the mac ones. One of the main things that keep me from using my mac as a daily driver is voiceovers very poor performance on the web in safari. Trying to select and copy in safari is a chore in frustration. When you are trying to work on coding tutorials it is essential to be able to copy and paste reliably. Apple books is another area that is horribly inefficient to use on the mac. Apple released their learn to code books for apple books yet I can barely use the program.

Submitted by Erick on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Hi, I really enjoyed the new SIRI voice.I can't stand ivona in my opinion, the natrual is better then the less natural. I really am excited about all of the features, was tryingg to download MAC OS10.15 yesterday. So, I'm looking forward to testing it and giving them feedback.

Submitted by Jeff on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

I definitely like the improved Siri voice, but I don't use Siri to speak many long passages. If all she has to say is "Here's what I found on the web," there won't be much opportunity for me to hear the improvement.

I do use dictation quite a bit, so if those new editing commands carry over to dictation, I'll definitely be happy about that.

Submitted by Cankut Değerli on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

I think the upcoming features for Voiceover on Mac are really interesting. I'm looking forward to try them. I hope Mac OS Catalina will be a good version for Voiceover users.

Submitted by charles on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

While the new Siri voice does sound better, I am not going to be negative, other than to say that I wish that Apple started working on performance rather than "eye candy". In all Keynotes, we hear about hor gorgeous, beautiful, stunning, and other such descriptions of the pictures and videos are that were produced with the new and improved cameras and photographic software. However, for several updates, while Siri can open apps, she cannot close them. I would like to see better performance begin to take precedence over continued photographic and video improvements. All of us, whether blind or not, would benefit. I will give Apple credit in that downloads from the app store will be smaller and that apps will open faster, but Siri does need a lot of catching up to do.

Submitted by charles on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

In reply to by Holger Fiallo

I do not mean to offend, Holger, but I have heard you on VoRail, and I think that the reason you have problems with Siri stem from a language barrier and a heavy accent. It is not your fault, but Siri cannot be blamed, either. It is just one of those things.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

In reply to by charles

OK. You maybe correct but what about the issues that she takes forever to respond? Even when American born uses my siri she still have issues and they do not have problems with accentlike I do. Think before you comment. Most of us who uses siri speek well and no issues with the language yet they have some problems. PS This for me is not an issues with Alexa.

Submitted by Kelly Hill on Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Charles, Just ask Siri a few questions then ask Google the same ones and you will no-longer have to bring a person’s accent into your argument. When I speak just like a news announcer all of the devices understand what I say just fine. Google understands what I mean 50 times better than Siri or the Amazon devices. It has less to do with the ability of Siri to understand individual words than The ability of Siri to understand the meaning behind the words and correctly interpret what I am actually looking for. Yes, Apple introduced the first voice assistant and that was great on that day. Now however, they are in at least second if not third place in terms of usability when it comes to using your voice to get information. The Google assistant app is free and you can set up a Siri shortcut to activate it, try it out and I am confident you will soon understand what people are referring to. Siri is quite behind and it needs much more than a Superficial tuneup with a nice sounding voice to remain competitive. In fact, if all of the comprehension of speech is going to take place on a persons device as has been suggested, Then we should expect a device to be able to adapt to its owners speech patterns regardless of whether they conform to some particular standard or not.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I am hopeful that additional accessibility support for hearing aids will make it into iOS 13. One very important improvement would be dependable crackle-free hearing aids when you turn on a Bluetooth keyboard. There are some work-arounds when this happens, such as rebooting your hearing aids, but that is a drag. I have noticed this problem with Widex and Oticon hearing aids when trying to make full use of both the Apple Magic keyboard, as well as the Logitech Keys-To-Go keyboards. I love my Oticon hearing aids and how well they work with my iPhone 8, but I also love my Bluetooth keyboards and I wish they worked bbbetter with them.

I would also very much like to have VoiceOver access to my Apple Watch by beingdirectly connected to my hearing aids.

On another note, I continue to hope that the standard text editing keyboard commands finally get fixed for all apps that allow manipulation of text. It has been quirky since around iOS 9, and I keep hoping. I am a hopeful guy. Maybe, just maybe, this year...

Submitted by Nawaf on Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I wonder the new MacOS update: Is Apple support auto language switcher on all the system? Such as iOS, and tvOS .
There is no information about this feature on Apple website; so if someone try the new Mac; tell us.
This is important feature for multi language user; but sadly on last update: this feature just for safari, or website, it must be all in the OS.

Since Mac OS 10.14 at least on my mac the Auto-Switcher is on and honestly it really sucks. In my case all the elements are read by my English Voice even though the Interface is in German. I wasn't able to fix this so I gave up on it and am very frustrated by that behaviour.

Submitted by Bingo Little on Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I have to confess to being ambivalent about most of these enhancements, but the new siri voice doesn't sound bad especially given the mess they've made of the bleedi'n existing UK female. Was there any indicatoin of whhether we will be able to use the new Siri voice with Voiceover?

Submitted by Ekaj on Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Hi and thanks for this. I know some Apple users who will benefit greatly from the new voice-control thing. I'm curious if this is tied to Siri. Speaking of Siri, I'm excited to hear the new voice and am wondering if Siri voices will work on the Mac now too? In short, I'm looking forward to all of this.

Submitted by BlackCat on Wednesday, June 5, 2019

My request is that Apple should fix the pronounciation issues first in Siri SA English voices, Tessa, Siri English female voice and Siri Irish English voices. Is there a MP3 file around or podcast file where one can hear how the new Siri voice sounds? September is still a long way off and I am curious.

Submitted by David Lai on Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I listened to the keynote online today, as I wanted to check out how Siri sounds like on iOS 13. Though the fidelity is slightly lowered than iOS 12, the expressiveness has surely increased, especially during longer sentences. I learned from the Internet that the iPhone SE can still support the beta, which gives me full confidence to imagine that my device with an A9 chip will eventually support the official build. It would be a shame to not be able to work with the new voice when the device doesn't support it...

Submitted by Kroni on Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hello everybody, I would like to know if you can use Voice Control and Voiceover at the same time.

Submitted by Tyler Wood on Thursday, June 6, 2019

In reply to by Kelly Hill

I seriously cannot agree enough on these points.
I still own an iPhone 7, and the number of times I'm finding myself dictating and having siri fail to get such words correctly as such, much, and even activating when I say a word that sounds nothing like siri, really doesn't give me hope for voice control. Fancy it up all you like, but what apple really needs to do is get back to basics and fix existing issues that have plagued its devices for years.

Android, despite its downfalls, is looking more and more compelling as time goes on, especially with minimal fixes to issues from iOS update to iOS update. The accessibility is finominal, bar none - but plagued with issues that in this day and age should not be present and aren't being worked on, at all.

The irony of all of this is that Android's talkback can get fixes and improvements separate from the operating system itself, making software updates a moot point entirely in some respects, especially with regards to accessibility, and the ability to get new features to my screen reader more than once a year is a really compelling point, too.