It’s that time of year again when we all look forward to the regular updates of iOS, Android, and Windows and wonder what changes are ahead when the new updates are introduced. What can we expect from the assistive technology though, and in particular, what improvements are the big players planning in relation to their built-in software.
The latest updates from Apple
iOS 11 comes with many exciting features, however the big accessibility improvements are the 1-handed keyboard, adding another feature to its feature-rich OS. Other offerings include automatic image scanning, where Voiceover, (the built-in screen reader on iOS), will attempt to scan an image for text and read it to the user. This combined with the same scan for unlabelled buttons makes for interesting developments. For low-vision users, a new invert colour option, and additional integration with third-party apps means that low-vision users are able to have better contrast across more applications.
MacOS Users who experience difficulty using a physical keyboard will now benefit from an on screen keyboard in the September update of macOS. The keyboard will allow users to customise it to their requirements, although like other updates we will need to wait and see what the final result will be. Many of us talk to Siri, but have you ever just wanted to type a message to Siri instead? Now you can, Siri will still provide audio feedback, just type what you want if you can’t chat with Siri. Improved PDF support relating to tables and forms with Voiceover is another feature in the new Mac OS, a feature which I am sure will be much welcome by Voiceover users when attempting to quickly access PDF and other documentation. Similarly to iOS, Voiceover on the mac will describe an image by using a simple keyboard command, making it possible to interpret your photos maybe, I guess time will tell. Better navigation of websites which now use HTML 5 is also included in the update, meaning that Voiceover will support the new standard and provide better navigation when tables are used in messages for example.
Apple watch is also benefiting from a software update, including the ability to change the click speed of the button on the side of your watch. This means that users who have difficulty double-clicking for example, can customise the click speed when they need to use Apple pay or other such services. Apple TV will now support the use of braille displays. A braille display is a device which translates the print material on-screen in to braille via Bluetooth or USB, allowing users to navigate and read content such as programme guides ETC.
Improvements to Windows Narrator, the built-in screen reader on Windows devices, will see the ability to learn what command is performed when using another device such as a keyboard, via device learning mode. Narrator users will be able to experience a clearer and more unified user interface (UI), as improvements across all apps and devices will make Narrator easier to learn and use. The scan mode used to quickly navigate a screen or web page, will be set to on by default, and it’s setting across multiple apps will be remembered to further improve the user experience. Narrator will also include a service which attempts to recognise images which contain a lack of alt (alternative) text, by using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to identify the image.
The Magnifier will follow Narrator’s focus, to make it easier for users who use both Narrator and magnification simultaneously. The desktop magnifier will include smoother fonts and images, as well as additional settings and the ability to zoom in or out using the mouse. Also included for low vision users are new colour filters, which make it easier for persons who have colour blindness or light sensitivity to use a windows device.
A new accessibility shortcut will be available for users running android o. The feature is set to toggle on and off Talkback by default, however it can be used to configure another accessibility service after set up, such as magnification or switch access. The shortcut can be performed by pressing the up and down volume buttons together on any compatible device, meaning that it will be easier than ever to get your required access option on Android O. When using Android o with Talkback, the addition of a separate talkback volume has been introduced to enable users to change the output volume separately from the media volume. For low-vision users, a new slider has been introduced at the top of the screen when media is encountered to easily perform the same action. So if listening to any media it is now possible to easily hear what Talkback is announcing. For devices running Android o with a fingerprint scanner, Talkback users can make use of customisable gestures which can be performed by using the fingerprint scanner on their device. To enable support for additional languages, multi-language support is another feature being developed for Android O, via Google’s text-to-speak software to detect and speak the language in focus.
When running an Android o compatible device, and having an accessibility service active such as magnification, users can implement an accessibility shortcut to magnify the screen when the Accessibility button is available. This means that, using the example of magnification, a user would be able to tap the accessibility button, and use a specific gesture to change the screen magnification. To return to the previous (or default) setting, all users need to do is press the Accessibility button again to remove the accessibility setting.
For low-vision users who may not require the features of Talkback, or for users who have dyslexia, select to speak will be a useful feature. Select to speak is a service which announces a selection of elements or text, and includes options to read by page, speed, and the previous or next sentence. As mentioned earlier, we will need to wait until the final updates are released in a couple of months, but the future is very interesting for built-in assistive technology.
To learn more about the latest updates, go to: The latest accessibility updates in iOS 11 from AppleVis (external link). The Microsoft Accessibility Blog (external link). The latest accessibility news about Android O (opens external link which contains a youtube video).