Apple iOS 6 accessibility

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Friday, 21 September 2012 12:59pm

The release of iOS 6, the latest version of Apple's operating system for mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad, has come with new features that improve accessibility.

There are a number of new features that have been introduced by the iOS software update. These include:

Guided Access: Guided Access allows users to 'block out' specific features or areas of an app. For example, if a user wanted to disable the ability to change volume levels in the Music app, they could circle the volume controls at the bottom of the screen. This is particularly useful for people with cognitive disabilities. For example, people who are easily distracted can perform tasks when other elements are restricted through Guided Access. People who have diminished control of hand movements or may also benefit from Guided Access as it reduces the chance of accidentally activating a button or area of an app.

Maps: Apple has also removed Google Maps as the default app for navigation, replacing it with its own Maps app. This is an important change from an accessibility point of view as it has also improved the way VoiceOver works with maps. While VoiceOver works in the Google Maps app, it isn't as intuitive as the Apple Maps app.

In Google Maps, a user had to point to the text of the directions on the screen for VoiceOver to announce the details and then hit next to go to the next lot of directions. This would have presented too many steps for a vision impaired person using a screen reader to follow. However, in the new Maps app, VoiceOver announces turn by turn directions as a user swipes through the instructions on the screen.

Another improvement with VoiceOver and the new Maps app is the ability for VoiceOver to announce surrounding streets and information as a user points to it on the screen. For example if a blind or vision impaired user activates the Maps app to find more information about what is around their current location, they are able to use the 'tracking' button to drop a pin on the map of their current location. The user can then move their finger across the screen to hear VoiceOver announce what else is around them including street names, coordinates (north, south, east and west) and whether a street is only one-way.

The Apple Maps app includes a turn-by-turn voice directions feature, however this will only be made available in Australia in October.

The software update has also improved existing accessibility features:

Assistive Touch: This feature has been revamped with the addition of direct buttons to Voice Control, Screenshot and the Multitasking menu. When Assistive Touch is activated, an overlay menu is displayed on the iPhone screen. It allows users to use single finger gestures to perform functions on the screen instead of using multi-finger gestures. This is useful for people who have limited dexterity in their hands and fingers.

VoiceOver: The inbuilt screen reader for iOS devices, VoiceOver, has also been improved. VoiceOver can now be used at the same time as Zoom, the inbuilt screen magnifier. This allows people with partial vision to magnify what is on the screen while VoiceOver reads out text.  Previously, users had to choose whether to have VoiceOver or Zoom switched on.

Siri: The iPhone's voice activated "virtual assistant" has been improved to provide information on local businesses through integration with the review service, Yelp. For instance, asking Siri the question "Any good Mexican around here?" will return a list of local Mexican restaurants, their addresses and star ratings.

Siri can now also be used to launch apps, instead of using touch to activate an app. Siri is popular among blind and vision impaired users who prefer to use their voice rather than typing.

Details about the new accessibility features and other enhancement included in iOS 6 are available on the Apple website. Comparisons of mobile devices, including those that run on Google Android, are available in our Digital Technology section.

To update your Apple device to iOS 6 go to Settings – General – Software Update. Ensure you are connected to the Internet when you download the update.

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