G3 iMac in a manual wheelchair over an old OS X default desktop image.

iOS 7.1 Accessibility Update Roundup

iOS 7.1 contains many changes that will be helpful to vision impaired users, as well as some relevant to VoiceOver users, switch users, and Siri users. The update was released about ten days ago now, and several helpful people have written about the accessibility changes in this release.

VoiceOver and Low Vision

Macworld has a great article by long-time accessibility writer Josh de Lioncourt about accessibility updates in iOS 7.1 with specific focus on changes relevant to blind and vision impaired users:

Although primarily intended for low-vision users, iOS 7.1 improves features for blind users as well as those with motion impairments.
Macworld: A closer look at iOS 7.1’s accessibility changes

Switch Control

Part of the Macworld article noted above says camera switch control is new to iOS 7.1, but this is wrong. Awesome switch user Christopher Hills has helpfully confirmed for me that camera control for switch access was added in iOS 7.0.

Christopher also published some other comments on Twitter about how the 7.1 update impacts switch users:

Siri

Apple’s list of changes in iOS 7.1 also includes improvements in Siri:

  • Manually control when Siri listens by holding down the home button while you speak and releasing it when you’re done as an alternative to letting Siri automatically notice when you stop talking.
  • New, more natural sounding male and female voices for Mandarin Chinese, UK English, Australian English, and Japanese

You can hear those new voices on the International iOS text to speech voices page, by the way.

CarPlay

Another big change in 7.1 is the addition of CarPlay. This isn’t directly relevant to accessibility, but descriptions of CarPlay I’ve read certainly hint at an overlap with accessibility features:

The basic idea of CarPlay is it allows you to use all your iPhone functionality without actually touching the device.
TechRadar: Apple Carplay – Everything you need to know about iOS in the car

This really makes me think that Apple is thinking long-term and big-picture here. This makes me feel even more positive about their commitment to accessibility because the technology that lets you control your iPhone via your car’s steering wheel controls, is very closely related to the technology that lets you use your iPhone with switch control.

This reassures me – again – that Apple isn’t thinking of accessibility as this drain that they have to include for just a tiny percentage of their users, but as just one alternative iPhone control system among many. And that’s a positive thought!

– Ricky

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