10 Apple accessibility solutions everyone should know

The great thing about the accessibility tools inside Apple products is that they make those products better for everyone. Here are some accessibility solutions every Apple user needs to know.

Apple, iOS, Mac, macOS, Apple Watch, Apple TV, accessibility
Ben Patterson

Apple is putting its weight behind Global Accessibility Awareness Day, taking the opportunity to point to its decades-long record in developing software solutions that make its hardware usable by everybody.

Tim Cook’s commitment to making products accessible to everyone

Earlier this year, Apple said:

“One in seven people around the world has some form of disability, whether that be a physical disability involving vision, hearing, or loss of physical motor skills, or a more hidden, invisible disability.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook says accessibility is a “human right,” adding:

“It’s a basic core value of Apple. We don’t make products for a particular group of people; we make products for everybody. We feel very strongly that everyone deserves an equal opportunity and equal access.”

Apple's commitment to this has won it awards and recognition from major groups, including the American Council of the Blind, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and the National Association of the Deaf. It is also changing lives.

The great thing about the accessibility tools inside Apple products is that they make those products better for everyone. Here are some accessibility solutions every Apple user needs to know.

You are the great Dictation

Macs, iPads, iPhones — even the Apple Watch — all support dictation. You can use this to dictate messages, emails, notes, even whole documents. You can also use Siri for some of these tasks.

Don’t ignore VoiceOver

Not so long ago people were asked to pay hundreds of dollars on top of the cost of their computing equipment to get something like VoiceOver access to their device. Now you’ll find this feature for free, built into every Apple product.

What does it do? Not only does it tell you what is happening on your device, but it also lets you control your device using your voice.

On a Mac, you’ll be asked to define a Voice Over (VO) keyboard command, which you press with other keys to make things happen — so VO-M will access the Menu Bar, or VO-L will read the current line of text. Find out more about it here.

Speak up

You can ask your Mac or iPhone to speak selected text for you. On a Mac, open Speech settings inside the Accessibility section and check Speak Selected Text when the key is pressed. Now, when you select text and ask your Mac to speak that content (usually by tapping Option-Esc), your Mac will do just that. On an iPhone or iPad, open Settings>General>Accessibility and turn Speak Selection on. Now, when you select text, you will be able to ask your device to read that content to you by choosing the option in the contextual menu item.

Hear the call silently

Make your iPhone’s torch flash when a call or notification comes through in Settings>General>Accessibility, toggle LED Flash for Alerts to on. Now you can switch off the ringer volume and still know when the call comes in.

Enable different vibration alerts

It’s great that when you receive a call your device shows you who is calling — but what about when you can’t see what’s on the display? That’s where the capacity to create unique vibration patterns for key contacts makes such a difference. Open Contacts, find the person you want to create a unique vibration pattern for, tap Ringtone>Vibration>Create New Vibration and tap the correct pattern out.

Make your own gestures with AssistiveTouch (iOS)

Designed for those who have problems using a touch screen, Assistive Touch lets any user create their own set of control gestures.

Enable AssistiveTouch in Settings>General Accessibility>AssistiveTouch. Once enabled, you’ll see a new control on your screen. Tap it to access a range of easy-to-find buttons for actions such as Home, Siri, and accessing Control Center.

You can also create your own by tapping the plus button, for example, creating a button that swipes down to the bottom of the page, or to take screenshots, or to use your device if the Home button is broken. (There are a couple more useful iPhone accessibility tools described here.)

Zoom into the action

Don’t underestimate the value of Apple’s built-in display zoom tools for any user. Think about Apple Watch: The zoom feature on this device lets even people with relatively limited vision make use of the apps, maps, and everything else on the device.

Enabled in Settings>Accessibility and then summoned into use with two taps on the display, you can move around the watch using the Digital Crown.

It’s the same on a Mac, enabling you to use gestures to navigate the screen and increase the size of what you see. You can even use zoom tools on Apple TV, making the system easier to navigate.

Do you use Accessibility Shortcuts?

Available on an iPhone and enabled via the Accessibility Shortcut at the bottom of the Settings>General>Accessibility, this feature lets you quickly make things happen just by triple-clicking the Home button.

I enable Zoom, Magnifier, and Invert Colors (so I can see the screen in low light). When I triple-click the button, I can then easily initiate one of the actions just by tapping it in the list.

Even HomeKit helps

So, you don’t think HomeKit is an accessibility product? Think again — from being able to use Siri to close your blinds, to turning the lights on and off, to changing the temperature, to opening the garage door and asking your car to drive you to work (though that last item will be a few years down the line).

Facetime

Even Facetime has a part to play: It enables people with hearing or speech difficulties to communicate non-verbally using sign language and facial expression.

If you want to find out more about Apple and accessibility, check Apple's website, the Mac for the Blind site, and resources elsewhere (such as the American Foundation for the Blind).

I hope these examples help illustrate this point: Humanity is as diverse as anything else in nature, and respecting such diversity through enabling technology empowers us all.

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