Here Are the Most Exciting Accessibility Updates From Apple’s WWDC 2021

Here Are the Most Exciting Accessibility Updates From Apple’s WWDC 2021
Image: Apple

Apple delivered its 2021 WWDC keynote speech on Tuesday, giving us a world of exciting new things to look forward to, especially when it comes to accessibility.

Technology, particularly of the iVariety, has become so ingrained in our way of life that it’s imperative that it can adequately cater to those of us with impairments or disabilities. But unfortunately, for a long time it hasn’t been the case.

Thankfully, with each new software update, Apple seems to be further developing its features to be accessible to everyone.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at all of the accessibility wins that were announced at Apple’s WWDC 2021 event.

Live Text

Live Text is hardly an original concept, with Samsung and Google already having their own alternatives, but this is a win for iOS users nonetheless.

The new feature will digitise the text in your photos, which opens a world of new possibilities, many of which are particularly helpful for the vision-impaired.

For example, if you take a photo of a phone number on a flyer, you will be able to instantly call it, rather than having to manually type it in.

Translate

Similarly, the new Translate app for iPad brings with it a number of helpful new tools for easily communicating with friends in another language.

The new Auto-Translate feature works without even having to press the microphone button — instead, it automatically detects when someone around you is speaking in a language other than the native device language and translates it for you.

Additionally, you can place the device between you and a friend and it will translate both parties conversations to the other’s preferred language.

Focus Mode

Focus is basically an extended version of the already popular Do Not Disturb mode. It allows you to create different modes for work and home and will only show alerts relevant to what you’re doing at the time.

For example, if you’re in work mode, you will receive email alerts but won’t get an alert for that game you’ve been wasting too much time on.

This is obviously a win for those of us with ADHD or other conditions that impact our ability to focus, but it’s also handy for when you’re studying or just really need to get something done without being distracted.

You can obviously turn the modes on manually, but iOS 15 will also automatically programme them based on your location and time. For example, if you’re always at work between 9 and 5 in the office, Apple will learn this and adapt accordingly.

Respiratory Rate

Apple also introduced a number of accessibility wins in WatchOS 8, including a new respiratory rate tracker, which is particularly useful if you have underlying medical conditions.

In WatchOS 8, you will be able to track how many breaths you take per minute (your respiratory rate). Additionally, Apple will notify you if there’s any significant trends detected in your breathing habits so you can go see a medical professional and get it checked out.

This will likely be a feature that works quietly in the background and feels like its not helping you personally, but it’s handy to know that Apple is quietly tracking your breathing habits and will be able to notify you if there’s something potentially concerning that you might not have noticed otherwise.

Lab Results

Speaking of health, Apple is also expanding its Lab Results feature to give your more of an insight into your health. Viewing your lab results was already a feature that could be enabled in your Health app, but now Apple will provide extra context that is particularly helpful if you’re living with ongoing medical issues that require regular monitoring of your blood pressure and other important data.

Sharing your medical data with your doctor

Sharing your medical data virtually is always a bit of a controversial topic, as we saw with the fears around Australia’s My Health Record back in 2018, but the option is now there for iOS users.

You will be able to share your medical data directly with your doctor, or with trusted loved ones so they can be updated if there are any major changes to your health.

This is particularly useful for those of us with chronic health conditions, or for elderly relatives.

Conversation Boost

Although Apple didn’t give us the new AirPods we were hoping for, it did give us an exciting new feature for the pre-existing model — Conversation Boost.

The new feature makes it easier to hear people during audio calls while they’re out and about in busy (see: loud) places.

Additionally, AirPod users are able to adjust ambient background noises to make it easier to hear.

Users will also soon be able to programme Siri to read important notifications like it already does with iMessages and calls.

This is particularly helpful for people who are hard of hearing, or those who rely on audio notifications rather than visual messages.

FaceTime Spatial Audio and Voice Isolation

Similarly to the AirPods feature, FaceTime is getting an upgrade that makes it easier to hear and see who is talking during a group call.

For starters, spatial audio will emit sound from specific parts of your audio set up to mimic whoever is speaking’s on-screen position.

Additionally, the new voice isolation feature improvements will make it easier to isolate voices when you’re FaceTiming in a loud environment. Honestly, in a pandemic, this is a godsend.

Maps

Although we’re yet to get an Australian release date — or any concrete answer on exactly which features will be rolled out in Australia — there are a number of new Maps features that improve accessibility.

The major change, which seemingly mimics recent Google Maps upgrades, Apple will introduce more detailed maps with median strips, bus lanes and elevation, among other things.

While this doesn’t feel huge for most of us, it’s particularly useful for wheelchair users or people who need walking aids, who will now be able to plan their trips more efficiently.