On Tuesday, Apple provided a sneak peek at a few new features for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac that will improve accessibility for those with disabilities related to vision, speech, cognition, hearing, and mobility. The improvements are expected to be available later this year. This comes as Apple prepares for its Worldwide Developers Conference, which begins on June 5.
One feature, called Live Speech, is geared toward users who are nonspeaking or who have diverse speech patterns or disabilities. Live Speech lets someone type what they want to say and then have it spoken aloud. The feature can be used for in-person conversations as well as over the phone and on FaceTime. It works on iPhone, iPad, and Mac and allows using any built-in voice, such as Siri.
Personal Voice takes that feature further by enabling users at risk of speech loss to create a voice that sounds like them and then have it read aloud the phrases they have typed. Personal Voice takes advantage of on-device machine learning. To train the feature, a person spends roughly 15 minutes speaking a series of text instructions aloud on an iPhone or iPad.
The National Aphasia Association (NAA) estimates that over two million people in the United States have aphasia. Conditions that can lead to difficulty speaking include stroke, dementia, TBI, CP, brain tumors, and ALS.
Commonly seen in stroke patients, aphasia is a type of language disorder characterized by poor comprehension or expression of words or nonverbal equivalents of words. It is caused by a breakdown of the language centers in the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia, as well as the white matter networks that connect them. The diagnosis is clinical, with neuropsychologic tests and brain imaging (CT, MRI) used to determine the etiology. The prognosis is determined by the source and extent of the damage, as well as the patient’s age. Although there is no specific treatment, speech therapy may aid in recovery.
Point and Speak, a new function that enables people who are visually impaired to point to things with text labels and have their device read the text out, is also coming to the iPhone’s Magnifier app. Point and Speak can be used with other Magnifier functions such as People Detection, Door Detection, and Image Descriptions to assist blind and low-vision users in navigating and identify their environment.
Assistive Access is intended for those with cognitive problems and provides a more focused device interface to reduce cognitive stress. Large font labels and high-contrast buttons can be found on the iPhone’s home screen and in Calls, Messages, Camera, Photos, and Music. The experience can be customized to individual tastes. Someone who prefers visual communication, for example, can utilize an emoji-only keyboard or record a video message to send.
Other accessibility updates coming this year include the ability to pair Made for iPhone hearing devices directly to Mac and to more easily adjust text size across Mac apps like Finder, Messages, Mail, Calendar, and Notes. Voice Control is now giving phonetic suggestions so that users who type with their voice can select the correct word if others that sound close, such as do, due, and dew, are available.
Last Thursday, Apple launched SignTime in Germany, Italy, Spain, and South Korea. SignTime allows Apple Store customers to speak with employees through sign language interpreters. The service was already available in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, and Japan.
Assistive technology has played a vital role in my life. Apple’s accessibility features allow me to access more of my technology. I am grateful that technology is advancing every day so disabled people can live more independent lives.
Al-Heeti, Abrar. “Apple Previews a Ton of New Accessibility Features Ahead of WWDC.” CNET, 16 May 2023, http://www.cnet.com/google-amp/news/apples-personal-voice-point-and-speak-features-use-ai-to-boost-accessibility/.
Ganzfried, Ellayne S. “Living with aphasia: Realities, challenges, and opportunities.” Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups 3.2 (2018): 68-79.
Juebin Huang Aphasia Merck Manal Professional Version. Merck & Co., Inc. 1 Sep 2022
Ruben, Robert J. ‘Redefining the Survival of the Fittest: Communication Disorders in the 21st Century’. The Laryngoscope, vol. 110, no. 2, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Feb. 2000, pp. 241–241, https://doi.org10.1097/00005537-200002010-00010.
“Speech Impairment (Adult).” Mount Sinai Health System, http://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/symptoms/speech-impairment-adult.
Useful information, I have a friend in my writing group who has extreme visual difficulties. I will share.
I’m glad it is informative!