Home » From the iPhone to the Vision Pro: accessible technology according to Apple

From the iPhone to the Vision Pro: accessible technology according to Apple

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From the iPhone to the Vision Pro: accessible technology according to Apple

NAPLES. There are things that we are used to taking for granted: for example moving, speaking, seeing, listening, remembering. But then an illness, an accident, or even just advancing age force us to consider the world from a different perspective: that of those who move with difficulty, or cannot speak, see, listen, have difficulty understanding or remembering. . Putting yourself in these people’s shoes is a tough, perhaps impossible challenge, yet trying is necessary. For oneself, first of all, because it means dealing with a very different world: indifferent, if all goes well, more often hostile, limiting, discriminatory. And it is worth remembering this every day, not just on December 3, which has been World Day of Persons with Disabilities since 1981. In the world over a billion people have to deal with some type of disability, over the age of 65 the percentage is 40 percent.

Technology can play an important role: “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s head of accessibility. “For us, the key is customization. In the customization options of our devices, the accessibility section is the richest and most detailed: it is possible to adapt them to anyone’s needs, and not necessarily because they identify with a specific medical condition. It can be a way to improve productivity, such as increasing the size of the writing because you prefer a slightly lighter font. larger. I, for example, wear glasses and greatly appreciate this possibility, as well as the Magnifier function. Everyone is unique and interacts with technology in different ways. So why not create a variety of options that help each of us to use a device in the best possible way?”

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Herrlinger is at the Apple Academy in San Giovanni a Teduccio, near Naples, to meet students learning to create apps and show them the various accessibility options included in operating systems and how they can best be used. Apple has included accessibility options in its products since 1985, since the days of the first Mac. Fred, one of the voices that read the lyrics on the screen, also became the protagonist of a Radiohead song, but above all it has simplified the lives of millions of people with reduced or no vision. In 2009, the third version of the iPod Shuffle had no screen, but read titles and playlists via a synthetic voice. There was no longer any need to think about accessibility, accessibility was the very basis on which the interface was built. In the same year, Apple also updated iTunes, making it compatible with VoiceOver, OsX’s screen reading technology, and so even blind people could copy and synchronize music between Mac and iPod without external help. And VoiceOver also arrived on the iPhone, with the 3GS in 2009: it read everything on the screen, not only the texts but also the commands, and thus allowed you to control the phone using only your voice.

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Such an effort is only successful if it is carried out consistently, as Herrlinger explains: for example, if the Home button in an app is not called that, the iPhone system will not be able to read it correctly, and this will make the app less suitable for use with VoiceOver. In short, a certain rigidity is needed to achieve maximum flexibility. When you design something you need to think about accessibility from the beginning, not worry about it at the end as if it were a list of features to tick off. And it also takes dedication: “The accessibility team’s work is never finished. You have to remember the updates, because once a community relies on you, you are committed to following it,” observes Herrlinger. “We don’t work per a community, but con a community. Meanwhile, we hire people with disabilities, both in the corporate and retail sectors: we have 150,000 employees around the world and by integrating accessibility into our products, we can ensure that everyone can do their job better. Therefore we are the first to use our technologies to improve them. Then we collaborate with many organizations globally. And of course, there is feedback from our customers: we have a dedicated email ([email protected]), where a special Apple Care group responds to people who ask questions, provide feedback, report bugs.”

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Accessibility passes through large and small details, as the WeTransfer experience shows for example. The popular file transfer site (which is also a content distribution platform and an important advertising medium) worked with an NGO to create a font that takes into account the difficulties of those with dyslexia. “Comic Sans is not appreciated by anyone, but for dyslexics it is more readable than other fonts,” explains Lina Ruiz, social policy manager at WeTransfer. “We have provided different color settings, for those with vision problems, or the possibility of disabling moving images. Including accessibility in the product allows people to personalize it and be able to use it better, and for this reason 30 accessibility champions work with WeTransfer, providing advice and observations. For us, accessibility is not a problem to be solved, but a culture to be built.”

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“We don’t have enough accessibility professionals,” comments Jonathan Chacón Barbero, Senior accessible software engineer at Cabify. It is a platform born in Spain that aims to reduce the number of parked cars and use them constantly; today 42 million people in 40 cities adopt it. He asks the boys and girls at the Academy if they know anyone with a disability: “If you raise your hand I can’t see it, but if you say hey, then I can hear you.” There are 285 million blind or partially sighted people in the world, and Chacón Barbero is one of them. His passion for technology led him to work as a consultant in various organizations and companies, including ESA. For Cabify he created an accessibility menu with three options: for those who have mobility problems and need to reach the car; for those who are deaf and prefer to chat rather than talk on the phone with the operations center; for those who want to receive notifications and updates verbally (this is the case for people with visual difficulties, but also for those with cognitive disorders). “So in the end everyone can use our services without external assistance,” he explains.

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Technology can be the tool that gives people the independence they have lost or never had: with Live Speech, for example, it is possible to write a sentence and have it read aloud on iPhone, iPad and Mac in phone and FaceTime calls or in live conversations. You can use one of Apple’s standard voices or your own; to create it, just record 15 minutes of audio on your iPhone or iPad using the Personal Voice function, which will offer an ever-changing list of sentences to read. So those who risk losing the ability to speak – for example due to ALS – will be able to continue to interact with the rest of the world with their true voice. It works very well, privacy is respected because the processing takes place on the iPhone, but at the moment it is only available in English.

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How will the Vision Pro for virtual reality arrive soon: but is there room for accessibility in an object that, right from the name, does not seem ideal for those suffering from visual impairment? “We have integrated the VoiceOver function into Vision Pro. This allows those in the blind community to receive auditory feedback like on a Mac, and to be able to manage this function via gestures, voice or otherwise. We always strive to think of our products as tools that can be used by as many people as possible, and Vision Pro is that too.”

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Already today the iPhone allows blind and partially sighted people to interact with physical objects through text labels. With Point and Speak, by pointing the camera at a label, such as a microwave keyboard, it reads aloud the writing indicated by your finger. It can also be used to detect the presence of people and their distance, the location of doors and other useful references to help orient yourself in the physical environment. Nothing could be easier than for these functions to also be included on the Vision Pro and subsequent models: at that point even the objection of the high price of the device would become irrelevant, given the advantages it could bring. “Working for a consumer products company that cares so much about accessibility means always having an open dialogue between different teams and taking something one person has done to make another product work better. I think that Vision Pro will be a great example of this exchange, for the multimodality with which you can interact: with gestures, voice, gaze and much more”.

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Little by little, Apple is building a fluid interface, homogeneous between devices, flexible in the multiplicity of options, less and less tied to keyboard and mouse. Like the double tap that arrived with the latest Apple Watch update, and which derives from a function originally designed for accessibility: it allows you to interact with the smartwatch without ever touching it or looking at the screen. “The biggest challenge is to normalize accessibility, to transform it from a problem to a tool available to everyone,” concludes Henninger. Where are we at? “Our goal has always been to lead by example. Tim Cook has often said that we want to be the wave that rolls across the lake, and that applies here too. We hope others will follow us and join us.”

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