iOS 15 Accessibility Features
Every year for the past decade or so, Apple has released an update to their iPhone operating system. Over the years, the updates have been more sophisticated. Side note: did you know that VoiceOver was not available on iPhones until 2009, two years after the first iPhone was sold? It was on the then new iPhone 3GS in iOS 3.
Anyway, every autumn, millions of people download the latest version of iOS hoping to see all the improvements made to the operating system. However, those who utilize Apple’s accessibility features generally wait, often on pins and needles, hoping that the latest “improvements” haven’t “broken” the accessibility tools that they rely on.
In this tip, we will review some of the new features with regard to how they work with VoiceOver. We will not focus on new features that do not add any functionality to accessibility for the blind and visually impaired (i.e. Focus Modes) but resources will be available at the bottom of this article. Please note that these changes may vary among iPhone models.
One of the most important changes in iOS 15 is the ability to use Siri without an internet or data connection. This means accessibility features can be enabled/disabled at any point, which is extremely convenient for users who frequently perform this task using Siri. Other tasks can also be performed with no connection include setting timers and alarms, opening apps, and other tasks. Though not strictly an “accessibility enhancement”, this feature broadens the ability of using Siri across environments for those who may lack the finger dexterity to use the phone or have other needs that are met by incorporating the use of a virtual assistant.
Another accessibility enhancement is available in the Photos App. When a photo is in focus, VoiceOver will automatically pull the text from the photo and read it for you. This is in addition to provide some limited image description, which was introduced in a previous version of iOS.
When text is detected, there may be a button labeled “detect text”. When activated, this button will allow VoiceOver to focus exclusively on the text in the picture and cease trying to describe other parts of the photo.
It should be noted that this feature is very useful but is probably not something one would wish to use to access or read large documents. There are better and more powerful tools for those, but accessing some basic text such as business cards, phone numbers, short notes, etc would be more than appropriate.
Find My Items and Air Tags
Since Apple introduced its Air Tag, many blind and visually impaired users have begun to use them. One new tool that can be loosely called an “accessibility feature” is the option to have Find My send you a notification when you’ve been separated from your Air Tag. You can add locations that are an exception, such as Home or Work. That way, if you deliberately leave your wallet at home, the phone will not generate a notification, but if you dropped it at a restaurant, a notification will be sent.
The Find My app can be used to determine the last location that your item had a connection to your iPhone. There is a toggle in the item list to send a notification when the phone is again in range of the associated Air Tag, and of course, a sound can be triggered, making it easy to locate.
This feature is especially helpful when an item is dropped and the user cannot visually locate it. Having a general location available and then continuing to try to ping the Air Tag so it makes a sound can be very helpful.
Fast Access to Quick Settings
A new gesture to access VoiceOver Quick Settings was introduced in iOS 15. The user may quadruple tap anywhere on the screen with two fingers and VoiceOver Quick Settings will open. This area can be customized in the Settings App, meaning Quick Settings can be added or removed from VoiceOver Quick Settings.
Settings located in this area are toggles, a drop-down with a limited list of options, or an area where an setting can be adjusted.
Examples of settings that can be added or removed include volume control, speaking rate, selecting typing style, and enabling/disabling image description.
Note that this area contains some of the same options as the VoiceOver Rotor, so if speaking rate and volume are already present in the Rotor, but you would like to move access to Quick Settings, this would make your Rotor selections easier to navigate.
There are several enhancements to VoiceOver’s Verbosity settings. These are only a few of the new options available. To see all the options, open Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Verbosity
Always Speak Notifications – Notifications can be set to automatically speak notifications or to remain silent.
Flashlight Notifications – Notifies the user when the flashlight has been enabled.
Links – offers options of whether to inform the user as they are navigating towards or past a link. Unlike in the previous version, the user can select multiple modes of being informed of the presence of a link, including whether the notification is indicated on a connected braille display.
Numbers – Offers the option of whether numbers are read as digits or as words.
Prior to iOS 15, the user could easily navigate the Rotor, but when focused on “volume”, they had to adjust the volume to determine the level at which it was set. In this new version, the settings is announced as the Rotor is navigated. In other words, when focused on volume, VoiceOver will say “volume”, then read the current volume setting so the user does not need to make adjustments to get this information. Similar rules apply regarding speaking rate, punctuation, or other settings found in the Rotor.
There are some enhancements for users with low vision as well.
There has been a magnifier application available for several versions of iOS. In this new version, the Magnifier is available in the App Switcher, where it was not before. This can be useful if a user has a frozen image in the magnifier and needs to quickly navigate to it.
Text Size Adjustment Per App
Text size can be adjusted and applied within specific apps. For example, the user may want text to be larger when working in the Mail app, but doesn’t need any size adjustment in the Photos App. This can come in handy when large text is hidden in some apps or the text string is “cut off”.
As we round off all the new features introduced in iOS 15, it’s also important to point out some bugs that may affect accessibility when users update. There are not as many in this update as there have been in the past, but there are still some that are worth mentioning. Please note that these bugs only present when VoiceOver is used and that this is not a comprehensive list.
Also, please note that there are several bugs that were resolved with the update to iOS 15. Please see the resource at the bottom of this article for further information.
There are a couple of different bugs in this app. Of most concern is the fact that it will crash if any other card but the first one available is selected. Secondly, some of the swipe gestures are not functional when attempting to navigate cards added to the Wallet and it will likely crash.
The Screentime Picker does not allow a VoiceOver user to select a start and end time for scheduled Screentime.
There may be instances when VoiceOver does not vocalize the names of apps when in the App Switcher. This seems to be an inconsistent issue, which can be resolved by disabling Reduce Motion at Settings > Accessibility > Motion.
When attempting to edit an existing alarm in the native Clock App with VoiceOver, the time cannot be adjusted. The user would need to delete the existing alarm and create another with the time desired.
If the user already has an Apple One subscription, there is not an issue. However, anyone who is attempting to set up an Apple One subscription cannot do so as the main setup screen is not navigable by VoiceOver.
Issues Specific to iPad Only
Multitask Controls are difficult to access on the iPad. Also, the window that displays the hardwire keyboard commands when a keyboard is connected will not read the commands in proper table order. This is not a major bug, but it can cause confusion when the rows are not read correctly.
When composing an email (usually one that is more lengthy) random words are inserted into the message when a braille display is utilized. Also, there is not an option to add braille support to the Quick Settings to move in/out of grouped navigation or to lock the screen.
Several new accessibility features have been added in iOS 15, some of which were highlighted in this article
Other additional features that are not specific to users who are blind or visually impaired have also been added and are referenced in the resources
Do NOT update your personal device until you have read about the possible bugs that may affect you or your productivity.
What’s New in iOS 15 Accessibility for the Blind and DeafBlind
Accessibility Bugs Introduced and Resolved in iOS 15
iOS 15 – All the New Accessibility Features Coming to iPhone
Apple’s iOS 15 is Here - These are all the Top New Features
iOS 15 Hidden Tricks: Make the Most of Apple’s New iPhone Features
Everything New with Siri in iOS 15