Apple’s WWDC 2022 Keynote Proves Yet Again Assistive Technologies Live Not In A Silo – Forbes

The redesigned Lock Screen in iOS 16 makes info more readily available.
When Apple previewed its forthcoming accessibility software as part of last month’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) celebration, there was some noise the reason the company did this during GAAD was to “make room” for the announcements to come at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). One one hand, there is a kernel of truth to this rationale; the keynote was so packed with news that Apple didn’t bother to tout what’s new this year in one of its ostensibly pillar platforms. On the other hand, however, a legitimate argument can be made that saying Apple announced the aforementioned accessibility features ahead of WWDC to get it out of the way implies that accessibility will have no bearing whatsoever on iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS Ventura, watchOS 9, and, yes, tvOS 16. Not only is that logic arguably ableist, it’s utterly shortsighted. Accessibility may indeed be a discrete collection of esoteric functionalities designed for a particular group of people. Still, its abstract dynamism means accessibility is bound to permeate many of the so-called mainstream features that Craig Federighi and crew unveiled on pre-recorded stage on Monday morning.
With this sentiment in mind, here are some assorted thoughts on five new features of Apple’s operating systems that definitely will have an impact on accessibility. Apple invited me to the event at Apple Park, and I was in the audience this week with my fellow media members as Apple’s presentation played almost literally on a Jumbotron.
The redesigned Lock Screen. The newly-redesigned Lock Screen, which relies heavily upon technologies found on watchOS, is intended to be more useful at a glance—that Apple lifted the complications idiom from Apple Watch was no accident. From a practical perspective, the new Lock Screen should become far more engaging (and personable) than its relatively staid status today. From an accessibility standpoint, it means those with cognitive and/or fine-motor delays should have considerably less overhead to contend with in gleaning information.
Take checking the weather, for instance. Currently, you have to unlock your phone, find the Weather widget (or app) on your Home Screen, and tap in. Looking at it from a task analyses viewpoint, those several steps add up to a lot of work. For many with the aforementioned cognition and motor impairments, the seemingly mundane job of checking the weather can be an arduous one. It can be fatiguing to remember where your Weather widget is and how to navigate it. Smartphones may well be an appendage by now to most people, but it doesn’t mean their operation is necessarily second nature to all people. The new Lock Screen should alleviate the number of “papercuts” a disabled person might encounter by reducing what was once a multi-step process into a single step. If this feels familiar, it’s because the concept is identical to Shortcuts’ allure: they transform the tedious into something eminently more expedient.
Medications app on watchOS. As someone who is continually struggling to maintain positive mental health and, as such, takes medication for it, the medicinal reminders coming to watchOS 9 should help me a great deal. While there have long been third-party apps that can do this sort of thing, I appreciate the fact Apple—as the platform vendor—is extending its health and wellness work to this realm. I consistently forget to take my medication on a daily basis, sometimes not doing so until late in the day; to have my Apple Watch ping me in the morning to take it should be extremely helpful. From an accessibility point of view, the cognition angle I just illustrated is entirely the point of the new Medications app. It helps one remember what you take but, more importantly health-wise, helps remember when to take it.
Haptic feedback on the system keyboard. Apple has developed the best haptics technology in the industry, and they’re finally applying it to the keyboard in iOS 16. The win here in terms of accessibility is bimodal sensory input. Not only are you seeing characters as you type them, but you quite literally feel them too. The double dose of sensory stimulation goes a long way in confirming actions. In this case, every key you tap will be augmented by a haptic buzz so you instantly know the action registered. Such validation can be important especially to those with low vision, who may not be able to tell that their computer did something—even with a feature like Zoom turned on. The haptic feedback is reassuring that you pressed a button and the computer knows it.
Apple Pay Later. I’ve written in this space before how Apple products are not inexpensive and thus unaffordable for many people. By and large, disabled people make very little money—but it’s a spectrum, as many do make a livable wage—so paying full price for, say, the new MacBook Air may be unattainable. Beyond the broader sociocultural discussion on disability and financial solvency, the reality is the need for Apple’s best-of-breed accessibility support unfortunately isn’t always congruent with the ability to actually procure the tools that provide it.
Apple Pay Later aims to rectify that, albeit indirectly, by allowing customers to pay for products in installments. Four payments over a six-week period doesn’t provide much leeway, but it’s an avenue at least. Paying for a pair of AirPods Max over a month-and-a-half, for example, may well be much more feasible for a disabled person than plunking down $549 at one time. It’s a win-win: Apple eventually makes a profit while the customer gets the accessible headphones they need.
MagSafe on the new MacBook Air. The redesigned MacBook Air has a MagSafe port again—and it’s big news in terms of accessibility. As mentioned amidst the USB-C iPhone rumors, MagSafe historically has proven to be highly accessible for plugging and unplugging Mac laptops. That it uses magnetic force to align with the computer makes it much easier for someone with visual and/or fine-motor limitations to charge their computer. This is a stark contrast from USB-C, where finding and manipulating the cable can potentially be an unwanted adventure. Add to the fact the Air’s MagSafe cable is braided (first seen on HomePod), and the operation becomes even easier because the fabric adds friction. Friction equals grip, and better grip means fluidly moving the cable to the computer. As with the Lock Screen considerations, it’s these kind of intricate details that end up making the biggest difference in terms of positively shaping a disabled person’s experience. They always do.


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