What's New in Accessibility with iOS 6

Blog Date: 
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

by Scott Davert
As with the previous release of a major iOS upgrade (from version 4 to 5), there are many enhancements to iOS 6 not directly related to accessibility. In this release, they include FaceTime over cellular networks, a redesigned App Store, a revamped settings menu, direct Facebook integration, a Do Not Disturb feature, among many others. Please see the link at the end of this article for a list from Apple about changes not directly related to accessibility. To list and discuss all new features which do not pertain to accessibility is beyond the scope of this article. Rather, this is to specifically focus on changes with respect to the different options available from an accessibility standpoint.
 

Accessibility Now Integrated:

A feature that many users who are transitioning between modes of operation with iDevices will appreciate is that all accessibility features now work with one another. This includes VoiceOver and Zoom, the physical motor settings, and the new Guided Access (more on Guided Access later). The Triple Click Home feature has also been updated to reflect this change. In iOS 6, you now have the following options to be automatically activated when pressing the Home button three times. You can now start Guided Access, VoiceOver, invert colors, Zoom, and Assistive Touch. Any of these options can be selected and will run at the same time.  If only one option is selected, Triple Click will turn that one feature on/off just as you were able to do in iOS 5. So, for example, if you decide to run Color Contrast and VoiceOver at the same time, if both are selected, both will launch when pressing the HHome button three times in rapid succession.
 

Vision:

As mentioned above, Zoom can now run with VoiceOver which can give a user any combination of access methods that is most comfortable for them. For example, someone who is transitioning from magnified text to speech may find it helpful to have both available until their comfort level is such that they no longer need or can function with magnification. One can also use Braille, speech, and magnification if they find this to be the most functional way of operating the iDevice.

One thing to note about using VoiceOver and Zoom together is that a few VoiceOver gestures have changed. For example, when Zoom and VoiceOver are working together, double tapping the screen with three fingers will zoom in on an item. With VoiceOver only enabled, this gesture will mute the speech. So instead of double tapping with three fingers to mute speech, one must now triple tap with three fingers to mute speech. This can come in handy to know if you wish to use magnification with Braille. You can still toggle the Screen Curtain on and off, but you must tap with three fingers four times to do this. Another Zoom gesture is to move around the screen by dragging three fingers. This author does not have vision to evaluate what happens on the screen, but when dragging three fingers across it, VoiceOver gives no verbal or indication in Braille that the cursor has moved. In fact, if you do a single finger double tap, you will still activate the item which has the focus of the VoiceOver cursor.
One bit of commentary about the Zoom, VoiceOver, and Braille access on at the same time is that it would be nice if there were built-in Braille and Bluetooth keyboard commands for the Zoom functions. That being said, it's great that all of the accessibility features can be used interchangeably.

With respect to Braille, the commands used in VoiceOver all apply the same whether Zoom is enabled or not. To my knowledge, this seems to also be the case with the Bluetooth keyboard.
 

VoiceOver-specific changes:

There have been a few additions to the Rotor option in iOS 6. If you’re not familiar with the rotor and it’s already existing functions and purpose, please see www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone/vision.html
And look for the appropriate section on the explanation of the rotor.
One change is the added Rotor option within the Mail application called “actions”. With this option, you can choose the default action to open up a mail message or single finger flick up to Delete a message when one is open.
Another addition to the Rotor is an option to adjust the amount of punctuation spoken by VoiceOver. The options are none, some, and all. While the first and third options are self-explanatory, the second is not so easy to understand at a glance. Essentially, you will have the punctuation in things such as Web addresses, email addresses, etc. read out loud with the Some option selected, but VoiceOver will not read, for example, a punctuation mark found at the end of a sentence.

While this is not a VoiceOver specific change, it is worth noting that the Maps application is now able to pull up points of interest, and according to Apple, works with turn by turn directions once a route is planned. This is only compatible with the iPhone 4S and 5.

There is one other minor VoiceOver change. When using the onscreen keyboard for text input, to activate the More button, or the Shift key, you had to double tap even when in touch typing mode. You can now single tap with one finger and these items will be activated accordingly.
Finally, Assistive Touch, which was introduced in iOS 5, but which was not usable to those using VoiceOver, is now compatible. So if a VoiceOver user wishes to set up custom gestures through Assistive Touch, they can now do so in iOS 6.
 

Braille-specific Improvements:

iOS 6 has been tested and found to be compatible with the following Braille displays which had compatibility issues in iOS 5, or were not supported at all. The new generation of Focus displays from Freedom Scientific, the Perkins Mini, the Braille Edge made by HIMS, and all Braille Sense notetakers running firmware version 7, also made by HIMS.
There is also a bug fix specifically related to Braille. previous versions of iOS had a bug where when you moved to the previous or next option (space with dots 2-3 to go back and space 5-6 to go forward, if speech was muted, it would unmute. This has been corrected. This is great news, especially for those attempting to browse content on displays in quiet environments. However, unlike in iOS 5 where the various progress beeps and clicks were disabled in VoiceOver upon the muting of speech, they still work unless you unmute your phone. Personally, I’d like to just have all of the sounds turned off from VoiceOver, though I have worked with a couple of consumers who wanted this to be an option.

Finally with respect to Braille, a new keyboard command, (Space with I), will now launch the Item Chooser. This was a touch screen command in iOS 5, and it now has a Braille keyboard equivalent in version 6.
 

Hearing:

Apple is now doing what they’re calling “certified hearing aids” which will work specifically with the iPhone and iPad. This feature, like the turn by turn directions in the Maps app, will only be supported on the iPhone 4S and 5.

Customized vibrations have also expanded, now allowing one to not only use customized vibrations for calls from contacts, but also text messages. Users reported having issues setting this feature up with VoiceOver in iOS 5, but it now will work correctly.
 

New Accessibility Section, Learning:

Under the Learning heading, you will now find something called Guided Access. Guided Access allows an individual to set restrictions in apps to eliminate the activation of the Home button to leave an app. This feature can assist with restricting access to only a specific app that an individual is supposed to access. For example, in an education setting, it may be useful for keeping students on task. If an individual wishes to leave the app where Guided Access is activated, they must enter a preset password to do so. Once Guided Access is turned on, find the app you wish to restrict and press the Home button three times, then select “start Guided Access”. To disable Guided Access, press the Home button three more times and then enter the four digit password that was configured in the Settings/General/Accessibility/Guided Access menu, and  you will then have the option of turning off Guided Access.
 

Physical/Motor:

With iOS 6, it’s now possible to adjust the speed at which the Home button will register a double or triple click. The additional options are “Slower” and “Slowest”. To figure out which will work best, when an option is selected, the phone will vibrate to demonstrate how quickly hitting the Home button will be required. This, of course, will not work on the compatible iPods and iPads, since these do not vibrate.

While the list of changes in accessibility in iOS 6 is shorter than it was for  iOS 5, the changes are still significant to those users who need such features. The ability to use all different aspects of accessibility interchangeably in iOS 6 is compatible withthe iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, and 5, though not all features are supported on the older model phones. It’s also compatible with the iPod 4G and 5G, and  with the iPad 2 and the latest generation of the iPad. The official iOS 6 page as presented by Apple can be found at:
http://www.apple.com/ios/whats-new/