Part 2: What’s new in iOS 5 for the iPhone by Scott Davert, HKNC for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults

Photo of Scott Davert, standing on the sidewalk with his white cane and assistive technology

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A. (at left), is a Senior Instructor in the Communications Learning Center and Adaptive Technology Departments at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults in Sands Point, New York. This week, Scott reviews today’s new iOS 5 release from Apple. iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system, or OS. Originally developed for the iPhone, it has since been extended to support other Apple devices, such as the iPod touch and iPad. In June 2010, Apple rebranded the iPhone OS as simply “iOS.”

In Part 1 of his review, Scott evaluates the enhancements to the Vision heading of iOS 5. In Part 2, Scott discusses enhancements to the Hearing and Physical/Motor headings of iOS 5 for deaf, hearing impaired, deaf-blind, and physically disabled users.

Today’s iOS 5 Release

Today marks the highly anticipated release of Apple’s new iOS 5. Although my review emphasizes what’s new for individuals who are blind, deaf, and deaf-blind, there are many excellent enhancements to iOS 5 that are not directly related to accessibility, which you can learn more about at Apple’s New Features In iOS 5 page.

The best part about iOS 5 is that it is a free upgrade to all customers. It is compatible with the following devices: iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 2, iPad, and the iPod touch 3rd and 4th generation. Obviously, the iPhone 4S will come loaded with iOS 5, so no upgrade will be required.

2. Hearing Enhancements

Custom Vibrations for Texting

iOS 5 has the ability to add customized vibrations to each of the user’s contacts so that the user can tell who is texting him or her without ever having to look at, or listen to, the phone. This feature was designed with the deaf and hard-of-hearing population in mind, but can be useful for the mainstream iPhone population as well.

While it has always been possible to customize an alert in “silent mode” by setting it to a specific number of vibrations, now the user can choose from specific patterns to identify individual contacts. There’s no more need to worry about who that text message is from while you’re sitting in a meeting! LED Flash for Alerts is another alert option.

Mono Audio Setting

Do you have a mono earpiece? Can you hear out of only one ear? Have you ever wanted to have one ear bud in while listening to the environment around you? That’s now possible with the “mono audio” setting. All sounds will be directed into one audio channel, which eliminates the stereo effect. Also, the user can adjust the balance of the two audio channels in the iPhone, if desired.

Hearing Aid Mode

Hearing Aid Mode is absent in the Verizon version of the iPhone, but is included in the AT&T version. Hearing Aid Mode is supposed to enhance usability for hearing impaired customers who utilize special coils in their hearing devices to pick up the sound of the phone. This gives the hearing aid user the option to isolate the sounds coming from the phone from those in the surrounding environment.

However, as the iPhone is more than a phone, it produces a lot of interference with this mode of operation. Hearing Aid Mode was developed to alleviate this issue. As I have yet to test an AT&T iPhone, I am not sure how effective this feature is, only that it exists for AT&T customers, and does not for Verizon customers.

Clearly, this is something Verizon should be forced to address, given the recent changes in laws set forth in the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.

3. Physical/Motor Enhancements


AssistiveTouch allows users with limited dexterity to set up different gestures that will tell the operating system to perform specific tasks. Tasks can range from answering a call to scrolling around the screen. Also, it’s possible to determine which gestures activate icons on the Home Screen. While this is a great feature, users with VoiceOver will not be able to take advantage of it, since VoiceOver intercepts all gestures.

AssistiveTouch also enables users to control tracking and scrolling speed. This feature has potential to help users with physical impairments and with low vision.

Routing Phone Calls

Another added feature is the ability to tell the phone where calls should be routed. For example, if you always use the speaker phone instead of the earpiece, you can specify that the call will go to the speaker phone automatically. While this is a feature in the Physical/Motor category, it could also come in handy for users with hearing aids who do not want to use the phone earpiece.

Other Resources

There are many enhancements to iOS 5 that are not directly related to accessibility, including (a) the ability to now update the iPhone over cellular networks, (b) Apple’s new iCloud service, (c) a feature called Reminders, (d) iMessage, which lets iPhone users communicate with one another via iOS’s own messenger program, (e) a revamped notifications system, and (f) support for FaceTime over 3G.

Universal Access

As one can tell from the lengthy list of accessibility features, Apple has gone to great lengths to promote universal access of its products. They have not only updated the operating system with VoiceOver and other features in mind, but have also added new features to these portions of their product. I would like to commend Apple for their continued dedication to this access.

We thank Scott for his terrific review and look forward to more Scott reviews in the future! Nicely done, Scott!

For more information, you can contact Scott at