What’s New in iOS 10 Accessibility for Blind, Low Vision, and Deaf-Blind Users Part 1: Scott Davert, AppleVis Editorial Team

Scott Davert head shot

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, is an AppleVis Editorial Team Member and the Coordinator of the New York Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, administered by the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults.

The Program provides no-cost communication and technology training to persons with significant combined vision and hearing loss who meet federal income guidelines. Equipment can include smartphones, tablets, computers, screen readers, braille readers, and adaptive software.

In past reviews, Scott has compiled his personal picks for book-reading apps and iDevice apps that are user-friendly and accessible to braille, and also speech, users.

Says Scott, “As a power user of braille devices on iOS, it’s very liberating to me, as a deaf-blind person, to be able to take full advantage of the technology we have in our society today. Just a decade ago, my access to resources was much more limited if braille was my only means of accessing the world. Today, with the help of technology, I can be just as well-informed about what’s going on around me as my sighted and hearing counterparts.”

This week, Scott is reviewing the new iOS 10 release from Apple, with an emphasis on accessibility features for individuals who are blind, have low vision, and/or are deaf-blind. 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.

About the iOS 10 Release

Another fall is upon us, which means football season has started, temperatures are starting to drop, and a new version of iOS is coming out. Another seemingly established tradition is that another article from me, discussing the new accessibility features, is in order. Just like the past several years, there are many changes to iOS that are mainstream and will be welcome changes. Some of the new features include a revamped Music app; a new Home app; new 3D Touch functionality in Apple apps; and much more.

Many articles will be covering these changes, but the aim of this piece is to cover accessibility changes that are specific to blind, low vision, and deaf-blind users. Please note that this review is not intended as a comprehensive guide to iOS; rather, it is designed to document the changes in iOS 10.

Mainstream Stuff Impacting Accessibility

Wow, Siri Can Do That?

One of the major enhancements in iOS 10 is the development of SiriKit. Specifics about this functionality aren’t known just yet, since SiriKit-enabled apps are only being released alongside the public version of iOS 10. However, what we do know is that there are many potential benefits to SiriKit. For example, if Uber were to implement SiriKit, one could simply tell Siri, “Book an Uber for me to go to Central Park.” In theory, at least, Siri should now be able to carry out that exact action.

According to First hands-on demo of Siri’s app integration doesn’t disappoint, apps that will utilize SiriKit on the day iOS 10 is released are WhatsApp, LinkedIn, WeChat, Pinterest, Vogue Runway, Pikazo, Square Cash, Monzo, Slack, Looklive, Lyft, Fandango, and The Roll. It’s not possible to know how each app will utilize Siri Kit; however, I’m sure it will be covered in greater detail by the time you are reading this article.

Describe it for Me, Please?

Another major change is that iOS will now attempt to add automatic image descriptions to your photos. According to a presentation as part of the World Wide Developer Conference, iOS performs eleven billion calculations per picture to determine what objects are in your photos. In addition to detecting objects, it also performs facial recognition, which can then compare pictures in your lists of contacts to tag people automatically. Indeed, it is now included as part of the information on each photo in my library. While Apple indicated that your photos are not sent to a server for recognition—meaning that it’s all done on your device—it’s not yet clear to me how long it takes for these descriptions to appear.

Press Home to Unlock

In iOS 10, you can now unlock your iDevice simply by pressing the “Home” button. While this was always possible on Touch ID-equipped devices, it is now possible on non-Touch ID devices as well. If you do not have a passcode set up, pressing the “Home” button, waiting for a second, and then pressing it again will now land you on the Home Screen of your device. If you find that you prefer the older way of unlocking your device, you can still do this. Head over to Settings > General > Accessibility > Home Button > and turn on “Rest Finger to Open.”

I Read You Loud and Clear, Mostly

Another new feature in iOS 10 is the introduction of Voicemail transcription. For those who can’t hear their voice messages, or for those who don’t want to listen to the phone, it’s no longer (mostly) required. However, it is necessary to play the message to make the transcription show up. You will find the transcribed text next to the “More Info” button. The transcription is fully accessible with VoiceOver and braille, but comes with the same caveats as any automatic transcription: It’s not 100% accurate and any kind of noise or accent will greatly decrease transcription accuracy.

Raise to Shut Up?

There is a new feature in iOS called “Raise to Wake,” which wakes up your phone each time you pick it up. It will also sometimes wake up when you don’t want it to. While this may be a welcome feature for many, especially for VoiceOver users utilizing speech, it may also be annoying. If you like, you can turn off “Raise to Wake” under Settings > Display & Brightness.


Moving Apps is No Longer a Drag!

When you get to your Home screen with iOS 10 and VoiceOver is enabled, you will now hear that there are Rotor actions available; these options relate to moving apps. Rotor over to the “Actions” item, then flick up or down to the “Arrange App” action and double tap. This puts you in “Screen Edit” mode, just as if you had used the old “double tap and hold” method to begin editing apps.

Next, find an app you wish to move, then flick up or down once to specify your desire to move this app. (You can also perform a two-finger double tap on an app to mark it as being ready to be moved.) Now, you can freely move around your Home screen, even changing pages if you prefer, until you find exactly where you would like to move the app you chose.

Once you locate the place where you would like to put the app, flick up or down to see different options: You can move it to the right of the app VoiceOver is focused on; move it to the left of VoiceOver’s current position; create a folder with those two apps; or cancel the move entirely. Canceling will place you on the page you are currently editing, and the app you’re canceling to move will return to its original place. (Pressing the “Home” button to exit Screen Edit mode will also cancel any app move you had in progress.) Even better is the fact that this system works great with both Bluetooth keyboards and braille displays!

You Say “To-mot-to,” I Say “To-ma-to”

However you’d like VoiceOver to pronounce words, you can now customize this with the new Pronunciation Dictionary. Find it under Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Speech > Pronunciation. If you have not created any pronunciation entries yet, you will only find an “Add” button. Double tap this to begin creating your first entry. You will then land on the “Phrase” text field. This is where you type the word VoiceOver reads but doesn’t pronounce the way you’d like.

For example, the Alex voice pronounces my last name without the “a” sound, so I would type “Davert” in this field. Next to the “Phrase” field you will find the “Substitution” text field. This is where you can try to make VoiceOver pronounce the word the way you prefer, so in my case I would type “Dav-virt.”

Flicking one more item to the right, you will find an option to dictate how you’d like the phrase to be pronounced by saying or spelling it out. To the right of this option, you will see a “Languages” button; double tapping this will allow you to choose which languages the pronunciation applies to. Going back to the previous screen and continuing to the right of the “Languages” button, you will find a “Voices” button; double tapping this button will present you with all available voices for that language that you can apply the pronunciation to, or you can choose “All.”

In the above example, Alex is the only voice that mispronounces my name, so I can double tap on that voice, and it will only change the pronunciation for Alex. It’s also possible to adjust whether the substituted phrase applies to upper or lowercase letters, and the apps in which the pronunciation is used. This could come in handy in certain circumstances, because you can adjust what VoiceOver says, based on context.

If you turn off “Apply to all Apps,” a list of the apps installed on your device will appear below this under the “Assign to” heading. Note that once you add words to your Pronunciation Dictionary, the additions will then be available on all devices connected to your iCloud account when everything has been synced. When you have finished creating an entry, activate the “Back” button. In the main Pronunciations screen, after the “Add” button, you will now see all of your entries listed in alphabetical order. You can then double tap on any entry to edit it, or flick down and double tap to delete it.

Tom? Present! Fred? Accounted For! Allison? Ready for Action!

iOS 10 brings a host of new voices to users of features related to accommodations that utilize speech such as Speak Screen and VoiceOver, as well as to third-party apps that have the ability to use built-in iOS voices like Voice Dream Reader. These voices are familiar to Mac users, who have had them available for several years. The new U.S. English voices now on iOS include Fred, Tom, Allison, Ava, Victoria, and Susan.

To check out these new voices, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Speech. Once you find the “Speech” button, activate it and you will now see a button labeled “Voice,” followed by the name of the voice you are currently using. Flick to the right, and you will find the “rotor languages” heading—below which are listed any secondary languages you have configured.

If you want to have just one voice onboard and available quickly, you will only need to set up the default option. If you are finding file sizes along with the voice name, this means that voice is not currently downloaded to your device. Double tap the download button to the right of the voice name to begin the download. As has been the case in the past, you will need to be connected to Wifi to download any voices not currently on your device besides Fred.

Once the download has completed, double tapping the name of the voice will then present you with a few options. Next to the heading of the voice you will find an “Edit” button. This will allow you to delete the voice you have put on your system. You can also achieve this by flicking up wherever VoiceOver indicates that there are actions available. Flicking down one more time will allow you to hear a spoken sample. Unfortunately, this option is present only when you have already downloaded that particular voice. It would be nice if it was possible to hear a sample prior to downloading.

Continuing to flick right, you will also see the options to do the specified rotor action items listed above as icons on the physical screen. If you choose the name of the voice that is just to the right of the “edit” button, you will choose the default version of the voice. After the “Speak Sample” button for the default voice, you will find the “Enhanced” flavor of the voice. At the time of this writing, it’s not possible to use the default voice after deleting the enhanced version.

VoiceOver Settings, Expanded and Reorganized

Many of the options in the “Settings” screen have been moved around. This is also true of the VoiceOver settings. One new sub-menu is called “Verbosity”; this series of options now contains the “Speak Hints” option which we all already know. It also has a new feature called “Emoji Suffix,” which speaks the word “Emoji” after telling the user what the Emoji is.

Another new VoiceOver settings sub-menu in iOS 10 is called “Audio.” In the “Audio” menu, you will find some familiar options, since “Use Sound Effects” and “Audio Ducking” have both been moved here. A new feature, called “Auto-Select Speaker in Call,” will allow you to control whether call audio automatically gets routed to your speaker when you move your phone away from your ear. Turning this off will prevent the audio from auto-switching to the speakerphone.

Under the sub-menu called “Channels,” you can determine which channels will be heard through your connected Bluetooth or other audio output method. You can choose to have either your speech or the system sounds routed to one channel or another – it’s not possible to deselect both channels. Also, if you have a mixer or DJ controller that supports it, you now have the ability in this menu to configure whether VoiceOver uses your mixer or another sound source for speech output.

Auditory Validation

In iOS 10, there are new sounds specifically associated with VoiceOver for several events. When you lock your screen, there will now be a sound instead of the verbal confirmation that the screen is locked. (As an aside, there is also a new screen lock sound in iOS 10.) If you press the “Home” button, and Touch ID does not recognize your fingerprint, there will also be a different sound played than when it does recognize it.

What’s New in iOS 10, Part 2

In Part 2 of his review, Scott discusses more iOS 10 accessibility changes, including braille, low vision, and hearing/TTY updates. For more information, you can contact Scott at scott.davert@hknc.org.

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