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New Apple Memoji from left to right: A dark brown Memoji with short hair, wearing a cochlear implant; a pale Memoji with gray hair in a bun using an oxygen tube; a brown Memoji wearing glasses and a soft helmet.
September 29, 2021 by Haddayr Copley-Woods

iOS 15 features powerful software updates designed for people with disabilities

From sound actions for switch control to more inclusive Memoji, Apple has pulled out all the stops in iOS 15 for people with a wide range of disabilities.

Apple continues its tradition of leading cutting-edge accessibility technology with iOS 15

iOS 15 offers many impressive new features for users, and their new accessibility features do not disappoint. One game-changer: thanks to changes in iOS 15 to how Siri works, users can now use Siri for certain tasks while offline, including asking her to set up the features below. This means that people with a wide variety of disabilities can turn on accessibility features independently.

Blind and visually impaired users

New features for blind and visually impaired users are especially robust this release:

  • VoiceOver improvements: while the VoiceOver feature is not new to Apple, there have been some major improvements and additional features in iOS 15. Users can now hear more detailed descriptions of people, objects, and their relative positions within images. Even better, users can now have VoiceOver read them text and tables contained within images, which will aid those visiting sites that have not been properly marked up with alt text to still understand the content.
  • Voice image descriptions in Markup: For anyone of any level of vision who wishes to make their images and .pdfs more accessible to blind and visually impaired users, markup now allows you to add image descriptions that can be read by VoiceOver that follow images and .pdfs even when shared in other places.
  • Magnifier app: now a default setting in iOS 15, low-vision or far-sighted people (yes, that is the entire population over a certain age) can use their iPhones as a magnifying glass to zoom in on objects near you in 'meatspace.'
  • New voice control languages: Expanding on the idea of accessibility to languages, Apple has included more languages in iOS 15 for Voice Control including Mandarin, Cantonese, French, and German.
  • Per-app settings: visually impaired users can now customize the display and text size settings on an app-by-app basis including enlarging text, increasing contrast, inverting colors, adding color filters, and more.

Neuroatypical users

In addition to also benefitting from the per-app settings described above, neuroatypical users can now exert some control over the inputs from their environment with background sounds.

Background sounds play balanced, bright, or dark noise, ocean, rain, and stream sound continuously in the background to mask unwanted environmental noise. They can also help the user focus, stay calm, or rest. The sounds mix into or turn off during other audio and system sounds depending on the options each user chooses.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing users

In addition to benefitting from the background sounds feature for those with tinnitus or other focus-related hearing impairments, users with hearing-related disabilities can now more easily customize the sound coming from their headphones.

Import audiograms: Rather than taking a hearing test with an app as before, those wishing to set levels for their particular hearing can Import paper or PDF audiograms from their patient records in Settings. This quickly customizes Headphone Accommodations to amplify soft sounds and adjust certain frequencies based on hearing test results. You can also use this feature with AirPods Pro to amplify environmental sounds.

Physically disabled users

Sound actions for Switch Control: Sound actions for Switch Control lets users with extensive mobility, dexterity, and vocal impairments control iPhone with simple mouth sounds — such as a click, pop, or “ee” sound — without the need for physical buttons, switches, or complex verbal commands.

Representation matters

New with iOS 15: more diverse Memoji. Memoji represents more of your disabled people's looks and styles with new customizations, including oxygen tubes, cochlear implants and a soft helmet.

Apple makes iOS 15 accessibility features, well, . . . more accessible

Part of serving all of Apple's customers is understanding disabled customers. Blind and visually impaired people have a 70% unemployment rate in the US, and disabled people worldwide, regardless of the type of their impairments, have lower incomes than non-disabled people worldwide. This can prevent them from getting the newest or even third-newest iPhones. To ensure that everyone has access to these important features, all of these new accessibility features will be available to all users on iOS 15, from the iPhone 6s to the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Ready to roll out iOS 15?

If you could use a refresher, read our iPadOS and iOS Upgrades Guide For Beginners.

Photo of Haddayr Copley-Woods
Haddayr Copley-Woods
Haddayr Copley-Woods is a senior copywriter at Jamf. She writes about tech, specializing in Apple and Jamf with a focus on education, accessibility and security.
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