On Wednesday, Apple announced new software updates geared toward those with cognitive, vision, mobility, and hearing disabilities. The new features, coming later this year, span all of its operating systems, including iOS, iPadOS, and WatchOS.
For iOS, Apple is launching a new service called SignTime — allowing customers to communicate with AppleCare and Apple Store associates through Sign Language via a web browser. If you’re visiting an Apple Store, you can also use SignTime to access a sign language interpreter remotely.
The service launches May 20 and will be available in the U.S., UK, and France. But Apple plans to expand the feature to additional countries over time.
Another feature coming to iOS is VoiceOver for those who are blind or have low vision. The VoiceOver feature can describe a person’s position, objects, and other details in a photo. Using the Markup tool, users can also add their own image descriptions.
For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, Apple devices will now support bi-directional hearing aids.
The company also expanded its catalogue of Memoji customization to include cochlear implants, oxygen tubes, and a soft helmet.
For iPadOS, Apple is adding support for third-party eye-tracking devices. That way, users can control the iPad using only their eyes. Compatible devices will be able to track where someone is looking on the screen and move the pointer to follow their gaze. With extended eye contact, it can also trigger an action such as a tap on the screen.
Apple is also bringing AssistiveTouch to WatchOS which “allows users with upper body limb differences to enjoy the benefits of Apple Watch without ever having to touch the display or controls.”
By leveraging sensors such as the gyroscope, accelerometer, and the heart-rate monitor, users can control their Apple Watch through gestures — such as pinching or clenching — to answer calls, navigate menus, stop timers, and more.
It’s unclear exactly when Apple plans to release these new features in 2021. But with its Worldwide Developer Conference coming in June, it’s highly likely we’ll learn more very soon.