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WWDC 2021: What's New in Apple Accessibility?

WWDC 2021 featured several improvements and enhancements to Apple's Accessibility Suite. We will go over, at a high level, the main updates and abilities being released.

June 28, 2021 5 minute read

Accessibility can be one of those things in the app development lifecycle that is often neglected or forgotten altogether. Moving forward without it can lead to the alienation of an entire user base as well as loss of revenue through fines and lawsuits. Apple's commitment to bringing assistive technologies across all its platforms ensures that anyone can use your app regardless of physical, visual, audible or motor impairment.

At WWT, part of our mission is to “Be a great place to work for everyone." So we like to think of accessibility as an extension of inclusivity.  We strive to make it a part of our development process from the beginning and avoid labeling accessibility as a feature.

With accessibility being one of Apple's core values, it is no surprise that new updates and innovations are in abundance for this year’s WWDC. Apple is making its accessibility suite easier to implement by introducing a robust set of accessibility features that require minimal development effort.

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Why accessibility?

If you are not someone who is affected by a lack of accessibility features, it may not occur to you that there is a need. In today's world where inclusivity is becoming more of a right, businesses are now, more than ever, having to make changes to the way they present themselves to the world. No longer is accessibility allowed as an afterthought, but instead is becoming part of the initial business cost. For a deeper dive into how accessibility affects your organization, check out the article by Lee Essner, Prioritizing Accessibility in Software Development.  

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What's new?

WWDC 2021 had several new innovations to Apple's suite of assistive technologies. Here are the main takeaways.

Apple Watch

A new ability added this year to the Apple Watch is AssistiveTouch. AssistiveTouch allows those with motor impairments to use their Apple Watch without the need to touch the screen at all. This is an exciting new improvement that has the potential to affect how everyone is able to interact with their device. By using simple, one-handed gestures such as pinching fingers or clenching your fist, more users than ever are now able to interact with a device that once required two hands.

Screen Readers

VoiceOver is Apple's screen reader which lets people use an interface without looking at the screen. New updates to this service have been added that allow developers to more precisely define what the user should be hearing. Screen readers, by default, read from the top-left of the view to the bottom-right. Content-rich views or lists, read in this manner, can overwhelm any user who is listening. Maybe they were only looking to scan the view for a single piece of info but instead were inundated with everything. Now, Apple has introduced the ability for developers to group content on the view that enables VoiceOver to communicate all the information without having to go into full detail describing it. In addition, VoiceOver can now natively glean information embedded in system-standard controls. This means that it is now easier than ever to implement VoiceOver features in your application with minimal effort. Many of the features that once required developer attention are now available within the operating system by default.  

Charts

Charts and graphs must be one of the most common forms of data communication in business today. They allow people to view and understand a large amount of data at a glance. But have you ever considered how useful they might be to the visually impaired? Something that can be quickly done by a sighted person, such as finding the minimum or maximum values of a chart has been nearly impossible to do quickly for the visually disabled up until now. Apple has brought new innovations to its accessibility features this year in the form of Charts. Now with the introduction of audio graphs, those with visual disabilities move closer to an equal experience as the visually abled. Audio graphs provide a continuous, tonal representation of the data set that gives the user the ability to perceive the chart's important features in just a few seconds. In addition to this, Apple has also developed a way to move through the data that allows the description of specific data points to be discovered and highlighted non-visually. Lastly, Apple has made sure the entire context of the visual data is available to those using screen readers by allowing the compartmentalization of additional spoken content and the reading of summary material for easier comprehension.

This year, Apple has made great strides in creating a more inclusive and accessible app experience on its platform. Through providing thoughtful and ground-breaking innovations to the accessibility space, Apple's accessibility suite is enabling companies and developers to reach and interact with a larger, more diverse user market.  

In a partnership with WWT, we are here to help businesses overcome some of the planning and development hurdles that can limit or obstruct implementing accessibility into your product. Contact us today to get started.

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