Apple defining the future of accessibility

with the public beta of iOS 11 now well underway, I thought it was time to dive in. There have been a number of improvements for accessibility but the two i would like to cover are smart invert and image description.

For the past few years the way we interact online has been changing. In the early days of the internet and indeed the early days of social media, interactions were predominantly text based. Now however, images and video reign supreme. This leaves the blind and people with low vision at a disadvantage. We now struggle to interact online. It is easy to miss out on the thread of a conversation if it begins with an image or if images are posted as comments. Facebook and Twitter have made improvements on this front, the former adding automatic image tagging and the latter allowing the user to add tags to an image. This is however, restricted. Not only to Facebook in its case but for TWitter relies on the user to add those additional tags. It is easy to see how restricting this can be for the blind and visually impaired. Dare to go outside these wall gardens and ;it becomes even worse.

So Apple’s new image description feature is welcome indeed. Interestingly within Facebook you now have two sets of tags. Selecting an image with VoiceOver initially reads Facebooks tag then a three finger tap Apple’s. This can give even more context to an image, as right now both systems seem to focus on describing the images slightly differently. Using the feature on twitter means for the first time all images can be described. It truly is a wonderful feature and i have used it multiple times in each use of an app. It is worth noting of course, that this works across all apps, so no matter where you find an image, a triple finger tap gives you that vital detail.

This leads me to Apple’s other new feature Smart Invert. Previously inverting the screen meant all images and media was inverted too. Now this is done intelligently and media is no longer inverted. This is instantly noticeable on the home screen, where icons are no longer inverted. Open an app with a dark background and the system is smart enough to know not to invert. This is truly powerful for people with low vision. This is the difference between not being able to see photos one day and you can the next. As an example, there was a point in my sight loss journey where i was unable to see faces in real life, but i could in a photo. This is because you view a photo on a backlit screen so there becomes enough contrast. However, with a white background this contrast difference can be lost and you no longer see the image. This smart invert corrects for that.

These two new Apple features for me are the greatest steps forward for accessibility in years. It is hard to put into words what it will mean for people to see photos again. Or even enable them to interact more socially online. Apple has now set the bar incredibly high for accessibility, the competition needs to take note. It isn’t about policy, its about ensuring people can always connect and engage. That is what true accessibility is..

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