Thursday, May 16, 2019

Popular iPhone Features That Rely On Accessibility

Design / Strategy

How can a smartphone, essentially a featureless pane of glass, possibly be accessible to people with disabilities? With no texture, boundaries, or buttons, how can someone with low or no vision operate a smartphone? As it turns out, decades of research and iteration have rendered mobile devices accessible to an extremely broad population, including people with vision impairments, people who are hard of hearing or deaf, people with physical and motor disabilities, as well as a variety of people with learning disabilities.

Accessibility allows us to present the same experience to different people in different ways. For example, a website might take a different layout on a phone than a computer. That’s accessibility. Provided that the underlying data clearly separates content and behaviors from style and layout, anything becomes possible. Users can adjust text size, change colors and contrast, or even add their own buttons or shortcuts 

Apple, Google, and Microsoft build these capabilities, and more, into the devices we use every day. All three have introduced their own screen readers, switch access, and captioning technologies, enabling nearly anyone to operate the devices, regardless of their vision, motor ability, or hearing. But accessibility extends far beyond any specific individual or disability. Global Accessibility Awareness Day (May 16th) seeks to dispel myths around access and promote inclusive design by exposing people to a diverse array of accessibility technologies, often for the first time.

In fact, you may be benefiting from accessibility and assistive technology without even realizing it. To prove this, we’ve compiled a list of popular iPhone features that rely on accessibility features, principles, or technologies. Once you realize the myriad ways people experience digital content, you’ll never look at a document, app, or website the same way again.


Text Size, Bold Text, Button Shapes

These settings allow you to modify how apps display text. People with low vision can bump the default body font point size above 50 for roughly 3/4” tall words. You can also shrink the default text size if you have excellent vision or want to fit more on-screen.

Where to find it: Settings / General / Accessibility (under “Vision”)

Text Size, Bold Text, Button Shapes

Auto-brightness, TrueTone, Reduce White Point, Color Filters

iPhone automatically dims the screen in dark environments and adds a subtle cast of color to match ambient lighting. These features help to reduce eye strain and enhance color perception, but they can sometimes behave in unexpected ways or require several taps to revert. You adjust them to your preferences or turn them off entirely. Color Filters, meanwhile, allow tinting the screen any color at any time. This feature is great for people with specific light sensitivities but is also handy for anyone looking to dim the screen below the minimum brightness or tint everything red to preserve their night vision.

Where to find it:Settings / General / Accessibility / Display Accommodations (under “Vision”)

Auto-brightness, TrueTone, Reduce White Point, Color Filters

Reachability and Assistive Touch

These features make it easier to tap and navigate the phone. Originally intended to enable people with motor disabilities to activate hardware buttons and perform swipe and tap gestures, over time, Assistive Touch grew popular among people with smaller hands, larger phones, and non-functioning buttons. In addition to Assistive Touch, Apple offers a special gesture that slides down everything onscreen, putting distant buttons within reach.

Where to find it: Settings / General / Accessibility (under “Interaction”)

Reachability and Assistive Touch


Custom Keyboards

Ever send the perfect gif to a friend in Messages app? You’re using accessible tech. Many people find that alternative keyboards make text entry feasible or more efficient, whether via dictation (Nuance), swiping gestures (Swype), or a single button press (Dasher).

Where to find it:Settings / General / Accessibility (under “Interaction”)

Settings / General / Keyboard

 Custom Keyboards


Guided Access and Kiosk Mode

Guided Access offers tools to keep users focused on a single app, avoiding the frustration and distractions that can arise from accidental taps and button presses. Very similar functionality, branded Kiosk Mode, allows organizations to use an iOS device as a cash register, restaurant waiting list, or other smart appliance.

Where to find it: Settings / General / Accessibility (under “Interaction”)


Guided Access and Kiosk Mode