Wednesday, September 18, 2013

3 Great New Accessibility Features in iOS 7

Apple just launched the new iPhones and along with them a major update to the iPhone and iPad operating system called iOS 7. iOS 7 has a brand new look and a slew of new features that is available for the iPad 2 and newer, iPhone 4 and newer, and the 5th generation iPod Touch. (for a full list of supported devices visit As with the last few OS updates Apple has added a handful of new accessibility features and here are our three favorites.

Switch Control

Screen shot of an iPad running iOS 7 with Switch Control turned on.

Since the iPad was first released people have been coming up with creative ways to allow switch users to access them but it’s never worked that well, until now. Built into the iOS is now a robust switch control system that works everywhere on the device. Setting it up takes only a few steps. If you turn on this feature and are having trouble getting around press the home button three times in a row to turn Switch Control off.

Screenshot of the Switch Control menu on the iPad

Setup Your Switches

The iPad supports three types of switches. First you can use the screen as a giant switch, second you can use the front facing camera as a switch that activates when you tilt your head to the side, and third you can use an external switch connected wirelessly via BlueTooth or wired through the Apple Camera Connector kit.

Switch Control supports most of the Bluetooth iPad switches/switch interfaces available on the market (we tried the AbleNet Blue2 Switch, RJ Cooper Bluetooth Switch, and the AirTurn page turning switch and they all worked great)

Wired Switch interfaces are more limited. A handful of USB based switch interfaces plugged into the Apple USB Camera Connector Kit work, just ignore the warning about the device not being supported. WARNING: Of the interfaces we tested only a few worked. The Quizworks USB Switch Interface and the StealthSwitch Interface worked without issues but the Don Johnston Interface Pro 6, and the Hitch Switch Interface did not. Be sure to check with the manufacturer before making any purchases.

Choose What Your Switch Does

After you plugin and add your switches to the switches section you can decide what will happen when that switch is pressed. It can scan through options on the screen, make a selection, press the home button, change the volume, and more.

Adjust Your Scanning Settings

Switch Control allows you to customize how the scanning feature operates on your device. Some of the adjustments you can make include:
  • Choosing between Auto scanning or step scanning
  • Adjusting scanning speed
  • Creating a press and hold activation delay
  • Adding audio feedback
  • Changing the scanning cursor size and color
  • And more…

Dynamic Font

Part of the new look of iOS 7 is the use of a new, very thin font. Although cool and trendy, the new font can be difficult to read, especially if you have a vision impairment. The good news is iOS 7 gives you new ways to adjust the font on your device.

First you have the option of changing the system font to a bold typeface, making the letters thicker and easier to read.

Split image showing regular vs bold typeface

The other new adjustment is called Dynamic Type. Moving the slider in the Larger Type section of Accessibility will increase the size of the font in apps that support Dynamic Type. For example the iOS Calendar, Notes, and Reminders all support Dynamic Type. Increasing the font size of the text in these apps isn’t new but allowing developers to use Dynamic Type in their apps is.

Screen Shot of the Reminders app on an iPad with Dynamic Type set to Extra large

Custom Subtitles

The first version of iOS supported subtitles in videos but they often appeared very small. Later versions of iOS fixed the issue by increasing the size of the captions. But now you have full control of how captions look from font size to color to opacity. You can even create and store multiple styles for easy switching. They even let you preview your subtitles over a light colored background as you create them.

And More

There are even more changes to the accessibility settings in iOS 7 that you should explore. They even moved the Accessibility menu to the top section of Settings > General making for quicker navigation. Here are a few more things worth checking out:
  • New enhanced quality voices for VoiceOver and Speak Selection
  • Increase contrast on some backgrounds for better legibility
  • Visual Labels for On/Off buttons
  • Turn off the motion of the parallax effect (that is the 3D effect you see when tilting your device back and forth in the main menu)