New iOS 17 accessibility features for users who are vision impaired

Author: Siobhan Meade
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Darren and Pooja, who are sat together at a table, are laughing as they sharing a joke. Darren, who has sight loss, is holding an iPhone.

Apple's commitment to enhancing accessibility for all users shines through once again with the release of iOS 17. This latest software update brings a host of improvements designed to make the iPhone experience more accessible for people with vision impairments. In this comprehensive guide, we'll take a closer look at the notable features and enhancements that iOS 17 offers to empower users with accessibility requirements.

Customise VoiceOver to suit you

VoiceOver, Apple's screen-reading technology, receives a significant boost in iOS 17. These enhancements not only improve functionality but also provide users with more control over their experience.

Set VoiceOver speed

iOS 17 introduces the ability to customize the speed of VoiceOver. Whether you prefer a brisk pace or a more leisurely one, this feature allows you to fine-tune VoiceOver's speech rate to match your preference. To access this setting, navigate to **Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Speech Rate**.

Choose how and when to use Predictive Text

iOS 17 improves how VoiceOver communicates predictive text. Under **Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Verbosity > Predictive Text Feedback**, you can fine-tune settings for when predictive text appears and when it's successfully entered. Options include playing a sound, speech feedback, braille output, adjusting speech pitch, or doing nothing.

Using your braille display with VoiceOver

If you use a Braille display with VoiceOver, iOS 17 introduces features to limit sound, launch apps, and optimize connectivity on startup.

Turn off all sounds (except emergency alerts)

To help concentration during work there is the option to turn off all sounds except for emergency alerts with Sound Curtain. Similar to Screen Curtain, which hides the screen content, Sound Curtain mutes all sounds on your device, except for emergency alerts. To activate or deactivate Sound Curtain, go to **Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille > Sound Curtain**.

Find and open apps with your braille display

Find and launch apps directly from your Braille display. From your home screen, follow these steps on your Braille display:

  1. Press Return or Dot-8.

  2. Type the name of the app you want to open.

  3. Press Return or Dot-8.

Enable Bluetooth on your braille display upon Startup

Ensure Bluetooth is turned on when VoiceOver starts up. Many Braille displays rely on Bluetooth for connectivity. You can now set VoiceOver to enable Bluetooth automatically each time it starts. Access this option via **Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille > Enable Bluetooth on Start**.

Activate Siri more quickly

Summoning Siri has become even more convenient with iOS 17. You no longer need to use the "Hey" prefix to activate Siri, streamlining voice commands for users who are vision impaired.

Change Siri’s speaking speed

iOS 17 introduces the ability to adjust Siri's speech rate when VoiceOver is not active. You can fine-tune this setting by going to **Settings > Accessibility > Siri** and using the adjustable slider.

More ways to manage your notifications

Managing notifications is now more flexible in iOS 17. You have the power to customise how VoiceOver announces notifications based on various scenarios. Navigate to **Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Verbosity > System Notifications** to explore these options. You can configure VoiceOver to speak notifications as they arrive, report the number of notifications, display notifications in braille, or take no action at all. Additionally, banner notifications can be adjusted to your liking, and you can silence VoiceOver notifications by toggling the device's ring switch.

More ways to interact with your iPhone

Increased haptic feedback

Haptic feedback gets a makeover in iOS 17, offering more information to VoiceOver users. You'll now feel haptic feedback when the lock screen dims and when elements are activated, enhancing the tactile experience. To customise the haptic intensity, navigate to **Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Audio > Voice Sounds and Haptics**.

Make your iPhone feel more responsive with faster haptic touch

There are additional settings to determine Haptic Touch speed in iOS 17 including a welcome boost of speed. To enjoy this update go to **Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Haptic Touch > Fast**.

Interactive widgets to carry out tasks on your phone and in your home

We are all familiar with iOS widgets, but these get a makeover in iOS 17 so instead of the widget taking you to the app in question you can make certain commands directly via the new interactive widgets. This means you can start, pause your music or podcasts directly from the corresponding widget, which speeds up access to your entertainment. This is not limited to these apps but also features in notes and other applications.

To add an interactive widget press on the Home Screen and the icons will start to wobble, tap the plus button in the top left corner of the screen to access your widgets then tap the required widget, select the size that is best for you and press “add widget” at the bottom of the menu.

More control over visual elements to help with low vision

iOS 17 introduces features tailored to individuals with low vision, allowing greater control over visual elements.

Adjust animation settings with Frame Rate control

Want to make viewing online content a more fun experience that works for you? You can adjust the minimum and maximum frame rates of content in **Settings > Accessibility > Motion > Frame Rate**. You can also disable animated images in Safari and Messages by going to **Settings > Accessibility > Motion > Autoplay Animated Images**.

Adjust grayscale intensity to help if you have trouble reading text on a screen

Customize the intensity of grayscale for colour filters. Access this feature by enabling colour filters in **Settings > Display & Text Size > Accessibility > Colour Filters** and adjust the intensity to your preference.

Identify printed text and photos with your iPhone camera

Identify printed text with Point and Speak and Text Detection Mode

Exclusive to iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max models, "Point and Speak" in the Apple Magnifier app lets you identify text by physically pointing at it with your finger. This feature is incredibly useful for interacting with touchscreens and appliances e.g. when microwaving your favourite snack. To use it, simply move your finger over the viewfinder, and it will identify and speak the text closest to your finger.

iOS 17's Magnifier gains a new "Text Detection Mode" like the Live Text feature in the Photos app. It reads any text detected within the viewfinder, making it invaluable for reading documents or signs.

In the world of iOS 17 Accessibility, the game-changer for someone like me who is blind is undoubtedly 'point and speak' in Magnifier. This incredible update not only describes my environment but also reads text aloud using advanced technology. Thanks to the Camera app, LiDAR, and on-device machine learning, I can effortlessly explore labels on everyday objects like microwaves and washing machines. No more guessing which button to press! This newfound independence is a game-changer, saving my clothes from any more laundry mishaps.

– Siobhan

Identify objects in photos and videos with Visual Look Up

iOS 17 can help you find out about the items featured in your photos and videos, plus learn about animals, plants and landmarks shown in your media, and get delicious recipes for the food shown too!

Simply open the desired photo in full screen mode or pause your video. If the information button displays an icon with stars, then Visual Look Up can be used on this photo or video. Activate the information button (by touch or voice), then select Look Up at the top of the photo information to view what iOS 17 has detected.

To close Visual Look Up, simply hit the “x” button to close results and swipe down on the media to close the information.

More accessibility features we love

  • Automatically notify a loved one that you’ve arrived with Check In on iPhone

  • Use NameDrop on iPhone to quickly share your contact information with a nearby iPhone

  • Download an area for use in the Maps app and refer to it even when your iPhone is offline

  • Reflect on how you’re feeling and track your mental wellbeing in the Health app

I’m already enjoying the faster Siri voice and I’m looking forward to trying out the Check In with friends feature as it could be really helpful when arranging meetups in the future.

- Darren

A bright future for accessibility

These enhancements in iOS 17 mark a significant leap forward in improving the accessibility experience for users who are vision-impaired. Apple's dedication to providing greater customisation and choice ensures that people with accessibility requirements can make the most of their iPhone experience.

This is just a preliminary overview of iOS 17's accessibility features which we’ve tested, and we'll continue to explore and share insights as we delve deeper into this exciting release. Stay tuned for our upcoming iOS 17 Tech Hacks videos on social media, where we'll provide valuable tips and tricks for maximizing the potential of these accessibility enhancements.

Apple's commitment to accessibility is indeed a testament to the company's mission of making technology accessible to all.

If you’d like to learn more about Apple’s accessibility features, view our iOS accessibility features guide.

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Author: Siobhan Meade

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