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    WWDC 2016 Accessibility Highlights

    Apple’s worldwide developer conference, held each June in San Francisco, provides a preview of what we can expect in upcoming software updates for iOS, watchOS, and macOS platforms. Apple has long been known for their inclusive product design and accessibility features, and this year’s keynote did not disappoint. Read on to find out what good things are coming for Apple consumers with disabilities.


    Fitness Tracking for Wheelchair Users

    Until now, all mainstream fitness trackers have been configured for users who are able bodied. While wheelchair users have found some features of the trackers, such as heart rate monitoring, useful, there hasn’t been a tracker that can accurately log the calories burned while rolling in a wheelchair. With the announcement this morning, the Apple Watch becomes the first mainstream fitness tracker to log the movement of wheelchair users. Starting this fall, if you so choose, your Apple Watch can remind you to roll a little each hour, and keep track of your progress toward your fitness goals as you propel your chair.


    Siri on the Mac

    Those of us who rely on Siri as one of our productivity tools will be pleased to know that in Apple’s next Mac operating system, macOS Sierra, we’ll have Siri on our computers, as well as on our phones. During the keynote, Siri was activated by clicking on an icon on the dock. Whether the “Hey Siri” feature, where the digital assistant can be activated just by calling its name, will be available on the Mac remains to be seen.


    Voicemail Transcripts on the iPhone

    Until now, voicemail was not an accessible iPhone feature for individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing. But in iOS 10, Apple is adding voicemail transcripts, which will allow users to read the content of a message instead of listening to it.


    Advances in Home Automation

    Being able to turn on your lights or open your door without getting out of your chair used to be done with expensive assistive technology devices called Environmental Control Units. Now, it’s done with commercially available devices, controlled by apps, and is known as home automation. Previously, home automation suffered from fragmentation. Often, a different app was needed to control your lights, your thermostat, and yet another to see who was at the door. With the announcement of the Home app, Apple strives to provide a much more integrated home automation experience. With this app, a user can organize and control all their smart home devices, from their iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch.


    Will Photo Improvements Include Blind Users?

    In iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, Apple’s photo app will get quite a bit smarter, using the phone’s processor to perform facial, object, and place recognition, and organize photos in to groups referred to as memories. The Voiceover screen reader already provides blind users with verbal descriptions of a photo’s lighting, clarity, and the number of faces present. If Apple allows Voiceover to use the new information being generated about photos, blind users may potentially be able to organize and share their photos with much more confidence, knowing who or what is in each picture would represent a big step forward in accessibility.

    If you are excited about any of these features, they will be released this fall. If you aren’t yet an Apple user, the Nick Feldman Device Lending Library at ILRC has Apple products available for California residents with disabilities to try for 30 days.

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