Accessibility Features Offered by Top Tech Companies
Many of the global leaders in the technology industry have joined the discussion of creating a more accessible society. Finding information on the resources and technologies these innovative leaders provide is not an easy task, and such a research project may leave you with more questions than when you started. To help you navigate tech companies’ advancements and accessibility efforts, we have condensed our research to offer a clear summary of options.
Apple is arguably one of the most recognizable brands out there. Apple has made iconic devices that feel as if they are an extension of users’ limbs - the devices go where the users go. The vitality of Apple products has gone beyond the normal realm and has pushed other companies to follow this lead. It only makes sense they are one of the leaders in accessibility across all of their devices.
Apple’s iPad with IOS has developed assistive features that complement a wide range of visual impairments. VoiceOver is a gesture-based screen reader that allows the user to utilize the iPad without seeing the screen. After triple clicking the home button, the user will be able to hear a description of what is displayed on the iPad screen. These descriptions range from battery percentage to which application your finger is touching. There is a variety of different gestures that can adjust the settings on the VoiceOver feature. For example, dragging your finger around the screen will prompt VoiceOver to describe what’s there. VoiceOver also has the ability to describe images and send iMessages. Lastly, VoiceOver supports braille chords in 6 and 8 dot braille, allowing for direct braille entry without the need for a physical braille keyboard.
Accessibility for visual impairments
Apple products also feature accommodations for individuals to easily see the screen. These accommodations include a zoom feature, font adjustments, magnifiers, and a speak screen. The zoom feature is a built-in screen magnifier that allows you to see a targeted zoomed area in a separate screen. One can also activate a larger text size that is accommodated by all applications within the IOS software. The magnifying feature uses the camera on the iPad to increase the size of anything it is pointed at. Lastly, use the Speak Screen when you are having a hard time reading text on your iPad. This feature will read emails, iMessages, web pages, and books.
Accessibility for color blind
To support different forms of color blindness or other visual impairments, the iPad can invert colors, reduce white point, enable grayscale, or choose from a range of color filters.
Many of the same features from Apple’s iPad are also available in Mac computers. VoiceOver can also be used on a Mac to navigate PDFs, websites, and messages. Simply touch the trackpad to hear a description of the item highlighted. Additionally, VoiceOver features a virtual control called the rotor. Turning two fingers on the trackpad activates the rotor and allows you to access a multitude of customizable commands, such as reading elements like headings and links when browsing web pages. The VoiceOver description can also be presented in braille. In macOS High Sierra, converting between braille and text happens automatically so you can only see Grade 2 Braille. VoiceOver also supports more than one braille display at a time, allowing you to present what’s on your screen to multiple braille users simultaneously.
Accessibility for visual impairments
Similar accommodations for individuals to easily see the screen include a zoom feature, cursor size, contrast options, and reduced motion. The zoom feature is a built-in magnifier that will enlarge your screen up to 20 times to clearly see the display. You can also magnify your cursor to make it easier to follow along while moving around your Mac. MacOS lets you invert colors or enable grayscale if a higher contrast or lack of color is easier to visualize. Lastly, one can turn on Reduce Motion to decrease movement in certain areas of the Mac.
Companies have started taking note on the individual lifestyles of each of their users in order to determine the best way to meet their separate needs. Where the devices might not be made to aid the user in daily tasks, Sony has considered how the devices they do make could be used for people with visual impairments. From cameras to gaming devices, Sony has taken into account their users and how they might need devices that provide more than what devices offered previously.
Features that assist visually impaired individuals can be found on the Alpha 7 Interchangeable-lens digital camera series and the Cyber-shot Digital Camera RX series. The manual focus feature helps distinguish an item by enlarging the image on the screen. The peaking feature will add color to the outline of the focus area in the display. With these features working together, the user will be able to have a much more enjoyable experience.
There are many accommodations for visual impairments on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita Systems. These features include zooming, inverting colors, enlarging text, bolding text, creating a high contrast display, closed captioning, changing button alignments, and changing the speed of automatic scrolling. These accommodations improve the gaming industry by allowing those with visual impairments to seamlessly play and engage with the system, just like their friends.
Sony’s accessibility functions go so far as to include features for their TVs. The Text Magnification function increases the size of text while the Screen Reader function allows you to check TV program guides and change settings without even visualizing the screen.
The Talkback feature in all Android phones allows you to hear what is happening on your smartphone. This feature, activated by touch, describes your alerts and notifications, even when the screen is off. Talkback can be activated in the accessibility menu for all Android smartphones.
We have mentioned Microsoft’s accessibility efforts in a previous blog you can read by clicking here. This is our second time mentioning them because of how attentive they are to their users. It is evident that they have heard the visually impaired community in the amount of effort they are putting behind new products specifically for visually impaired individuals. While much of it is still in its early testing stages, they are helping develop technology that is unlike that of any other company we have come across.
Beyond technology, Microsoft is developing and investing in programs that help visually impaired and blind kids learn how to code. This program is called Code Jumper, and you can learn more about it by clicking here. Beyond developing new tech and adding accessibility features to their existing products, they are taking it a step further by designing technology with the blind in mind and developing a landscape for the blind community.
“AI can empower people with disabilities with tools that support independence and productivity, as technology rapidly changes the way we live, learn, and work. “ this quote, pulled directly from their website, is something many people reading this blog have probably heard before. The discernible difference is that they have invested in the future of this rapidly changing landscape wholeheartedly, and are committed to pushing the boundaries with artificial intelligence as a means of accessibility.
Microsoft has created an app called Seeing AI. This is a free computer learning app that allows the user to gauge their surroundings through mobile devices. Using a phone, the user can scan barcodes, read documents, describe the scene around you, read handwritten text, and so much more. The more the app is used, the more intelligent it becomes to the user. The artificial intelligence adapts to its user over time to give the most accurate and seamless picture of the user’s surroundings. Their mission is to turn the visual world into an audible experience, as they continue adding in new features and capabilities.
Microsoft Sound Scape is a research project that uses audio-based tech to give blind and low vision users the ability to gauge their surroundings. According to Microsoft, “Soundscape provides information about your surroundings with synthesized binaural audio, creating the effect of 3D sound. It can run in the background in conjunction with navigation or other applications to provide you with additional context about the environment. “
Newly released features of Microsoft for Spring 2019
Microsoft has developed many features to ease the challenges people with visual impairments may have when interacting with their technology. A light theme has been added to a list of Windows’ default themes that turns the display into a lighter color for those who have difficultly reading a darker screen. On the other hand, Windows comes with a dark theme that benefits those with the opposite challenge. To coincide with the challenge of reading pages in certain colors, Page Colors changes the background color on the page. This new development specifically targets those who have difficulty reading with an all-white or all-black background. Now, one also has the ability to change the font size across Outlook for all Mac technology. Similarly, Swift-key Keyboard in Android devices has a resizing feature to make it easier to adjust and read background page content.
Amazon, mostly utilized for its online shopping experience, is also committed to developing both hardware and software specifically for those with visual impairments and blindness. In recent years, Amazon has even developed a specialized Retail Accessibility Team that ensures all Amazon products and software can be easily used by those with disabilities. One of the most helpful products Amazon developed for people with visual impairments and blindness is the Amazon Echo.
Originally released in the fall of 2014, the Amazon Echo is a voice activated and virtual intelligent personal assistant. Similar to products like the Google Home and the Apple Home Pod, the Amazon Echo is mostly voice activated and requires little use of the buttons on the device (which can also be made voice activated in the device’s settings). For this reason, the Amazon Echo is a popular aid for visually impaired individuals. The Echo can be used to set timers and alarms, check the weather, set reminders, play music and audiobooks, listen to the news, and, if paired with a smart home device, can even adjust the thermostat in your home. This device is multi-faceted and new features are constantly added to improve the user’s experience.
In addition to the Echo, Amazon has developed the Fire Tablet and the Kindle. In both devices, users can adjust the text size and boldness, use the screen magnifier, and take advantage of the newly released VoiceView screen reader which, “…provides spoken feedback to describe the actions that take place on your screen and features IVONA's award-winning natural language text-to-speech voices.” Additionally, on the Amazon Fire Tablet, users can download the free BrailleBack App from the Amazon Appstore.
Amazon, though originally a bookstore, has become the largest online shopping experience across the globe. Cognizant of its impact on users, Amazon created a specialized Retail Accessibility Team that works to make the online shopping experience available for all customers, including those with disabilities.
Similar to the previous tech companies listed, Google makes sure to keep accessibility in mind when developing new products and software. In the company’s mission statement, the founders specifically outlined the importance of making their products universally accessible for all of their consumers, including those with disabilities. Though Google has a plethora of adaptive and accessible technologies and products, thanks to the company’s Voluntary Product Accessibility Template or VPAT, one feature that particularly stood out was the Google Accessibility Support Team.
The Accessibility Support team was first established in 2017 solely available by email, but today you can reach Google support through email, chat, by calling a team member, or by downloading the app Be My Eyes, available in both the Apple and Android App store. This app allows blind and visually impaired users to connect with a volunteer or specialist through a video call in which the specialist can assist the user. The app is highly rated in the app store and now has over 2,000,000 volunteers and over 100,000 blind or visually impaired users.