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Apple's Big iPhone Accessibility Focus Is a Larger Deal Than You Realize

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  • Posted on 22nd Sep, 2022 17:45 PM
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The iPhone 14 playing a sound during startup to help people with visual impairments highlights how Apple stands above the competition when it comes to accessibility.

  • The new iPhone 14 lineup includes a new accessibility feature that plays a sound whenever the device is powered on or off.
  • The new feature is a big deal for people with visual impairments, but it’s just one of many important features that help people living with disabilities.
  • Experts say Apple is the forerunner in terms of accessibility and that other phone makers continue to play catchup.

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Apple's new iPhone 14 lineup plays a sound when turned on or off to help people with visual impairments know when those actions are performed, but it's just one example of a larger focus on accessibility and highlights how Apple stands head and shoulders above the competition for those with disabilities.

While it's true that many people can look at their iPhone to see what it's up to, that isn't a luxury afforded to everyone—and it's those people who stand to benefit not only from a new startup and shutdown chime, but also Apple's continued focus on making its devices as accessible as possible.

"Fundamentally, any sound or haptic feedback which informs the [visually impaired] that something is happening is really useful," Chris Lewis, telecoms industry analyst and accessibility expert at Lewis Insight, told Lifewire via email. Lewis added that he wished other household devices offered similarly accessibility-focused features.

An Important New Feature

Apple's new feature is a simple one on the face of it. When enabled, it plays a chime whenever the iPhone is fully turned on. It can also be configured to play another chime when the iPhone is turned off, too. Unfortunately, this is a feature only available to iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models. The chime is embedded into a part of the software that cannot be altered after creation, so older iPhones cannot be retrofitted with it.

While some are looking at the new chime as a nice-to-have, it's a much bigger deal for iPhone users with poorer eyesight. 

"Like people with good eyesight, we love new toys," Fabrice Rocchiccioli, of the Blind Sanity accessibility podcast, told Lifewire via email. "Setting up an iPhone when you are blind is such a frustration. We always have to ask a friend, [but the] chime [brings] it a step closer to being able to set up the phone on your own."

"The problem with the power button is that you don't know whether you have switched the device on or not," Lewis pointed out when discussing the feature further. "Sighted people see that Apple logo kicking in while the phone is thinking about getting started. Having a sound at that point reassures [user with visual impairments] that the device is actually booting up." That's what makes accessibility features so vital—they make things many take for granted possible for everyone.

"Our phone is so important these days, even more for [people living with blindness]," Rocchiccioli added when discussing the iPhone's wider accessibility focus with Lifewire.

The Accessibility Focus

As much as the new chime is getting a lot of attention, it's important to note this is far from the first accessibility feature Apple has added to its products, including the iPhone. Much like privacy, a focus on accessibility is something Apple has become synonymous with.

"Apple has been ahead of the game when it comes to accessibility," lauds Lewis. "Android has caught up a lot in recent years, but Apple is still seen as the benchmark."

He also points out that while Apple's VoiceOver feature makes it possible for an iPhone to read what's displayed on-screen, it isn't just Apple that needs to be on board. "Apart from its own VoiceOver and other disability features, it also encourages app developers to conform to its toolkit design for accessibility," he adds.

That doesn't mean Apple is perfect or the accessibility fight is over, though. The company's products might be the go-to for some people who need a little help using smartphones and computers, but that doesn't mean it can rest on its laurels. The same goes for other tech companies, too.

And unfortunately, not all of Apple's features work 100% of the time, either. 

"The magnifier app overheats the iPhone," mentioned Rocchiccioli when discussing hurdles Apple still has to overcome. "Connecting to a refreshable Braille display is frustrating, and the magnifier shortcut/spoken content controller is always in the way no matter where you place them," he added.

Clearly, there's still work to be done despite Apple's strengths. But it's starting from a better place than most—with people also pushing for improvements from the inside.

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