11 Best iPhone iOS Accessibility Apps and Features You Wish You Knew
That’s how much time was spent discussing the latest iPhone accessibility features at the WWDC keynote in June 2009. The media largely overlooked this portion of the presentation. For the accessibility community, it was the moment everything changed.
Previous iPhone versions were unusable if you had a disability. The new features, which included the accessibility logo still used today, were: VoiceOver, Zoom, White on Black and Mono Audio.
“We also care greatly about accessibility,” said executive Phil Schiller.
More than a decade later, these features have been refined and improved. Meanwhile, the App Store economy spawned an industry of third-party accessibility tools.
iPhone iOS Features for Accessibility
Many iPhone features lend themselves to accessibility such as using Siri voice control, a larger text option, invert colors and brightness options. There are made for iPhone hearing aids and sign language detection within FaceTime. Here are three more features designed for accessibility.
1. VoiceOver – The first iteration of VoiceOver was basic and limited yet groundbreaking. For years, many screen reader apps had more capabilities such as PDF reading. However with iOS 14, VoiceOver improved. Previously the tool relied on developers inputting text for the system to read, which is no longer required. The feature reads photo descriptions and text within images.
VoiceOver can be customized in settings, including the option to use a braille display. Or turn on Speak Selection which adds a speak button when text is selected. Speak Screen can be toggled on so swiping down with two fingers initiates the screen reader.
2. Assistive Touch – The iPhone X and above don’t have a home button. They require gestures to navigate between apps, access the home screen, etc. Assistive Touch is a built-in accessibility feature to get around this. Once turned on in settings, a virtual home button can be placed anywhere on the screen. The button’s functions and capabilities are customizable.
3. Magnifier – Using the iPhone camera to magnify was added in iOS 10, but now the Magnifier tool is more prominent in the interface. It can be added to the home screen and accessed via search. The controls have improved to make zooming and lighting easier, settings are adjusted based on accessibility needs.
iOS Apps for Accessibility
4. Voice Dream Reader – A great app to pair with VoiceOver is Voice Dream Reader. This do-it-all text to speech app launched in 2012 and earned acclaim. The app can read every file type from PDFs to Google Docs. It’s used by those with dyslexia and learning disabilities, academic researchers and more. Voice Dream is $15 with in-app upgrade options.
Apple Maps has made accessibility strides in recent years. Using VoiceOver, Maps users can explore points of interest, follow roads, and zoom in or out. There are several complementary navigation apps for the vision-impaired.
5. Seeing Eye GPS – This app features turn-by-turn navigation designed for blind or vision-impaired iOS users. The app enhances standard navigation by providing intersection descriptions, heads-up announcements and nearby alerts whenever the phone points in particular direction. The full app carries a hefty price tag of $200 which makes it a tougher sell as Apple develops their own accessibility features within Maps.
6. Blind Square – BlindSquare is a more affordable app for accessibility navigation at $40. The app informs you about closeby points of interest using FourSquare and Open Street Map data. It’s voice command compatible and supports VoiceOver usage.
7. Seeing AI – The Seeing AI app is Microsoft’s entry into the accessibility marketplace. The app provides robust scanning analysis using the iPhone’s camera. The app, which is free, has nine categories.
- Short Text – Speaks text aloud.
- Documents – Reads the text and formatting of documents.
- Products – Provides information by scanning barcodes.
- Person – Identifies a family member or friend and their emotions.
- Scene – Describes the surrounding environment.
- Currency – Recognizes currency type and amount.
- Light – Creates an audible tone to help users determine brightness.
- Color – Describes perceived color.
- Handwriting – Reads handwritten text.
8. Be My Eyes – The Be My Eyes app is a human-driven companion to Seeing AI. Instead of the scanning method, Be My Eyes uses sighted volunteers to help vision-impaired users with daily tasks or problems via video chat. This app is free and claims more than four million volunteers and more than 270,000 blind and low-vision users. It’s used in more than 150 countries and supports 180 languages.
9. Rev Voice Recorder App – This app allows users to record anything, then have it transcribed within hours at 99 percent accuracy. We use real humans to complete transcriptions which guarantees high accuracy and quality. The Voice Recorder app delivers 12-hour turnarounds and is used by journalists, bloggers, musicians and deaf or hard of hearing individuals. The Rev Voice Recorder App is available in the App Store for free.
10. Temi Recorder and Transcriber App – Temi is an AI-powered transcription tool. It records voices then live transcribes using AI and machine learning algorithms. Results are delivered within minutes then edited for further accuracy. Temi identifies different speakers, provides timestamps and exports transcripts into Word or PDF files. You can try Temi for free with a transcript under 45 minutes, then $.25 per minutes after that.
11. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Apps – For millions of people who rely on assistance with verbal communication, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) apps are life changing. These help users express feelings and perform tasks with predictive text-to-speech functions or symbol-based systems.
AAC apps are often paired with the Guided Access feature. This keeps users logged into a single app unless the side button is clicked three times. AssistiveWare is the developer of two such apps.
- Proloquo4Text uses a word and sentence prediction engine so AAC users can hold conversations without constant typing. Shortcuts are created for frequently used phrases and acronyms. The Quick Talk and Conversation block features empower users to address questions as they type a more detailed response. This allows for a natural conversation flow.
- Proloquo2Go is similar but is designed for users who use symbols and photos to form sentences. The tool is ideal for language and/or motor skills development and is used by kids, teens and adults. Users can create their own buttons by uploading photos or choose from 25,000 available symbols.
AssistiveWare apps work on all iOS devices. The AAC essentials bundle is $299.99 and comes with both apps and several other accessibility tools.
What Are The Best iPhone iOS Accessibility Apps and Features?
Here’s a summary of the best iPhone iOS apps and features for accessibility:
- VoiceOver – Lets users hear what’s on their screen.
- Assistive Touch – A virtual customizable home button anywhere on the screen.
- Magnifier – Use the iPhone camera as a magnifying glass.
- Voice Dream Reader – Text-to-speech app that works with all file types.
- Seeing Eye GPS and BlindSquare – Navigation apps designed for the blind.
- Seeing AI – Microsoft tool for identifying people and objects.
- Be My Eyes – Pairs volunteers with visually-impaired users who require assistance.
- Rev Voice Recorder – Audio recorder and transcriber with 99% accuracy.
- Temi Recorder and Transcriber – AI-powered live transcription tool.
- Proloquo4Text – Predictive sentence tool for speech assistance.
- Proloquo2Go – Symbol-based communication tool.