By Peter Korn on Sep 20, 2013
Apple just released iOS 7, a major update to their mobile operation system. As with the the last several major updates, this release includes a number of significant accessibility enhancements. This time the major emphasis seems to be an features for folks with severe physical impairments. These advances are part of "Switch Control", which comprises two key things:
- A scanning UI that will scan through the interface, selecting the object the "cursor" is over when the user activates a connected "switch"
- A "gesture switch" that uses the front facing camera to recognize certain types of head movements as activating a "switch"
Together these advances allow someone who has extremely limited motor control to completely control their iPhone or iPad - including the ability to make and receive phone calls and text messages. 9to5mac has a nice video showing switch control of an iPad using head movements.
It is particularly gratifying to see Apple commercialize these solutions, as these are two of the things we were researching and developing prototypes for as part of the AEGIS project from 2008 through 2012:
- The Tecla Access software for Android which provides full switch control of an Android device (developed the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University, one of our AEGIS partners)
- The gesture switch functionality of OpenGazer which uses a commodity web camera to recognize facial gestures such as raising an eyebrow in order to active a "switch" (developed at the Inference Group of the University of Cambridge, another one of our AEGIS partners)
We did extensive user testing of Tecla in the AEGIS project, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. One user told us that they would happily pay many hundreds of dollars for software that would allow them to control a smart phone, and were stunned to find out the software was already in the Android store, available for free. We also did targeted user testing of OpenGazer with users with Locked-in syndrome (they couldn't speak or move muscles beyond those in their face), and there the feedback was also overwhelmingly positive. For one of the women we worked with, there was no other option that would work for her, including $10,000 camera systems that tracked eye movements (but not those of her eyes).
It is an incredible time to be alive and involved in the field of accessibility. Every year brings more and better solutions, at more affordable prices. I can't imagine any other field I would rather be in.