Apple Accessibility Exec: 'iPhone has Become the Most Powerful and Popular Assistive Device Ever'

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and to highlight the milestone, TechCrunch did interviews with several tech companies and advocacy organizations, including Apple, to discuss how technology has improved the everyday lives of people with disabilities.

iphoneaccessibility
At Apple, TechCrunch spoke to Sarah Herrlinger, the company's Director of Global Accessibility Policy. According to Herrlinger, Apple has "always believed accessibility is a human right," which is a value that Apple keeps in mind with each new product that's released.

Apple has always been dedicated to making its products accessible for everyone, and implements new accessibility features with each and every new software release. According to Herrlinger, Apple's iPhone has become the most powerful assistive device ever.

"The historical impact of ‌iPhone‌ as a mainstream consumer product is well documented. What is less understood though is how life changing ‌iPhone‌ and our other products have been for disability communities," said Herrlinger. "Over time ‌iPhone‌ has become the most powerful and popular assistive device ever. It broke the mold of previous thinking because it showed accessibility could in fact be seamlessly built into a device that all people can use universally."

One of the most important features that the ‌iPhone‌ has to offer, as TechCrunch points out, is VoiceOver. VoiceOver is an accessibility feature that reads the contents of the ‌iPhone‌'s screen to allow those with visual impairments to navigate through iOS. Over the weekend, Kristy Viers demonstrated how she uses her ‌iPhone‌, and it's a great look at how VoiceOver and other accessibility features work.


Herrlinger said that there's opportunity for growth in the tech industry when it comes to accessibility, and that "representation and inclusion are critical."

We believe in the mantra of many within disability communities: 'Nothing about us without us.' We started a dedicated accessibility team in 1985, but like all things on inclusion -- accessibility should be everyone's job at Apple.

Apple in iOS 14 is introducing multiple new accessibility features like Back Tap for tapping on the rear of the ‌iPhone‌ to perform actions, Headphones Accommodations for amplifying soft sounds and adjusting frequencies to make music, movies, calls, and more sound clearer, and Sound Recognition, a feature able to listen for certain sounds like alarms and send alerts.

There are also ‌iOS 14‌ improvements for VoiceOver that use on-device intelligence to recognize elements on the screen and to offer support for app and web experiences that don't have built-in accessibility support.

TechCrunch's full ADA article also includes comments from Microsoft, Facebook, and others, and can be read over on the TechCrunch website.

Top Rated Comments

arn Avatar
9 months ago
The Braille keyboard in the video is awesome. Didn’t know it existed.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Apple_Robert Avatar
9 months ago
I am proud of Apple for the work they have been doing in this area over the last several years. I hope they continue their focus and help make the iPhone a tool that becomes an extension of a disabled person’s body even more so than today.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DogHouseDub Avatar
9 months ago
I hereby withdraw all criticism regarding the resources Apple is putting into OS development. THIS is a fantastic use of your resources for the betterment of humankind.

Great work, team.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
m4mario Avatar
9 months ago
As a developer, I know how much push Apple gives for Accessibility. During a previous WWDC I attended, there was an evening event where physically challenged Apple employees were available for developers to interact with. As you might imagine, Apple employs people with various disabilities as test group for its accessibility features. We could take our apps and get these people to use it and get feedback from them. These are facilities a typical developer cannot afford. And also, just that interaction motivates developers to improve support for accessibility.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MacKay Olson Avatar
9 months ago
I have to say, as a hearing-impaired person, apple’s dedication to helping people like me is absolutely amazing. Years ago, Apple was the only company that made it possible to Bluetooth your hearing aids directly to the phone (not using a separate gadget as a go between). It’s seamless and amazing. It makes being hearing impaired an advantage rather than a drawback as it is at all other times. Android just got that feature this year and it only works on 3 different phones and two (rather inferior) types of hearing aids.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
edgonzalez32 Avatar
9 months ago

Most powerful? That may very well be true, in a narrow sense. But saying "most popular" is a bit hyperbolic. There are low-tech devices which likely own that title.
I don’t think you quite understand the amount of thought and design work Apple has put into accessibility on both iOS and macOS. Just because other devices are great at accessibility doesn’t mean apple deserves the recognition for accessibility. This is coming from a designer.

I’m the first in line to critique Apple on a lot of what they do.But this is just something you can’t take away from them.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

siir apple event april 20

Siri Reveals Apple Event Planned for Tuesday, April 20

Tuesday April 13, 2021 12:04 am PDT by
Siri has apparently prematurely revealed that Apple plans to hold an event on Tuesday, April 20, where the company is expected to reveal brand new iPad Pro models and possibly its long-awaited AirTags trackers. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Upon being asked "When is the next Apple Event," Siri is currently responding with, "The special event is on Tuesday, April...
apple event spring loaded

Apple's 'Spring Loaded' Event Officially Announced for Tuesday, April 20

Tuesday April 13, 2021 9:04 am PDT by
Following an overnight leak by Siri, Apple today officially announced that it will be holding a special "Spring Loaded" event on Tuesday, April 20 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time at the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California. As with all of Apple's 2020 events, the April 2021 event will be a digital-only gathering with no members of the media invited to attend in...
pixel watch prosser leak

Google Pixel Watch Allegedly Leaks with Circular Design, Rumored to Launch in October

Monday April 12, 2021 2:49 am PDT by
Renders of Google's first smartwatch, codenamed "Rohan," have been shared by Jon Prosser, showing that Google plans to adopt a circular design for its flagship wearable watch. Prosser shared the renders in an episode of his YouTube show "Front Page Tech," in which he claims they were made based on marketing material he had seen from a source within Google. The renders show that the Pixel...
Google maps feaure green

Google Maps App for iOS Finally Updated After Four Months

Monday April 12, 2021 10:03 am PDT by
Following the completed rollout of App Privacy labels for its App Store apps, Google today updated the Google Maps app for the first time in four months. Apple in December began requiring all new app submissions and app updates to include App Privacy labels, detailing the data that is collected by the app so consumers know what they're sharing. Google didn't begin implementing App Privacy ...
AppleTV and HomePod Feature

Bloomberg: Apple Working on New Apple TV With Integrated HomePod Speaker and FaceTime Camera

Monday April 12, 2021 3:32 am PDT by
Apple is working on a combined Apple TV with HomePod speaker that has a camera for video calls through a connected television set, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. From the report: The company is working on a product that would combine an Apple TV set-top box with a HomePod speaker and include a camera for video conferencing through a connected TV and other smart-home functions,...
samsung experience 1

Samsung's 'iTest' Lets You Try a Galaxy Device on Your iPhone

Thursday April 8, 2021 12:42 pm PDT by
Samsung has launched "iTest," an interactive website experience that's designed to allow iPhone users to test out Android on a Galaxy device, or "sample the other side," as Samsung puts it. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The iTest website is being advertised in New Zealand, according to a MacRumors reader who came across the feature. Visiting the iTest website on...
epic iap feature 3

Tim Cook Says App Store Would Become a 'Flea Market' if Third-Party Payment Systems Were Allowed

Monday April 12, 2021 9:41 am PDT by
In a recent interview with the Toronto Star, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about a wide variety of topics, ranging from App Tracking Transparency to Apple's ongoing legal battle over App Store policies with Fortnite creator Epic Games. Notably, Cook said that Epic Games' desire for Apple to let developers offer their own payment systems in apps "would make the App Store a flea market":At the...
tim cook toronto star

Tim Cook Says Apple is 'Not Against Digital Advertising' Ahead of iOS 14.5 Launch With App Tracking Transparency

Monday April 12, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
Starting with iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, and tvOS 14.5, Apple will be requiring apps to receive a user's permission to track their activity for targeted advertising purposes, as part of a privacy measure known as App Tracking Transparency. Ahead of App Tracking Transparency being enforced, Apple CEO Tim Cook has participated in a privacy-focused interview with the Toronto Star, telling the...
a13 bionic mockup

Apple Made Sudden Security Changes to its Chips in Fall 2020

Monday April 12, 2021 8:15 am PDT by
Apple made unusual mid-production hardware changes to the A12, A13, and S5 processors in its devices in the fall of 2020 to update the Secure Storage Component, according to Apple Support documents. According to an Apple Support page, spotted by Twitter user Andrew Pantyukhin, Apple changed the Secure Enclave in a number of products in the fall of 2020:Note: A12, A13, S4, and S5 products...
HomePod G4 Feature

Bloomberg: Future HomePod May Feature iPad Connected Via Robotic Arm to Track Users Around The Room During FaceTime Calls

Monday April 12, 2021 3:50 am PDT by
In a report outlining a possible Apple TV with a combined HomePod and camera, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that Apple is exploring a future high-end HomePod speaker that could include an iPad connected via a robotic arm that tracks and follows users around a room. From the report: The Cupertino, California-based technology giant, is also mulling the launch of a high-end speaker with a touch ...