Apple Announces New Background Sounds, Apple Watch AssistiveTouch, and Eye-Tracking Accessibility Features

Apple today announced the upcoming launch of several new accessibility features that are being added to its various products and services. Apple says that these options are designed for people with mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive disabilities, and showcase Apple's belief that accessibility is a human right.

apple accessibility features 2021

"At Apple, we've long felt that the world's best technology should respond to everyone's needs, and our teams work relentlessly to build accessibility into everything we make," said Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's senior director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives. "With these new features, we're pushing the boundaries of innovation with next-generation technologies that bring the fun and function of Apple technology to even more people -- and we can't wait to share them with our users."

There are new features for communicating with support staff, operating the iPad, navigating the Apple Watch, and more, with a rundown below.

  • Background Sounds - In support of neurodiversity, Apple is adding a Background Sounds feature that's designed to minimize distractions to help users stay focus, stay calm, or rest. Balanced, bright, or dark noise sounds are available, as well as ocean, rain, or stream sounds. All of the sounds can be set to play in the background to mask unwanted environmental or external noise. Apple says the sounds mix into or duck under other audio and system sounds.
  • AssistiveTouch - For users with limited mobility, AssistiveTouch will allow the Apple Watch to be used without the need to touch the display or the controls. Built-in motion sensors, the optical heart rate sensor, and on-device machine learning will let Apple Watch detect subtle differences in muscle movement and tendon activity that will control a cursor on the screen through hand gestures like a pinch or a clench. AssistiveTouch launches later this year.
  • iPad Eye-Tracking - Later this year, iPadOS will support third-party eye-tracking devices to let people control ‌iPad‌ with their eyes.
  • SignTime - SignTime will allow customers to communicate with AppleCare and retail customer care using American Sign Language in the United States, British Sign Language (BSL) in the UK, or French Sign Language (LSF) in France using a web browser. SignTime launches May 20.
  • New Memoji Customizations - New memojis are coming to better represent users with oxygen tubes, cochlear implants, and a soft helmet for headwear.
  • VoiceOver Improvements - Recent updates to VoiceOver let users explore more details about people, text, table data, and other objects within images. VoiceOver can describe a person's position along with other objects in images, and with Markup, users can add image descriptions to personalize their photos.
  • MFi Hearing Aid Improvements - Apple is introducing new support for bi-directional hearing aids, enabling hands-free phone and FaceTime conversations. Next-generation models from MFi partners are coming later this year.
  • Audiograms for Headphone Accommodations - Headphone Accommodations will gain support for audiograms, so users can customize their audio by importing their latest hearing test results.
  • Sound Actions for Switch Control - This replaces physical buttons and switches with mouth sounds -- such as a click, pop, or "ee" sound -- for users who are non-speaking and have limited mobility.
  • Display and Text Size Settings - Will be customizable on a per app basis for users with colorblindness or other vision challenges to make the screen easier to see.

Apple is announcing these new features in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which takes place May 20. Apple is also celebrating through new additions to Apple Fitness+, Today at Apple, the App Store, the Apple TV app, and more.

Many of these new features are slated for release later in the year, which suggests that they'll be included in the iOS 15 update that Apple is set to introduce at the Worldwide Developers Conference.

Apple's full announcement has more detail on just what's coming and when, and it's well worth checking out.

Top Rated Comments

Lounge vibes 05 Avatar
5 weeks ago
As a blind Apple user, this is exactly why I would never even consider switching to android.
Besides the fact that I’m deeply locked into the ecosystem, with a huge iTunes/Apple Music library, AirPods, Apple TV, MacBook, iPad, iPhone, HomePods, airtags, Watch, etc, there attention to accessibility is absolutely amazing.
And even though over the years, android has become leaps and bounds better than they used to be, they still suck when compared to Apple.
And don’t even get me started on Windows.
Microsoft built-in accessibility features are pretty garbage, and for an actual decent screen reader, it’s another thousand dollars on top of what you pay for your computer.
Anyway, extremely interested in the background Sounds feature.
The best part of apples accessibility features is that, even if you aren’t the target market for them, you can still get use out of them.
Score: 38 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Marbles1 Avatar
5 weeks ago
It’s easy to be critical of Apple.

But things like this are why I stick with them.

My wife is blind and the fact she gets to use and enjoy an iPhone is awesome.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AdeFowler Avatar
5 weeks ago
Well done Apple. I've bought Apple products for 27 years now, and their attention to accessibility has always been a factor in my purchasing decisions.

I would love background sounds to help with tinnitus.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
M87 Avatar
5 weeks ago
As a visually impaired person I have to give Apple a lot of credit for their commitment to accessibility. It's one of the main things that has kept me loyal to their ecosystem.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AirTagStalker Avatar
5 weeks ago
New card style design for Settings in iOS 15?!?! They used to be edge to edge


Jk but it looks better as cards imo it’s more in line with iPad

Attachment Image

Attachment Image
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
deckard666 Avatar
5 weeks ago
All sounds good to me... let’s wait for the ne’er sayers...
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

macbook air orange

Apple Developing a Whole New Kind of MacBook Air

Monday June 21, 2021 2:15 am PDT by
Apple is believed to be working on a completely new, high-end version of the MacBook Air, according to recent reports. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who often reveals accurate insights into Apple's plans, has repeatedly discussed the company's work on a high-end MacBook Air. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and leaker Jon Prosser have also referred to a similar MacBook Air model. The high-end...
iOS 15 Users Underwhelmed Feature

Users Underwhelmed by iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, Survey Suggests

Monday June 21, 2021 7:17 am PDT by
Users appear to be underwhelmed by Apple's upcoming iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 updates, according to the findings of a new survey by SellCell. The survey asked 3,000 iPhone and iPad users, evenly split between men and women, aged 18 or over in the United States, what they thought of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and the naming of the upcoming iPhone 13 lineup. Over 50 percent of all of the survey's...
purple iphone 12 and 12 mini

iPhone 12 Mini Production Reportedly Ended Earlier Than Expected Due to Relatively Low Sales

Monday June 21, 2021 7:07 am PDT by
Following widespread reports that the iPhone 12 mini has experienced poor sales performance, at least relative to other iPhone 12 models, Taiwanese research firm TrendForce today claimed that production of the device has already ended. According to TrendForce, the iPhone 12 mini "reached End-of-Life ahead of time" during the second quarter of 2021, suggesting that Apple will focus on selling ...
Dark Sky App Featured

Apple Updates Dark Sky Weather App With Apple Watch Improvements and More

Tuesday June 22, 2021 11:58 am PDT by
Apple today updated the Dark Sky weather app for the first time since November with improved VoiceOver support and other bug fixes and performance improvements. In addition, Dark Sky complications on the Apple Watch now update more frequently. The full release notes for Dark Sky version 6.8.6:• Improved VoiceOver support • Complications on Apple Watch update more frequently •...
iPhone 12 v Android 2020

Apple Executive Says Users Who Want App Sideloading Already Have That Option With Other Platforms

Wednesday June 23, 2021 5:07 am PDT by
Apple earlier today published a detailed report outlining in blatant terms the negative impact that sideloading would have on the iPhone and iPad, specifically calling out the impacts it would have on user privacy and security. Now, the company is continuing its PR push, with an executive noting in an interview that users who wish to sideload apps already have that option thanks to other...
iOS Spam Calendar Feature

iCloud Users Continue to Be Plagued by Calendar Spam

Monday June 21, 2021 8:51 am PDT by
Despite previous attempts to put the situation at rest, some iCloud users continue to experience spam calendar invitations, causing their calendars to be filled with random events. The situation received widespread coverage in 2016, where Apple said that it was "actively working to address this issue" by "identifying and blocking suspicious senders." Victims are targeted in various ways. The ...
primeday2020 feature3

Amazon Prime Day: The Best Apple Deals

Monday June 21, 2021 6:15 am PDT by
Amazon's annual Prime Day event has officially kicked off today, beginning 48 hours of discounts, offers, and tons of savings across Amazon's storefront. This includes everything from home electronics to clothing, jewelry, video games, movies, and much more. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment,...
ios wifi settings

iOS Bug Causes Specific Network Name to Disable Wi-Fi on iPhones

Sunday June 20, 2021 4:15 am PDT by
A wireless network naming bug has been discovered in iOS that effectively disables an iPhone's ability to connect to Wi-Fi. Security researcher Carl Schou found that after joining a Wi-Fi network with the name "%p%s%s%s%s%n" his iPhone's Wi-Fi functionality was left "permanently disabled." Changing a hotspot's SSID did nothing to correct the problem, with even a reboot failing to make a...
iphone 13 lineup dummy models

iPhone 13 Dummy Models Depict Repositioned Camera Modules

Wednesday June 23, 2021 4:12 am PDT by
New alleged dummy models of the upcoming iPhone 13, shared by leaker Sonny Dickson on Twitter, depict a modified camera layout on the standard iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, with two lenses in a diagonal arrangement rather than the vertical arrangement seen on the iPhone 12 models. The dummy models generally line up with iPhone 13 schematics previously seen by MacRumors, which showed that the ...
iphone 13 yellow

TrendForce: iPhone 13 Lineup Will Remain Limited to Maximum 512GB of Storage

Monday June 21, 2021 6:33 am PDT by
Apple will likely unveil its next-generation "iPhone 12s" or "iPhone 13" lineup in around two and a half months from now, and ahead of time, Taiwanese research firm TrendForce has outlined its expectations for the devices. A summary of TrendForce's expectations:Apple will unveil four new iPhones in September, including a mini model, a standard model, and two Pro models. September is the...