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
22 months 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
22 months 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
22 months 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
22 months 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)
symphony Avatar
22 months 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
22 months ago
All sounds good to me... let’s wait for the ne’er sayers...
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iPhone trade in

Apple Adjusts Trade-In Values for iPhones, Macs, and More

Wednesday January 25, 2023 9:40 am PST by
After announcing new Mac and HomePod models last week, Apple adjusted its trade-in values for select devices in the United States. iPhone trade-in values decreased by up to $80, and most Android smartphones also went down. Mac trade-in values remained unchanged or increased by up to $40 depending on the model, while some Apple Watch models increased in value and others decreased. Trade-in...
iphone 15 pro wifi 6e

Internal Apple Document From Leaker 'Unknownz21' Confirms Wi-Fi 6E Will Be Limited to iPhone 15 Pro Models

Friday January 27, 2023 10:01 am PST by
Multiple rumors have suggested that the next-generation iPhone 15 models will adopt the Wi-Fi 6E standard that Apple has already introduced in the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro, and now a leaked document appears to confirm Apple's plans. Sourced from researcher and Apple leaker Unknownz21 (@URedditor), the document features diagrams of the iPhone 15's antenna architecture. D8x refers to the...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Side Perspective Feature Purple

iPhone 15 Expected to Feature Wi-Fi 6E Like Latest Macs and iPad Pro

Wednesday January 25, 2023 5:39 pm PST by
The iPhone 15 will support Wi-Fi 6E, according to a research note shared this week by Barclays analysts Blayne Curtis and Tom O'Malley. The analysts did not specify whether the feature will be available on all models or limited to the Pro models. Apple has added Wi-Fi 6E support to a handful of devices so far, including the latest 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook...
maxresdefault

Hands-On With the New M2 Max MacBook Pro

Thursday January 26, 2023 12:14 pm PST by
New 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with the latest M2 Pro and M2 Max chips are available in Apple retail stores and are already in the hands of customers, and we picked up one of the new M2 Max machines to answer all of the questions MacRumors readers considering a purchase might have. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Yesterday, we asked MacRumors fans on...
Mac Pro 2019 Apple

Mac Pro Enthusiasts Raise Concerns Over Upgrade Limitations of Apple Silicon

Thursday January 26, 2023 6:30 am PST by
The new Mac Pro coming later this year is expected to feature the same spacious modular design as the 2019 model, but with fresh concerns over its lack of upgradeability surfacing, some users are beginning to wonder what the transition away from Intel architecture actually means for Apple's most powerful Mac. The current Intel Mac Pro that Apple sells is popular with creative professionals...
iOS 16

iOS 16.3 for iPhone Launching Next Week With These 4 New Features

Friday January 20, 2023 11:43 am PST by
In a recent press release, Apple confirmed that iOS 16.3 will be released to the public next week. The software update will be available for the iPhone 8 and newer and includes a handful of new features, changes, and bug fixes. Below, we've recapped bigger features in iOS 16.3, including support for physical security keys as a two-factor authentication option for Apple ID accounts, worldwide ...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Side Perspective Feature Purple

iPhone 15 Pro Rumored to Have These 8 Features

Friday January 27, 2023 2:11 pm PST by
Apple's next-generation iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max are expected to be announced in September as usual. Already, rumors suggest the devices will have at least eight exclusive features not available on the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus. An overview of the eight features rumored to be exclusive to iPhone 15 Pro models:A17 chip: iPhone 15 Pro models will be equipped with an A17...