It's that time of year again! time for changing weather and new operating systems. iOS and iPadOS 17 were released on September 18, 2023, and this year brings us a treasure trove of new accessibility features. Most, but not all, of the accessibility updates related to vision are in VoiceOver. The VoiceOver updates can be found in Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver.
In VoiceOver Settings, under Speech > Voice, there are dozens of voices to choose from for the various dialects of English as well as many other languages.
Now, there is a whole range of settings allowing the customization of the various voices.
Flick up or down on the voice name and you will find "Open for Voice Settings."
Here, for Vocalizer voices, you will find controls to increase or decrease the timbre. The default is 100. This significantly changes the quality of the sound.
There is also a control to increase or decrease the pause between sentences. For the Eloquence voices, there are different settings such as rate multiplier (changes the speed), head size, pitch base, pitch range, breathiness, and roughness. Other voices have other settings.
In VoiceOver Settings, under Verbosity > System Notifications, you can choose what VoiceOver will do in several situations related to notifications. When notifications arrive while your system is locked, you can choose among a response of speak, speak count, braille, and do nothing. You can also set what VoiceOver will do when banner notifications appear. The options are spoken, play haptic, braille, and do nothing. And you can choose if the Ring Switch controls notifications. Ring Switch is the new name for what was formerly called the Mute Switch. When the Ring Switch is set to Silent, and the Use Ring Switch setting is set to Off, notifications will be silenced.
Predictive Text Feedback
Also in Verbosity, it is now possible to choose what VoiceOver does when predictive text appears. The options are speak, play sound, change pitch, braille, and do nothing. When text that was predicted has been entered, the same five options are available.
Finding Apps from the Home Screen
Now, there is a new way to locate apps with a braille display. From any home screen, press Enter (chord-e) and start typing the name of the app you want, followed by Enter. If more than one app matches what you have typed, you can move among the available options with chord-dot 1 and chord-dot 4.
Disconnect on Sleep
Within More Info settings for each connected braille display, is a Disconnect on Sleep setting which will disconnect your braille display when the phone locks. This could be a good way to save battery.
Center of Screen
You can now move the VoiceOver focus to the center of the screen with a Bluetooth keyboard or a braille display. The Bluetooth keyboard command is not assigned by default. To assign this command to a Bluetooth keyboard, go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Commands > All Commands > Basic Navigation and select Move to Item at Center. You can assign a gesture or keyboard shortcut to this command. For braille displays, the command Center Item is assigned to dots 1-4-7-spacebar. This command can be very helpful when VoiceOver loses focus, or you need to return to a point where you left off.
Change Rotor with Item
A new item in Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Rotor lets you change the behavior of the rotor. Until now, if the VoiceOver focus moved to a screen element that had action items associated with it, such as messages in the Mail app, the rotor would automatically change to Actions. If you set the Change Rotor with Item to off, this will no longer happen. This means your rotor will stay on the item where you last set it and will not change. This seems to have advantages and disadvantages so it is definitely a matter of personal preference.
VoiceOver provides significantly more haptic feedback in iOS 17 than it did in previous versions. While meant to provide the user with more information, some people find this a bit disconcerting. If you prefer to have less feedback, you can reduce this in VoiceOver Settings under Audio > VoiceOver Sounds and Haptics. Under the heading Haptics. There you will find a switch labeled Haptics which allows you to turn haptics off altogether. Below that is Haptic Intensity where you can reduce the ferocity of the haptics. Below this is a long list of VoiceOver events divided into categories. Many of these have a Haptic switch that can be turned off, and a Previews button so you can see if you like the result.
A new feature in iOS 17 lets users turn off VoiceOver's speech when you connect a braille display. This can be found in VoiceOver Settings > Braille > Sound Curtain. When activated, the user is advised that "Sound curtain will disable all audio when a braille display is connected. Are you sure you want to continue?" In addition to speech, Sound Curtain also silences music and sound effects. Emergency alerts will still sound. Sound Curtain can also be turned on or off in VoiceOver's Quick Settings.
Enable Bluetooth on Start
Another new setting in the Braille section will automatically enable Bluetooth whenever VoiceOver starts. This setting is intended to allow braille displays to connect more seamlessly.
Point and Speak
Point and Speak is a new feature in the Magnifier app. It provides access to displays with buttons or touch controls. It detects your hand when it is near a display and speaks text that is near your finger. In Detection Mode settings, you can choose whether you want Point and Speak to speak the text that is under your finger or above your finger. You can also choose the type of feedback you prefer, sound, speech, or haptic or any combination thereof, and the color that outlines the text being spoken. Point and Speak is only available on iPhone models that have LiDAR capability, i.e., the Pro models from iPhone 12 and above.
Also, Text Detection is now in the Detection Mode features of the Magnifier app for LiDAR-equipped phones. This feature is similar to that found in the Camera app. The iPhone will read aloud any text within its view. A double tap with two fingers will pause Text Detection, another one will resume it.
This feature provides a simplified interface and stripped-down versions of many of the built-in apps. Apps can be customized by the one setting up the feature. This feature is designed for people with cognitive disabilities but can also be useful for those who find the iPhone interface too complicated. Onscreen elements are bigger, and it is easier to tell what actions are possible.
Now, iOS 17 lets you create your own voice. This feature enables those with speech limitations to create a clone of their own voice. This is set up in Settings > Accessibility > Personal Voice. The user has to read about 150 phrases to create the voice. You can choose to share this voice with other devices on your iCloud account. You can use your personal voice with Live Voice to speak personalized phrases that you provide or in apps that have incorporated this feature.
Reading Pages in Safari
Now, it is very easy to hear an entire page read in Safari. No matter where the VoiceOver focus is on the page, you can tell Siri to "Read this page," and she will start reading from the top. Alternatively, you can select Page Settings near the bottom left corner of the screen in Safari and select "Listen to this Page" and the entire page will be read aloud.
This concludes the roundup of the major accessibility features that have been introduced in iOS 17. There are many new features this year in the areas of speech, braille, and enhancements in other areas of accessibility.
When determining if you wish to update your device, we recommend taking a look at the AppleVis iOS Accessibility Bug Tracker before updating to be sure if any of the currently active bugs will have an impact on your usage. In addition to the accessibility updates detailed here, we have also published a post on the mainstream features in this iOS update-Check it out!