There has recently been significant attention on the development of wearable technologies such as smart watches and glasses. For people with disabilities, the category offers significant potential in its ability to provide information in a convenient and discreet way to the user.
The only commonly-available smartwatch available for purchase with specific accessibility features is the Apple Watch. The accessibility features on the Apple Watch can be accessed by making three clicks on the Digital Crown.
The features are as follows:
- Voiceover screen reader: provides text-to-speech support for people who are blind and vision impaired
- Zoom: allows people with low vision to enlarge a portion of the screen
- Font adjustment: allows for the font to be larger or smaller to assist people with low vision
- Taptic Engine: a new feature in which the watch can provide tactile feedback to your wrist for providing alerts and other information that requires the user’s attention
- Grayscale: colour features to assist people with a colour-related vision impairment
- Bold text: the ability to make text bold across the device to assist people with low vision
- Mono audio: the ability to choose which ear the user would like to receive all audio, helpful for people with a hearing impairment in one ear
While the Apple Watch contains a number of great accessibility features, it also lacks some features common to other Apple devices and watches more generally, such as limited captioned video support, limited battery life and lack of waterproofing. The functionality of the Apple Watch also relies heavily on its ability to connect with an Apple iPhone 5 or above, so the need to purchase both an Apple iPhone and an Apple Watch may be prohibitive for many potential users.
The accessibility of non-Apple smartwatches currently available on the market is unfortunately quite limited, although there have been recent improvements to the Android Wear operating system, the version of Android designed specifically for wearables. Smartwatches from Motorola and LG, for example, which run Android 5.1.1 or later, include some vision-specific accessibility features such as screen magnification, large font and inverted colour options. The evolution of the Android Wear operating system is likely to improve in the future.
A good example of the benefits of wearable devices is a Telstra project using Google Glass in which a blind person can use the device’s capability for optical character recognition to independently view and identify grocery items. Another app developed under the project allows a hearing impaired person to view live captions on their Glass device. While Google Glass is not currently available for purchase, the potential for its use as an assistive technology is huge.
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