Apple continues to improve accessibility of iOS

Thursday, 14 July 2011 09:56am

A new feature in the latest beta release of iOS 5, the operating system for the iPad and iPhone, provides on-screen replacements for various button functions, such as the home button.

The control panel, called Assistive Touch, will assist users who may have trouble using the standard gestures or the physical buttons on the iPad. For example, instead of using the swipe action (gesture) to move from screen to screen, you can tap on an icon instead. This may increase accessibility for users with a physical disability.

Once the feature is turned on in the accessibility settings, you can tap on a designated corner on the device to bring up the control panel.

Assistive Touch has four options in total:

  • Home – returns you to the home screen
  • Gestures – allows you to customise gestures
  • Favourites – gives access to default and customised gestures via a single tap
  • Device – gives access to lock screen, volume up and down, shake and rotate screen via a single tap

There is some speculation about whether this feature is a precursor to Apple removing physical buttons (such as the Home button) from future iOS devices. If this were to happen, it could negatively impact on people who are blind and vision impaired who can, for example, triple click the home button to turn accessibility features on and off. At the moment though, Assistive Touch does not replicate all functions performed by physical buttons, and there is no word from Apple of any intention to remove physical buttons.

Apple has continued to improve the accessibility features in iOS since June 2009. This control panel adds to the extensive list of already existing accessibility features in iOS 4 that enable people with disabilities to use their mobile devices.


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