Apple announced a batch of accessibility features at WWDC 2021 that cover a wide variety of needs, among them a few for people who can’t touch or ordinarily speak to their devices. With Assistive Touch, Sound Control, and other improvements, these folks have new options for interacting with an iPhone or Apple Watch.
We covered Assistive Touch when it was first announced but recently got a few more details. This feature lets anyone with an Apple Watch operate it with one hand using a variety of gestures. It came about when Apple heard from the community of people with limb differences — whether they’re missing an arm, or unable to use it reliably, or anything else — that as much as they liked the Apple Watch, they were tired of answering calls with their noses.
The research team cooked up a way to reliably detect the gestures of pinching one finger to the thumb or clenching the hand into a fist, based on how doing them causes the watch to move — it’s not detecting the nervous system signals or anything. These gestures and double versions of them can be set to a variety of quick actions. Among them is opening the “motion cursor,” a tiny dot that mimics the movements of the user’s wrist.
Considering how many people don’t use a hand, this could be a constructive way to get basic messaging, calling, and health-tracking tasks done without resorting to voice control.
Speaking of voice, that’s also something not everyone has at their disposal. However, many of those who can’t talk fluently can make many basic sounds, which can carry meaning for those who have learned — not so much Siri. But a new accessibility option called “Sound Control” lets these sounds be used as voice commands. You access it through Switch Control, not audio or voice, and add an audio switch.