In every iteration of iOS, new features are added to improve the user experience for individuals with disabilities.
Here's a list of new features and enhancements in iOS 8 that target individuals with mobility impairments, including spinal cord injuries, strokes, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other conditions that would prevent them from using a touchscreen.
Since Switch Control was introduced last year with iOS 7, it has changed the way people with limited mobility (like quadriplegics) interact with their iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Switch Control allows people who don't have the hand mobility to use a touchscreen to navigate their device, select any screen item, and even emulate more complex gestures like dragging and pinching. Paired with the Tecla Shied, they can do all this using just their ability switches or driving controls of their wheelchairs.
In iOS 8, Switch Control can now be found under 'Interaction' in the Accessibility settings. With the update, there have been changes to make Switch Control even easier and more efficient to use.
The Scanner Menu now presents a simplified menu with relevant options that vary from app to app. For example, in the Mail app, you'll see a Sort button. All other Scanner Menu options have moved to the second page. The Scanner Menu options are now grouped in rows and columns as long as the 'Group Items' option is enabled in the Switch Control settings.
Some other changes in Switch Control are related to Point Mode. Point Mode allows you to select a specific point on the screen by choosing an x coordinate first and then a y one, and emulating a touch gesture there. Switching to this mode is now easier as it appears in the Scanner Menu's first page. Another enhancement is that now the gliding speed in Point Mode can be set to slower rates being much easier to use for some people.
The built-in keyboard now has word prediction, not just Auto-Complete like prior versions. The new keyboard can learn your writing style and improves in its predictions over time. It also displays different words depending on the app. For example: in Messages, more casual language would be displayed than in Mail where it would default to show more formal words.
iOS 8 also allows you to install keyboards from third-parties. This is really beneficial to users who may need an alternative keyboard layout (for example: a frequency-of-use keyboard) or more powerful word prediction. AssistiveWare has already released two keyboards for beginner typists and they are working on one for switch users.
One new feature of Siri is that it can now be listening at all times if the device is connected to a power source. This can help speed up some tasks like sending a quick message or placing a call.
There is a new feature called Speak Screen (available under the Accessibility settings for 'Vision') that can be used to read text or books aloud. This function can also be used as a very simple speech generator, especially when combined with the new word prediction feature. Once Speak Screen is activated in the Accessibility settings, it becomes available in the Scanner Menu under 'Device.' There is no need to select the text before reading and in the case of books, it will continue to pass pages until you stop it!
Home Kit allows users to communicate and control connected accessories in a home. This is of great benefit to people with mobility impairments who are unable to use the buttons on a traditional remote control or cannot reach their light switches, for example. Quadriplegics and others with limited mobility can now leverage inexpensive devices to control their environment from their iPhone or iPad. There are now universal remote controls, like the Logitech Harmony Hub which can control any infrared device, as well as Wi-Fi enabled light bulbs, and thermostats and smoke alarms like Nest that can be controlled from the phone or tablet. Check this review of the Harmony Hub.
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