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Simplifying to empower, Apple redesigns iOS for people with cognitive disabilities

Apple recently announced a suite of accessibility updates, including voice banking and a point-and-speak function in the iPhone's magnifier tool. A major new feature transforms how iOS looks and works across key apps. Called Assistive Access, it's aimed at enhancing the user experience for those with cognitive disabilities.

Assistive Access provides a redesigned experience across key functions. By distilling apps down to their essential components, the goal is to lighten the cognitive load for users. The focus is on activities integral to iPhone and iPad use, such as connecting with loved ones, capturing photos and listening to music. This approach was driven by comprehensive feedback from community groups and targets the functionalities people are most likely to use.

Users and their families or caregivers also have the flexibility to adapt the interface to specific needs, offering features like an emoji-only keyboard for those who prefer visual communication and an easy way to record video messages. In addition, Assistive Access provides a choice between a graphic, grid-based layout and a text-based row layout. This versatility in design allows users to select the format that best suits their mode of processing information.

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Apple's new feature underlines a shift in tech design that sees accessibility as a cornerstone, not an afterthought, and serves as a reminder of the importance of designing for all users.

As Katy Schmid, senior director of National Program Initiatives at The Arc, points out, "The intellectual and developmental disability community is bursting with creativity, but technology often poses physical, visual or knowledge barriers for these individuals. To have a feature that provides a cognitively accessible experience on iPhone or iPad — that means more open doors to education, employment, safety and autonomy. It means broadening worlds and expanding potential."

While Assistive Access was developed for people with cognitive disabilities, its benefits also extend to other users: people with low literacy or those who struggle with technology, for example. Which is, of course, the beauty of universal design and OMNIBILITY: by considering diverse user needs, brands can lower barriers to access for all.

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