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assistive technology

Tech Giants Take Action to Bridge the Accessibility Gap

The digital world, once a barrier for many with disabilities, is experiencing a seismic shift. Tech giants are moving beyond charitable gestures and fundamentally rethinking how their products can be universally usable. This shift towards inclusive design empowers the disabled community, unlocking a world of opportunity and connection. Let’s delve into the innovative solutions tech companies are developing to bridge the accessibility gap. 

Let your eyes do the talking 

Apple is developing a new eye-tracking feature for their iPad and iPhone devices that is designed to assist people with physical disabilities. This feature will allow users to control and navigate their Apple devices using only their eyes, without needing to touch the screen or use buttons physically.  

Previously, the eye tracking feature on iPhones and iPads required a separate device to function. Apple’s new built-in functionality leverages the device’s AI and machine learning (ML) smarts and the front-facing camera to track your eye movements seamlessly. This translates to effortless navigation through settings and apps, minimizing the need for manual input. The Dwell Control feature, located in the accessibility settings, will enable users to activate various UI elements and access additional functions, such as physical buttons, swipes, and other gestures, simply by focusing their eyes on the desired control for a certain amount of time. 

Overall, Apple’s new eye-tracking capability represents a significant step forward in empowering users with physical limitations to better access and participate digitally. 

Unlocking accessibility in gaming 

The world of gaming thrives on lightning-fast reflexes and precise hand movements. But for many gamers with motor disabilities, these physical demands can create a frustrating barrier to entry. This is where Google’s Project Gameface comes in.  

Launched in 2023, Project Gameface is an open-source, hands-free “mouse” designed for gamers with motor disabilities. It lets them control the game using just head movements and facial expressions. No more struggling with controllers – raise your eyebrows to click and drag or open your mouth to move the cursor.  

Originally designed for PC gamers with motor skills limitations, Google announced at its I/O 2024 developer conference that it is expanding Project Gameface to the Android platform. The updated version now supports 52 unique facial gestures that users can leverage to navigate and interact. 

However, Project Gameface’s impact extends far beyond just gaming. Google has also teamed up with Incluzza, a social enterprise supporting people with disabilities, to explore how this innovative control method can revolutionize education, work, and social interaction. 

Windows 11 gets more accessible 

In February 2024, Microsoft announced a wave of upgrades to its native accessibility features, Voice Access and Narrator, as part of the upcoming preview releases for Windows 11 versions 23H2 and 22H2.  

According to the company blog post, the Voice Access feature, especially helpful for people with disabilities, now supports a wider range of languages, including French, German, and Spanish. Users can also create their own custom voice shortcuts, enabling quick access to frequently used commands and streamlining their day-to-day computing experience. The feature works seamlessly across multiple displays with visual overlays to aid screen switching through voice alone. 

Narrator, a built-in screen reader tool in Windows 11, reads text and describes on-screen elements for users who are blind or visually impaired. The latest updates to Narrator allow users to preview voices before downloading them. Additionally, the Narrator has improved its ability to decipher text and handwriting in images. A new keyboard command has also been added for smoother navigation, allowing users to jump effortlessly between images on the screen and making navigating visually dense content easier. 

Enhanced viewing for all: Relumino mode 

Samsung takes mobile accessibility to the next level with the introduction of Relumino Mode on the Galaxy S24.  Originally launched for Samsung’s smart TVs, the innovative feature caters to users with visual impairments, offering a more inclusive and enjoyable mobile experience. 

The mode enhances the visual experience by increasing contrast, brightness, and outlining images to make them more distinguishable for users with vision impairments. It provides a more vivid and defined viewing experience by sharpening the edges of images and improving colour contrast. The Galaxy S24’s new Relumino Mode will allow users to fine-tune their phone’s screen for improved clarity. The mode is expected to be helpful for daily tasks like browsing the web, reading messages, and viewing multimedia content.  

With Relumino Mode, the Galaxy S24 goes beyond simply being a phone, it becomes an inclusive tool that unlocks the full potential of mobile technology for everyone. 

Distilled 

The tide is turning towards a truly inclusive digital landscape. Tech giants’ innovative efforts are dismantling barriers and fostering a more accessible online environment. This shift empowers individuals with disabilities to participate fully, unlocking a world of possibilities for connection, learning, and growth. We are moving towards a future where technology bridges the gap, not widens it, and where everyone can thrive in the vibrant tapestry of the digital world. 

Nidhi Singh