Accessibility is for everyone

The point of my work as a freelancer writing about accessibility is to advocate for (and raise awareness of) iOS users with special needs. This is meaningful work to me, as I'm a disabled user myself, and I've worked with children with special needs who have leveraged iOS to help them learn. Yet, for as often as I champion Apple's work in making iOS usable by the disabled, so too have I tried to champion the idea of Accessibility's utility for those with no disabilities at all.

As I have written before, it is my strong belief that Accessibility, conceptually, is not a realm that's solely for people like me who have medically-sanctioned impairments. At its core, accessibility is about access --- empowering people to more easily use his or her device(s). Thus, there is a slew of Accessibility features within iOS that a fully-abled person can take advantage of to better use their iPhone or iPad.

With 2015 underway, I thought it would be helpful to review a few of the not-just-for-the-disabled Accessibility features of iOS.


AssistiveTouch uses software controls to mimic hardware-related actions. On iOS, turning on AssistiveTouch in Settings (Accessibility > Interaction) brings up an orb on-screen. When tapped, the orb presents a menu with common tasks. These include launching Siri, turning on and off Rotation Lock, and even going back to the Home screen. The idea behind AssistiveTouch is that it helps those with motor delays interact with their devices by making things like shaking their iPhone accessible with just a tap, rather than physical force.

The options AssistiveTouch offers are extensive — you can even create your own gestures for things and save them in a Favorites list. The benefits of AssistiveTouch for the non-disabled vary, from convenience to simply minimizing wear and tear on the physical Home button. Anecdotally speaking, AssistiveTouch use is big in China, and I've personally seen iPhones with AssistiveTouch enabled for the aforementioned reasons.

Button Shapes

If you're someone who longs for iOS 6-era affordance or has issues differentiating a button from regular text, enabling this setting (Accessibility > Button Shapes) will make you happy. The shapes aren't pretty, but they're functional.

The case for using Button Shapes is this: even with iOS 9 on the horizon, I still have some trouble distinguishing an actionable button from a simple text label. I've gotten used to the visual changes iOS 7 brought, although I still say the button design isn't good — not just for the visually impaired, but for everyone.

Captioning & Subtitles

Closed Captioning and Subtitles, which you can enable by going to Accessibility > Media, is a great way to see a transcription of what's being said on-screen. This is an obvious benefit to the deaf and hard of hearing, but it's also great for those without a hearing impairment. Captioning and subtitles are great as a supplement to audio for cases when someone is hard to hear or understand, or to follow along with the speaker, or the environment is noisy. It's also great, of course, when watching foreign films.

One notable aspect of Apple's implementation of Captioning & Subtitles is that it allows people to fully customize the look of the on-screen text. You can adjust the type of closed-captioning you'd like to see, as well as the typeface, color, and size of the font by tapping Style (below the Captioning & Subtitles ON/OFF switch).

Display Zoom

Display Zoom is not an Accessibility feature, per se, but it's nonetheless useful to the disabled and non-disabled alike. Display Zoom is a new option for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners, which is found by going to Display & Brightness > Display Zoom.

With Display Zoom, there are two modes: Standard and Zoomed. In Standard mode — which is the default — the screen shows more content, but items are smaller. Zoomed mode, on the other hand, shows less content but makes everything bigger. I find Standard mode to be sufficient, but choosing Zoomed is smart for people with aging or tired eyes who prefer interface elements be easier to see.

In the end, if one of your "tech resolutions" for the new year is to change the ways in which you use your iOS device(s), I strongly recommend exploring the Accessibility menu. As I stated at the outset, Accessibility isn't only for people with disabilities; everyone can benefit from them in order to better enjoy their devices.