Apple Releases a Big Accessibility Upgrade with “Voice Control”

Man sitting in power wheelchair shown using Voice Control, an accessibility feature, on his Apple desktop computer

On June 3, Apple announced the release of Voice Control, a new system for controlling its computers and mobile devices with your voice. The commercial shows Ian Mackay, a C3-4 quad, using Voice Control to do things like swipe photos, zoom in and select points on a map, compose and send texts or emails, or anything else that is typically performed via touch screen or mouse and keyboard. Mackay, a United Spinal member who has done accessibility consulting with Apple, says the technology could be “revolutionary” for people with disabilities, “It really allows full interaction.”

Apple devices already offered a functional accessibility option called Switch Control, which it released in 2013. Switch Control was revolutionary in its own right, because it offered full system functionality through binary switches like a sip and puff controller or a head-operated button.

Voice Control offers a more intuitive method of performing many of the same functions, but it also offers some unique features. For Mackay, where the new system really shines is in its dictation capabilities, which he calls “comparable, if not superior” to Dragon Naturally Speaking, long-considered the industry leader in voice recognition and dictation. “Right now, if I’m writing an email or long text with Siri, it can be really tricky to edit mistakes like a small error within my paragraph. This allows it to be so much easier for dictation and editing in general,” he says. “I think it’s really going to change our level of independence for those of us with high mobility impairments.”

While being able to control your phone or computer with just your voice will be useful for all sorts of reasons, there are going to be situations — whether at a noisy restaurant, outside in a breeze or dealing with private matters in a public place — where using Voice Control isn’t functional or practical. For himself and others with limited upper-extremity function, Mackay sees Voice Control as a tool to supplement, rather than replace Switch Control. “Voice Control is just going to add to our capabilities,” he says.

Voice Control will be available on iOS 13 and MacOS Catalina, both of which are expected to be released this fall.

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