Many blind or deaf people can hardly imagine life without a smartphone because the device opens doors to a world that would otherwise remain closed.

Apple and Google are introducing new software functions for smartphones, tablets and personal computers to make devices with their operating systems even more accessible for people with disabilities.

For example, Apple is bringing live subtitles to the screens of its devices for the deaf and hard of hearing community, the iPhone manufacturer announced on World Accessibility Day. It would make it easier for users to follow audio content – whether they’re on a phone call, using a video conference or social media app, streaming media content, or chatting with someone next to them.

The live subtitles will initially only be offered in English. When they will be available in German is still open. Google introduced a similar function for its Pixel smartphones last fall.

Lookout und Live Transcribe

At the Google I/O developer fair last week, further improvements for the Android mobile system were announced to lower barriers for disabled people. A new version of the Lookout application was presented, with which blind or partially sighted people can have the content of photos described.

Lookout 3.0 focuses on photos from the news and social networks. The app can also read out texts that can be seen in the picture. The Live Transcribe app, which converts spoken language into writing and recognizes everyday noises such as a doorbell, has also been significantly improved.

Apple also introduced the “Door Recognition” feature. “This makes it easier for the blind and visually impaired to navigate the last few meters to their destination,” says Sarah Herrlinger, who is responsible for accessibility worldwide in the group. For example, the application reports whether a door is open or closed, what signs or notices are around it and whether you have to push the door open, pull it open or press a button. “Door recognition” can be called up using the magnifying glass app on the iPhone.

New barriers in home appliances

On “World Accessibility Day”, experts also pointed out that some everyday household appliances such as ovens, toasters, washing machines or even kettles are becoming increasingly difficult to use for the disabled. For example, manufacturers would replace conventional switches or knobs on the devices with touch screens that are not designed to be barrier-free.

In some cases, such devices can also be operated by the disabled if there is an associated smartphone app that can read out the temperature or the set program for ovens, for example, said Artur Ortega, software architect at British healthcare provider Babylon Health. “But to do this, the apps must also be designed to be barrier-free.”

In contrast to manufacturers from the USA, where accessibility is required by law in many cases, manufacturers from Germany in particular have a lot of catching up to do.