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Why the iPhone 5s is a terrific accessibility tool

Steven Aquino | Jan. 9, 2014
When you think of accessibility and Apple, you probably think of iOS features like Dictation, Speak Selection and even FaceTime, but Steven Aquino argues great hardware makes a difference, too.

Hands on with iPhone 5s
JASON SNELL. Thin and light, the iPhone 5 and 5s are much easier to hold for people with small hands or limited strength in their fingers.

The body of the iPhone 5s is so much thinner and lighter than my 4s that I find I don't need to grip it as tightly. The aluminum enclosure is much lighter (and more durable) than the glass on my 4S, making it easier for me to hold it for prolonged periods without getting muscle cramps. The phone's size also makes it easier to get it in and out of my pocket--something I do repeatedly throughout the day.

It's easier to use, with special thanks to Touch ID
When Phil Schiller revealed the Touch ID sensor as the marquee feature of the iPhone 5s, I immediately started contemplating its potential impact on accessibility. I was so intrigued by the idea that I wrote about it twice, wherein I posited that the fingerprint sensor would be a dark-horse accessibility tool.

It turns out I wasn't alone in my thinking. For me, the hypothesis turned out to be correct. Simply resting my thumb on the Home button to unlock my phone and to make iTunes purchases is worlds better than clumsily hunting-and-pecking out my passcode and Apple ID password. For those with vision- and motor-related disabilities, the fact that you're able to just rest your finger on the Home button to carry out common security tasks is an absolute game-changer. In fact, I would say Touch ID alone makes the 5s a worthwhile buy for any user with special needs; it's that good.

 Touch ID isn't just a nifty tool for me; it makes using my iPhone much, much easier.

What's next? 
Truthfully, there aren't many nits to pick about the iPhone 5s. I love it. But, looking forward, I hope Apple will keep improving the iPhone's accessibility features, both in hardware and software.

Siri for everyone: Siri, Apple's voice recognition-based personal assistant, sounds like a great idea for people with motor or vision difficulties. After all, if you can just dictate your text messages and tell your phone to remember appointments, you're spared the need to type or tap. If you have speech impediments like me, however, it's a bust. I stutter, which makes it very hard for Siri to understand me. Oftentimes it takes a few seconds to get out the words, and Siri will cut me off because it thinks I've finished talking.

The bigger issue, though, is that more often than not Siri inaccurately parses what I did say, which leaves me frustrated. It's gotten to a point where Siri is so unusable that I forego using my voice to do anything. (And, let's face it, I'm not the only one who has trouble with Siri.) If Apple wants to continue touting Siri as a hallmark feature of the iPhone, it had better work hard to ensure Siri plays well with everyone.


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