Google Maps is getting a big accessibility update that could change how people connect with the world

Google is introducing new accessibility features to several of its platforms to help people with disabilities get around town more easily.

A few of the six changes will be exclusive to smartphones. Search with Live View on Google Maps will receive “screen reader capabilities… [giving] auditory feedback of the place around you”. This tool is meant to help “people who are blind or low-vision” get helpful info like the name or category of a location and how far away it is from their current position. All users have to do to activate it is tap the camera icon in the Google Maps search bar and then aim the rear camera at whatever is around them.  

Google Maps screen reader

(Image credit: Google)

The screen reader is making its way to iOS starting today with the Android version rolling out in the coming months. Also coming to mobile, the Chrome app’s address bar will be able to detect typos in text and display “suggested websites” according to what the browser thinks you’re looking for. This second tool is meant to help people with dyslexia find the content they’re looking for.

Google points out these two build on top of the recently released accessibility features on Pixel phones like the Magnifier app as well as the upgraded Guided Frame. The latter can help blind people take selfies by utilizing a “combination of audio cues, high-contrast animations, and haptic feedback”. 

Guided Frame is available on the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro with plans to expand it to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 by the end of the year.

Magnifier on Google Pixel

(Image credit: Google)

Easier navigation

The rest of the update consists of minor tweaks to select apps.

First, Google Maps on mobile is adding a “wheelchair-accessible transit” option for people looking for locations that don’t have any stairs at the entrance as well as buildings that are wheelchair friendly. Similarly, Maps for Android Auto will indicate “wheelchair-accessible places” on the screen with a little blue icon next to relevant results. Additionally, local businesses have the opportunity to label themselves as “Disabled-owned” on Google Search in case you want to support them directly.

The last change sees Assistant Routines on Google Home become more like the company's Actions Block app as users can configure the icons on the main screen however they want. For example, the on-screen icons can be increased in size and you can alter the thumbnail image for one of the blocks.

A Google representative told us this batch is currently rolling out so keep an eye out for the patch when it arrives.

We recommend checking out TechRadar’s list of the best text-to-speech software for 2023 if you’re looking for other ways to help you navigate the internet. 

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Windows 11 update has system-wide live captions to help boost its accessibility aims

Despite Windows 11 being sequestered behind hardware requirements such as TPM, Microsoft is doing its best to make its latest OS as accessible as possible for the deaf and hard of hearing communities, with all new system-wide live captions. 

Available today (April 5) after Microsoft's event, the brand new live captions feature allows users who may be deaf, hard of hearing or those who just like subtitles to easily access captions across all audio experiences and apps across Windows. 

Live Captions will also work on web-based audio, allowing users to view auto-generated captions on websites and streaming services that might not otherwise support or have the best captions. 

Unfortunately, it is currently unclear if Microsoft will be bringing the live captions feature to Windows 10, in order to let as many users as possible utilize this useful accessibility feature. 


Analysis: an accessibility win that is not accessible for everyone

There is no denying that more accessibility options are a good thing regardless of where you use them yourself or not, however, Microsoft deserves as much criticism as praise for this new feature as, for now, they’re keeping it exclusive to Windows 11. 

With Windows 11’s growth recently being shown to have dramatically stalled in March, it makes sense that Microsoft’s latest OS may need some more killer features to tempt users into upgrading from Windows 10, however holding accessibility features random certainly is not the way to do it. 

While holding this feature to ransom would be bad enough if upgrading was a simple one-click process, Windows 11 does not make things that easy as it infamously requires TPM 2.0, a feature that many computers, manufactured before 2017, do not have.

Mercifully, captioning services are becoming more and more common across web pages and streaming services, you can even listen to all of our articles, for instance, however, these services all have their potential problems and require individual set up, so it's far from a perfect solution. 

With Microsoft having only just announced this new feature for Windows 11 during their hybrid work event, we can only hope that it is not too long before the tech giant sees sense and brings this feature to older versions of Windows to benefit all users, rather than just those on Windows 11.

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Windows 11 update has system-wide live captions to help boost its accessibility aims

Despite Windows 11 being sequestered behind hardware requirements such as TPM, Microsoft is doing its best to make its latest OS as accessible as possible for the deaf and hard of hearing communities, with all new system-wide live captions. 

Available today (April 5) after Microsoft's event, the brand new live captions feature allows users who may be deaf, hard of hearing or those who just like subtitles to easily access captions across all audio experiences and apps across Windows. 

Live Captions will also work on web-based audio, allowing users to view auto-generated captions on websites and streaming services that might not otherwise support or have the best captions. 

Unfortunately, it is currently unclear if Microsoft will be bringing the live captions feature to Windows 10, in order to let as many users as possible utilize this useful accessibility feature. 


Analysis: an accessibility win that is not accessible for everyone

There is no denying that more accessibility options are a good thing regardless of where you use them yourself or not, however, Microsoft deserves as much criticism as praise for this new feature as, for now, they’re keeping it exclusive to Windows 11. 

With Windows 11’s growth recently being shown to have dramatically stalled in March, it makes sense that Microsoft’s latest OS may need some more killer features to tempt users into upgrading from Windows 10, however holding accessibility features random certainly is not the way to do it. 

While holding this feature to ransom would be bad enough if upgrading was a simple one-click process, Windows 11 does not make things that easy as it infamously requires TPM 2.0, a feature that many computers, manufactured before 2017, do not have.

Mercifully, captioning services are becoming more and more common across web pages and streaming services, you can even listen to all of our articles, for instance, however, these services all have their potential problems and require individual set up, so it's far from a perfect solution. 

With Microsoft having only just announced this new feature for Windows 11 during their hybrid work event, we can only hope that it is not too long before the tech giant sees sense and brings this feature to older versions of Windows to benefit all users, rather than just those on Windows 11.

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Siri is yet to regain crucial accessibility features that disappeared with iOS 15

Apple is still yet to reinstate functionality which was removed in iOS 15, where Siri could perform various tasks such as checking and playing voicemails.

The commands in question are valuable on the accessibility front, with the visually impaired or legally blind – or indeed other Apple device owners – are able to use them to keep on top of their voicemail as mentioned, or to instruct Siri to send an email, check recent calls, or call history.

MacRumors highlighted the functionality which went missing back in September, just after iOS 15 was released, and the site reminds us that these features haven’t been restored to Siri, despite growing complaints around this.

An inaccessible Siri for some

One reader told MacRumors: “For many fully blind people (like my blind mom) this makes their phone almost unusable, because they can’t ask Siri who has called, and they can’t ask Siri if they have voicemail. (Their official ‘workaround’ for voicemail, in fact, is calling the old-school carrier voicemail number, to check your voicemail over the phone.)”

Another message on Apple’s support forum reads: “My cousin who is legally blind is also experiencing this issue. He uses the read missed call and open voicemail when doctors call and leave messages. It allows him the opportunity to hear who called and he can call back. It has been a wonderful feature for him and I’m hoping that a fix will happen so that he can be able to use the feature again.”

There are also complaints on Reddit like this: “My dad is blind and uses Siri to operate a lot of his iPhone. This week we’ve noticed when he asks Siri to play voicemail or missed calls she says she can’t help with that.”

We've reached out to Apple for comment and will update this story once we hear back.


Analysis: Reasons why are unclear – but keep the feedback flowing on this

It’s unclear whether Apple intentionally removed the support for these features with iOS 15 – and if so, why that was done – or if it’s wrapped up in some bug – and if it’s the latter, whether a fix is coming soon. But whatever the case, this represents a worrying step backwards in terms of accessibility for iOS devices, to say the least.

While Apple itself hasn’t commented directly, as MacRumors notes – we’ve also reached out to the company to try and ascertain what’s going on here, and will update this story if we hear back – one message on the Apple help forum claims to have had a reply from the Accessibility Support team. They were advised to again contact Accessibility Support and “have your Apple ID added to the official engineering issue as an ‘affected user’ so that you receive the mass emails about the status of this fix”.

Further advice was to submit feedback on the missing features, as the more of that feedback which is gathered “does affect engineering’s prioritization of this issue”.

There may be hope yet, then, for some kind of return of these capabilities to Siri in the near future. Fingers crossed.

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