Apple brings multitouch to one finger for the disabled

David Pogue brings up a very interesting new accessibility feature in iOS 5 that allows people with motor skill disabilities to do multitouch gestures with one finger:

One new feature, called AssistiveTouch, is Apple’s accessibility team at its most creative. When you turn on this feature in Settings->General->Accessibility, a new, white circle appears at the bottom of the screen. It stays there all the time.

When you tap it, you get a floating on-screen palette. Its buttons trigger motions and gestures on the iPhone screen without requiring hand or multiple-finger movement. All you have to be able to do is tap with a single finger — even a stylus you’re holding in your teeth or fist.

For example, you can tap the Home on-screen button instead of pressing the physical Home button.
If you tap Device, you get a sub-palette of six functions that would otherwise require you to grasp the phone or push its tiny physical buttons. There’s Rotate Screen (tap this instead of turning the phone 90 degrees), Lock Screen (tap instead of pressing the Sleep switch), Volume Up and Volume Down (tap instead of pressing the volume keys), Shake (does the same as shaking the phone to undo typing), and Mute/Unmute (tap instead of flipping the small Mute switch on the side).

If you tap Gestures, you get a peculiar palette that depicts a hand holding up two, three, four, or five fingers. When you tap the three-finger icon, for example, you get three blue circles on the screen. They move together. Drag one of them, and the phone thinks you’re dragging three fingers on its surface. Using this technique, you can operate apps that require multiple fingers dragging on the screen.

I wrote a piece awhile ago about accessibility and usability features in the iPhone and iPad and how news apps were not making good use of these features. Despite being a touchscreen based phone, the iPhone is surprisingly usable for the blind and people with other disabilities. In fact, it’s often the phone of choice for people with disabilities. It’s great to see a company think of usability beyond just what it means for the able-bodied.

Good design has at its heart good usability.