How to use an Apple Watch when you don’t see well

With Global Accessibility Awareness Day coming up on May 17, I thought it would be appropriate to observe that Apple’s commitment to empowering all of its customers extends even to its smallest major product, Apple Watch.

Apple believes accessibility to be a “human right”, and has led the industry on making such empowering tools available in its core products for decades– even while competitors charged for similar features.

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, last year said:

“Apple is founded on giving people power to create things, to do things they couldn’t do without those tools. We’ve always viewed accessibility as a human right, and just like human rights are for everyone, we want our products to be accessible to everyone.

“It’s a basic core value of Apple. We don’t make products for a particular group of people; we make products for everybody. We feel very strongly that everyone deserves an equal opportunity and equal access. We don’t look at this thing for a return on investment. I’ve been asked that before and the answer is no. We don’t care about that.”

Apple has woven accessibility tools inside all its products, and they make a huge difference to people, as this CNet report (and these user reports) show. Apple’s smallest product, Apple Watch, is no exception. Here’s what you need to know:

Make the watch face bigger

Beginning with the obvious: If you have difficulty seeing your watch then you might want to try the  X-Large watch face that you can enable on your iPhone in Face Gallery inside your My Watch app. You can customize this with one Complication, such as Activity. Just press and hold your watch face and select X Large (you may need to tap the Plus icon) to use this face.

How to access Apple Watch Accessibility settings

There are three ways to access Accessibility settings on your Apple Watch – the easiest is to press and hold the Digital Crown and ask Siri to open Accessibility Settings. You can also:

  • On Watch: Open Settings>General>Accessiblity
  • On iPhone: Watch>My Watch > General > Accessibility.

What are the Vision-related settings?

Apple has developed several tools it hopes makes an Apple Watch more usable if you for some reason have limited vision. You’ll find these tools bundled inside of Accessiblity>Vision.

What is VoiceOver and how do I use it?

VoiceOver is Apple’s built-in screen reader that describes what your Watch is doing and tries to help you navigate it even when you can’t see it. To use it, swipe left or right across the screen to select something, and then double-tap to activate it. There is also a feature called Screen Curtain. This is designed to protect your information when you are in a public place and is described in full in this Apple Support document.

How to use Zoom on Apple Watch

Zoom is quite smart. It will magnify what’s on the watch face up to 15-times. When enabled this feature will kick into action when you tap the Watch screen with two fingers. The problem with this is that when you have something magnified that large you’ll find yourself unable to see all of it because it won’t fit on the screen, but Apple’s thought of this: Just scroll your Digital Crown to move across the screen by rows, or use two fingers to move around your screen.

[Also read: How Apple could innovate white canes for sight loss]

Another tool: Reduce Motion

Some Apple Watch users may need to reduce the amount of movement they encounter when moving some items around the screen. That’s what Reduce Motion does once it is enabled.

How to use On/Off Labels

Enable this feature and you will find it much easier to tell if a feature is on or off, as the Watch will show you.

What other settings should I learn?

Apple has also provided a bunch of additional settings that may be of use to visually impaired Apple Watch users. These are scattered elsewhere across the watch. (Given Accessibility means making things easier, I don’t really understand why the same setting can’t be in multiple places, so the vision set would include all of these in one place, but I’m not in charge of such matters). Here are some of the key settings you may want to learn, where to find them, and what they do.

How to enable Grayscale on Apple Watch

If color is a problem when reading text or staring at screens, Apple has a hidden Grayscale mode you can enable on your Apple Watch. You need to use your iPhone to enable this mode in the Watch app. Go to General>Accessibility and toggle Greyscale to on.

What visual enhancements may help make it easier to use?

There are other important visual enhancements that may make an Apple Watch easier to use if you don’t see too well.

Increase text size

Open Settings>Brightness & Text and choose Text Size to increase the size of the text on your Apple Watch. Apps that support Dynamic Type will use the larger font in future.

Bold Text

When you enable this Setting text looks darker. You can also use the Text Size setting to make text large on screen. You can get to both of these settings on Apple Watch>Settings>Brightness & Text Size, or on the watch app on your iPhone in Brightness & Text Size.

Reduce Transparency

To increase contrast on the device and make the background less transparent, toggle the Reduce Transparency setting (iPhone> Apple Watch>Settings).

Boost haptic feedback

From the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, or from your Apple Watch, go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics. Here you can increase the intensity of the haptic (tap) you get when being alerted to events on your watch.

These aren’t the only ways Apple works to make its products accessible to people – and the company continues to work on making it even easier to empower its customers. “Every year we try to add in new things,” said Apple’s accessibility head Sarah Herrlinger. “We do look at how can we make it slightly better year over year.”

Above: Way back in 2015, this is how a blind person made use of Apple Watch.

Have you come across any other tips or tools that make it easier to use an Apple Watch when you are suffering from temporary or permanent image impairment? Please let everyone else know in comments below.

More on Apple’s accessibility ideas here.

Jonny Evans

Watching Apple since 1999. I don't say what they should do. I say what they might do. They sometimes do.

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