Listen up, iPhone’s hearing accessibility tools can really help


In mid 2020 Apple released iOS 14 for iPhone, and with it came a whole raft of accessibility features that will make life easier for many users. For those who could benefit from some help to hear more clearly there’s on in particular that’s worth a look: Headphone Accommodations.

There are already custom audio headphones on the market, like those from Audera or BeyerDynamic, which boost certain frequencies based on the results of a hearing test. On iPhone that’s now been introduced at an OS level and works with AirPods of all flavours, including the new AirPods Max, and some Beats headphones.

Hearing Accomodations boost certain frequencies your ears may have trouble with, if you’re using certain Apple headphones.

Hearing Accomodations boost certain frequencies your ears may have trouble with, if you’re using certain Apple headphones.

Although Headphone Accommodations lacks the attention to detail some headphones offer, the three levels of changes per ear will probably suit a lot of people who need it. Everyone else can use apps like The Mimi Hearing Test and SonicCloud to generate an audiogram that can be uploaded for more precise adjustment.

Most people think of things like adaptive headphones as being something just for older people with serious age-related hearing loss, or for those with serious problems. But it’s a rare person over the age of 25 who doesn’t have some degree of hearing loss.

“When you think about hearing accessibility, that could be everything from someone who is profoundly deaf, to age related hearing loss, to situational hearing loss, to people who just want to be able to use our products to get better sound,” said Sarah Herrlinger, VP of Accessibility at Apple. “We don’t see it as only one thing for one person.”

Where Headphone Accommodations becomes more useful is when it’s stacked with other features and accessibility options, like transparency mode on AirPods Pro.


“One of the fun things about accessibility is you can build something for one community, and have great applicability for another community as well. A lot of disabilities do come in pairs and triplets, so it’s nice to have things that seamlessly work together,” Herrlinger said.

So, say a blind person was using audio navigation on their AirPods Pro with transparency mode on, their missing frequencies wouldn’t just be boosted on the navigation voice, but also the sounds of the world around them.

Those same accommodations also apply when using the Live Listen feature, which is most commonly used by people who either don’t quite need hearing aids, or aren’t ready for them yet. So, a student could put their phone up the front of a lecture hall and hear the lecture more clearly with their AirPods in their ears. Or someone dining in a busy restaurant who has difficulty distinguishing sounds in loud environments could use AirPods Pro with noise cancelling to just focus on the person in front of them after moving their phone into the right position.

“I get to see a lot of the customer feedback that comes in from people who say things like ‘this changed my parent’s life and I now feel like they’re far more connected to the conversation that’s going on around them’,” Herrlinger said.


Everyone who is lucky enough to live even a medium-length life will one day require some kind of accessibility feature, whether they’re ones designed for their current ailment, or a MacGyvered combo.

“In terms of who uses accessibility features, we would like to think anyone. But we build them for the communities that we know otherwise might not be able to use technology. If they’re not using technology, that may mean that they’re losing education or a sense of community,” Herrlinger said.

If you’re wanting to try Headphone Accomodations, you can find them on your iPhone by going to Settings > Accessibility > Audio/Visual > Headphone Accommodations.

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