TechOWL Tips: iOS 12 and Siri Shortcuts

While Apple’s latest iOS 12 contains some new accessibility features*, what it has really done is to add a lot of functionality to Siri. Siri can now perform a complex series of actions with a single voice command. These are called Shortcuts.  Apple is playing catch up with some of the other voice assistants, and this stands to benefit users of AAC.

Image of Hey Siri screen on iPhone

Siri will now suggest some shortcuts based on frequently performed actions. She might notice that you order your morning coffee through a certain app each day, and put a shortcut suggestion in your notifications. Once set up, you can create a “Siri phrase” to activate; “Hey Siri, order my usual.”  

Cartoon of man holding a huge cup of coffee

How do we set up more shortcuts?  There appear to be two main routes.  One is to download the Shortcuts app from the app store.  Within the app, there is a gallery of shortcuts that you can use right away (this app used to be called Workflow). Once you have selected a shortcut, you can edit for the actions it will perform and your personal information. You may have to input phone numbers, addresses, or select people from your contacts list.

To edit a shortcut, tap the three circles on the top right of the icon.  That will pull up the menu of the actions within. You can then customize the information that the shortcut will use.  If you decide you want to delete a shortcut, tap the edit button at the top of the screen. The icons will then wobble.  You can then tap the icon to select it, and use the trash can at the top of the screen.

But, once created, how do these shortcuts work with Siri?  First, you will need to have set up “Hey Siri”. You can then choose your custom Siri phrase. There are two ways to do this.  

Back in your Shortcuts Library, tap the three circles on the shortcut icon. Then tap the toggle icon at the top of the screen.  From there, you can “Add to Siri”.

 Image of shortcut setting with arrow to the toggle button         Image of settings screen within a shortcut

Your other option is to go directly to device settings:

Settings → Siri & Search → My Shortcuts →

Image of Siri and Search option in iPhone settings

Tap on the shortcut and you will be directed to type or retype your Siri phrase (you can also use the microphone). New shortcuts may also show up here under Suggested Shortcuts.  Tap the + sign to add and create your Siri phrase.

Image of suggested shortcuts in iPhone settings

One potential hurdle for me personally will be remembering exactly what my Siri phrase is to initiate a particular action.  This will not be a problem for people who use AAC. Once that phrase is programmed into your device, it is the same every time!

Why do shortcuts matter to users of AAC?

By being able to activate a complex series of actions using a single voice command, it becomes easier to perform many of the same actions we expect from the Amazon Echo, or Google Home. For instance, you can set your Nest smart thermostat using Siri.

Image of a Nest smart home thermostat

Apple devices are also more portable than either Alexa or Google Home (which have to be plugged in).  As long as you can get on Wifi, you can use Siri Shortcuts anywhere.

Image of an unplugged cord

AAC users can create a folder on their speech generating device containing their custom Siri phrases. For instance, you could use a shortcut to hear the weather, get directions, start your 80’s playlist, or take a selfie.

However, it doesn’t appear you can use “Hey Siri” to activate the shortcuts from within your AAC app on the same Apple device (I know, that would be too much to ask for).  Saying, “Hey Siri” immediately takes you out of the app (I tried this with the TouchChat).

The list of available shortcuts is certain to grow, as Apple has opened up integration with apps from third party developers. This has great potential to support people with different types of disabilities.

For instance, you can already activate the Where Next? shortcut.  This shortcut integrates your Apple calendar, Maps, and location services.  You can set up a phrase for Siri, such as, “Where do I go next?” The shortcut will then open up Maps and give you directions to your next location, including walking directions. This could help someone who needs support with organization to participate in the workforce or recreation.  

Image from Apple Maps

The Speak Body of Article shortcut can read the body text from any article opened in the Safari web browser. This will be useful for those who benefit from hearing information out loud, whatever the reason.  

Image of Speak Body of Article shortcut, circled.

Using the app, you can program your own customized shortcuts, but that is a whole ‘nother article.  I am not very good at it yet. But there are already plenty in the gallery to explore. Even a Shakespeare Insult Generator.  Have fun!

Image of a "shakespeare" insult: The goatish crook-patted malcontent!



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