The iPhone and iPad will soon be even simpler to use for people with a wide range of disabilities thanks to a new software update, Apple Inc. officials said this week.

Changes designed to make the popular mobile devices more accessible are expected in a forthcoming update to Apple’s iOS software, the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

A new feature called “Guided Access” will be especially beneficial for students with disabilities like autism, Apple representatives said, by helping users to “remain on task and focused on content.” The offering allows parents and educators to limit access on a device to one specific app by essentially turning off the “home” button and restricting areas of the touch screen that respond to commands.

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“We’ve been surprised by the number of children with autism who’ve been flocking to our devices, especially our iPads, and we want to make that experience even better,” said Scott Forstall, the Apple executive responsible for the new software, in announcing Guided Access. “It allows children with autism to learn independently on their iPad.”

In addition, the new software will include added screen reader functions to allow those with vision impairments improved access to maps and other features.

Apple’s devices have long been regarded as ahead of the curve in terms of disability access. But in unveiling the new software Monday at the tech-giant’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, company officials are becoming increasingly overt in their emphasis on the disability market.

Accessibility was highlighted as one of 10 key areas that will see improvements in the new mobile operating system alongside hallmarks like phone, email and Web browsing functionalities.

The new software known as iOS 6 is expected to be available this fall as a free download for the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, the new iPad, iPad 2 and iPod touch (fourth generation).