Intro to iOS Accessibility for Blind and Low Vision Users

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Apple’s iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Watch) come with accessibility features built-in. The purpose of this document is to give the blind or low vision user a concise introduction to the accessibility features offered on iOS devices.

VoiceOver

An Introduction to VoiceOver

  • VoiceOver is a "screen reader"; it reads text aloud on the screen.
  • To enable VoiceOver, go to Settings> General> Accessibility> VoiceOver.
  • You can also tell Siri, “Turn on VoiceOver.”

Navigating the Screen with VoiceOver

  • To hear VoiceOver speak an item, tap it with one finger.
  • To activate an item, quickly double tap it with one finger.
  • Navigate the screen by swiping left and right with one finger or exploring by touch.
  • To scroll, swipe with three fingers.
  • To go back a screen, use a left-to-right two-finger "scrub" gesture.
  • To perform a "say all" and read everything on the screen, swipe down with two fingers.

Typing with VoiceOver

  • Locate the desired letter on the on-screen keyboard, either by swiping or exploring by touch.
  • Double-tap the desired letter to enter it.
  • Holding one finger on the desired letter and single-tapping the screen with another finger also works and may be more convenient. This is called a “split-tap” gesture.
  • If a mistake is made, double-tapping the “Delete” button will remove the character.
  • Other typing options are available, such as Braille Screen Input, Handwriting Mode, and Touch Typing Mode.

VoiceOver Settings

  • Access all VoiceOver settings in Settings> General> Accessibility> VoiceOver.
  • Speaking Rate: Adjusts the speaking rate of the text-to-speech voice.
  • Speak Hints: Toggles whether VoiceOver provides hints on navigating the interface; good for beginners.
  • Use Pitch Change: Changes the pitch of the text-to-speech voice for hints, capitalized, typed, and deleted letters.
  • Use Sound Effects: When enabled, VoiceOver plays a sound when one moves from element to element on the screen.
  • Speech (Settings): Allows one to change the dialect of the voice and, for devices that support it, the speech synthesizer.
  • Braille (Settings): Allows one to change a variety of Braille-specific settings.
  • Rotor (Settings): Allows one to customize which items appear in the VoiceOver rotor—discussed in the next section.
  • Typing Style: Allows one to choose between Standard Typing (discussed earlier), Touch Typing, and Direct Touch Typing.
  • Phonetic Feedback: Speaks a phonetic word after reading a letter on the keyboard.
  • Typing Feedback: Controls whether VoiceOver speaks characters, words, characters and words, or nothing when they are typed.
  • Always Speak Notifications: Toggles whether VoiceOver speaks the full text of incoming notifications when the screen is locked.
  • Navigate Images: Controls whether VoiceOver skips images when swiping through the screen.
  • Large Cursor: Provides extra visual emphasis as to the location of VoiceOver focus.

The VoiceOver Rotor

  • There are two purposes of the rotor: to change settings quickly and advanced navigation.
  • To use the rotor: place two fingers on the screen, with some space in-between them.
  • Rotate your fingers as though turning a radio dial; this often involves rotating your entire hand.
  • VoiceOver will make a ticking noise as you turn the rotor, announcing various options as you reach them.
  • Commonly-enabled rotor settings include speech rate, typing preference, Braille Screen Input, Handwriting Mode, moving by character/word/line, etc.

Other Helpful Hints for VoiceOver Use

  • Three-Finger Triple Tap: Enables the screen curtain—most useful for privacy. If you have speech but nothing visually displayed on the screen, check this setting.
  • Three-Finger Double Tap: Toggles speech. If VoiceOver is on but you have no speech, check this setting.
  • In some situations the volume of the device can be accidentally lowered, so this is also something to check if VoiceOver is enabled but there appears to be no speech.
  • Four-Finger Double Tap: Enables (and disables) VoiceOver help and is a great way to practice VoiceOver gestures.

Low Vision Accessibility Features

  • Zoom: A built-in magnifier that works across the operating system.
  • Invert Colors: Flips all colors on the screen.
  • Grayscale: Displays the entire user interface in different shades of gray.
  • Larger Text: Allows one to enlarge the font across a variety of built-in and third-party apps.
  • Bold Text: When enabled, makes text thicker across a range of built-in applications.
  • Button Shapes: Makes buttons easier to distinguish from other user interface elements, such as icons.
  • Increase Contrast (Settings): Allows one to customize the visual contrast of the user interface through Reduce Transparency, Darken Colors, and Reduce White Point options.
  • Reduce Motion: Reduces the motion of backgrounds, wallpapers, and other user interface elements.
  • On/Off Labels: Rather than using colors, indicates whether a setting is enabled or disabled with the numbers 1 and 0, respectively.

Siri

  • Siri is Apple’s personal digital assistant.
  • While Siri was not designed specifically as an accessibility feature, it can enhance the iOS user experience for blind and low vision users.
  • To use Siri, press and hold the Home button until you hear the device beep. Speak your request, then release the Home button.
  • Siri will speak its response.
  • Press and hold the Home button again to continue interacting with Siri, or press the Home button without holding to dismiss it.

Apps and VoiceOver Accessibility

  • Many, but not all, apps are accessible with VoiceOver.
  • App developers must take specific steps to ensure that their app fully supports VoiceOver.
  • Some apps are not accessible because of their nature, e.g. video games.
  • Inaccessible apps are generally so only because developers are not aware of VoiceOver.
  • Many developers are quite receptive to accessibility improvement requests.

Additional Resources

AppleVis has a number of resources to help both new and experienced iOS users get the most out of their device:

Getting Started with Your First iOS Device

If you’ve just obtained your first iOS device, you probably have a lot of questions. To help, we’ve put together a series of posts from across the AppleVis website which will hopefully both answer your questions, as well as get you well on your way to enjoying all that iOS devices have to offer.

Visit Page: "Getting Started with Your First iOS Device"

35 Apps to Help You Get Started with a New iOS Device

The AppleVis Editorial Team has hand-picked a set of 35 apps to help new users get started with their first iOS device. The list includes apps for social networking, entertainment, productivity, news/information, and those developed specifically for blind or low vision users. When reading this list, it’s important to remember that our selection represents only a fraction of the accessible apps available to VoiceOver users.

Read Post: "35 Apps to Help You Get Started with a New iOS Device"

AppleVis Unlimited

AppleVis Unlimited is AppleVis’ monthly newsletter, highlighting new and noteworthy content posted to the AppleVis website. It includes a section for new and updated app entries; blogs; and podcasts. (Note: AppleVis Unlimited is also posted on the AppleVis Blog.)

Visit this page to subscribe to the AppleVis Newsletter

The AppleVis iOS App Hall of Fame

The AppleVis iOS App Hall of Fame showcases the best of the best in accessible apps, as voted on by the AppleVis user community. Inductions are held in May of each year.

iOS Apps Developed Specifically for Blind or Low Vision Users

AppleVis has a regularly-updated list of iOS apps developed specifically for people who are blind or who have low vision. Types of apps included in this list are those for scanning and reading printed text; navigation; object identification; and Braille keyboard entry, just to name a few.

The AppleVis iOS App Directory

The AppleVis iOS App Directory is a large listing of iOS apps that have been reviewed by AppleVis users and rated according to their accessibility with VoiceOver. You can browse the iOS App Directory by category, by name, or use our advanced search to find apps matching any number of parameters. The iOS App Directory is a community-driven effort, so if you have used an app not currently in the directory, please do submit it.

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Disclaimer

The guide on this page has generously been submitted by a member of the AppleVis community. As AppleVis is a community-powered website, we make no guarantee, either express or implied, of the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this guide.