A Hope for iOS 11: How Apple Could Implement Spellcheck with VoiceOver in iOS

The influx of new notetakers at the last couple of CSUN conferences is great to see. More choice is always a good thing, as is having fewer, and lighter, devices to cary around to get things done. But what about iOS? Apple positions its iPad Pros as a way to take better notes and a great way to get rid of things on your desk in their latest adds. But there is one feature Apple needs to implement for this to be a viable option for VoiceOver users -- an easy way to spell check.

When Apple introduced Braille screen input in iOS 8, I started using it for most of my regular iPhone writing. When they refined it in iOS 9, I started using it for nearly all my writing. For most of what I do, I'd rather use my iPhone SE than my MacBook Pro. The phone is fast enough, and braille screen input means that if I need to do some on the fly email, I don't have to tote around the heavyish mid 2012 MBP (first world problems, I know). If I do need to do some longer writing, I can just grab my Braille display. I still have to go back to the Mac for a spelling and grammar check, though.

The VoiceDream Writer app does offer a way to go back and step through misspelled words, but I don't think it gives you suggestions for the word it thinks you meant. macOS users know that you can press command+semicolon to do a spelling and grammar check on whatever you're writing, be it an email, or a school paper in Pages. If Apple could somehow implement this in iOS, it would be great, especially with them promoting the iPad Pro as a PC replacement for certain people.

There may be a few ways Apple could implement spelling and grammar check while using VoiceOver. I had high hopes that when they introduced the ability for developers to add custom actions to the rotor in iOS 10, that Apple would at least do this in Pages. Probably more obvious though, would be if they just added a spelling option to the rotor, like they did with text selection in iOS 10, or they could make it a choice in the edit rotor option. You could flick up and down to jump between errors, double tap, and be presented with a list of suggestions. Of course, they could bring over the macOS command for those people using a bluetooth keyboard.

Are there other ways you think an accessible spell check feature could be brought to iOS? Discuss in the comments. Maybe in iOS 11?

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How to spell check in iOS

Here is a message I received from Apple support about how to perform a spell check in iOS. I have not always had success performing these steps since the method seems to be a bit flakey, but sometimes it does work.

Anyway, from Apple Accessibility Support:

"Thank you for your email. On the topic of spelling corrections, one suggestion we would make is to ensure both “Check Spelling” and “Auto-Correction” is on in Settings > General > Keyboards. In addition, we suggest to try turning on “Speak Auto-text” in Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech > Typing Feedback. With all 3 features are on, as you are typing if you misspell a word you will hear a sound effect followed by VoiceOver reading to you the suggested correction(s). To enact the correction just press the space bar and VoiceOver will read again the correction that was made. If you wish to manually replace a misspelled word, you will need to use the edit rotor to select the misspelled word first, cycle through the list of options and activate “replace.” This will activate a menu that will contain the appropriate spelling replacements."

Hope that helps.


Thanks for this. I knew about

Thanks for this. I knew about the auto correct stuff, but sometimes there are times when you might not want to have that on. It doesn't work with braille screen input anyway. I didn't know about the way to manually replace misspelled words. It's a little clunky, but it does work. We just need a way to jump between misspellings like you can on the Mac and Windows. That would make proof reading much easier as it's not always efficient to go through word by word, though sometimes that is a good idea. I was just throwing out some ways Apple could make this possible. You could always do text selection with the pinch gestures, but many people found them difficult, so in iOS10 Apple added a selection option to the rotor. Here's hoping they do something similar with spelling/grammar in iOS11.

Re: Spell Checking

Yes, although the directions in my last post from Apple demonstrate how spell checking can be done in iOS devices, it is certainly a bit clunky.

It would really be nice if the iOS systems had a way to automatically bring up each of the mis-spelled words in a document similar to the way that something like MS word does in Windows systems rather than having to navigate through an entire document and search for each mis-spelled word manually.

Maybe some day - Let's keep our fingers crossed!


That method isn't very braille user friendly

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

I wonder how a braille only user could do this? If you can't hear the sound, even though an announcement briefly flashes up on the display that the word is misspelled, there is no real easy way to do it. I think having spelling errors as a rotor option in text fields would be fantastic!

Yes, iOS absolutely needs to

Yes, iOS absolutely needs to include accessible spell checking soon. I've come across instructions for spell checking a few times on this site, like what Peter posted, but I've never managed to get those methods to work reliably. Spelling could be added to the rotor, so that a flick up/down would move between misspelled words, and then maybe a flick left/right could move between suggested corrections, with a double-tap to replace the misspelled word with the chosen correction. Another gesture (maybe either a triple-tap or a two-finger double-tap) to edit the misspelled word, in case the word you meant wasn't in the list of suggestions, could also be useful, or maybe it would be easier to do that by selecting a different rotor item and editing as normal. Either way, for it to be really useful, VO would need to give some context to each misspelling by reading out the sentence in which it is contained, like Voice Dream Writer does. Voice Dream Writer does suggest corrections; to access them, you need to open word finder and select phonetic search.

Yes - There must be a better way

Agree with all of the previous comments. Spell check now, even following the directions from Apple, is flakey and problematic. Even if it worked as described by Apple 100% of the time, this is far from an efficient way of performing spell check on a document.

A much more useful paradigm would be that used on most PC's - i.e., the spell checker would bring up one mis-spelled word at a time from a document. also, it is important to be able to hear the mis-spelling in context so that the user could pick the correct choice from a number of selections. This would be a much more productive way of doing things.

As I have said many times to many people, just because something is "accessible" doesn't mean it is efficient or productive to use. As accessible as iOS and Voiceover are, they aren't always efficient to work with when performing a real life task. As always, there is room for improvement.

Hopefully Apple hears these thoughts and can come up with improved processes to make our work flow more productive and reliable.