ABC-Format On-Screen Keyboard for iOS Devices

Accessibility Advocacy
Potential Advantages of ABC-format On-Screen Keyboard Option for iOS Devices Especially for Use By People Who Were Never Touch-Keyboarders, and Have Become Visually Impaired in Their Later Years. An "ABC" keyboard layout option (i.e., a keyboard where the three rows of letter keys are arranged in alphabetical order from "A" through "Z") could significantly expand accessibility to people with severe vision impairment, especially older adults who have acquired vision loss in their later years. Most people can readily recite their ABCs. This ability organizes the task of learning to read and write, and then continues to assist in the organization of written language throughout our lives. Yet, even people like me, a 60+ words-per-minute touch keyboarder on a standard "QWERTY" keyboard, still would have some difficulty knowing, for instance, what letters are before and after the "K" on a QWERTY keyboard, although I would readily be able to know that "J" and "L" are before and after the letter "K" in the alphabet. Especially for people who are unfamiliar with a QWERTY keyboard, it is much more difficult to locate specific letters on a QWERTY keyboard when accessing the keyboard using Voiceover cues that are activated using just one finger-tip scanning around the keyboard to find the right key. It seems as if efficiency of learning and subsequent use for locating keys on an on-screen iOS keyboard would be greatly increased for some people with severe vision impairment if an ABC-layout option was available in the list of alternate keyboards within accessibility options. The somewhat paradoxical dilemma of implementing this option is this: In 2011, I posted this suggestion on AppleVis, the Apple-sponsored discussion forum for accessibility options for people who are blind, and, as expected, it received no response, either for or against. My belief is that people in the vision-impaired/blind community who are able to access and contribute to AppleVis are already very comfortable with willing to access and contribute to the AppleVis forum are already very comfortable with a QWERTY keyboard. The option of an ABC-layout is irrelevant to them, and so no one bothers to comment, and the suggestion went nowhere. So, please, I am asking you to comment on this post, on the AppleVis website, either for or against. Consider for one moment that segment of the visually impaired population who may lack familiarity with QWERTY-layout keyboards, and give them at least a fighting chance to access these amazing iOS devices. Thanks!



Submitted by KE7ZUM on Friday, February 28, 2014

I think that is someone learns the home row keys that such a key board is not necessary. it goes to show that this kind of key board can be learned an I have learned it successfully. with out any trouble or issues.

Besides, this layouts most common so why reinvent the wheel and fix something that is not broken?

Submitted by Khalfan Bin Dhaher on Friday, February 28, 2014

Hello. Thank you for your post. Typing experience in iOS devices has changed the whole universe. Apps like Fleksy, MBraille, and the voice dictation feature are a great way to type, users can select their prefered way to type text. Hand writing mode is another great way to type text, this feature was introduced in iOS 7 and is useful for those who loss their vision and know how to write. I don't think the ABC keyboard format is the best solution. Suppose a user wanted to use a computer, he/ she should learn the location of each key in order to fully access a computer and apply screen reader commands. Lastly, entering the letter C in an ABC format keyboard requires the user to press the digit 2 3 times, while in an iOS device a user has to tap several times on the keypad to enter a letter. Hope this makes sense.

Submitted by Michael Hansen on Friday, February 28, 2014

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team
Hello Leslie, For what it's worth, please know that AppleVis is an independent website that receives no financial sponsorship from Apple or any other organizations. For more information, please go to Regards, Michael Hansen AppleVis Editorial Team

Submitted by Laszlo on Friday, February 28, 2014

While this is certainly something that would be great to have in an ideal world, I think Apple's implementation of such a feature would be unlikely given their current policy on third-party keyboard integration into iOS. Full disclosure: I am a very comfortable typist on a QWERTY keyboard. I had to learn and memorize the keyboard, and it has taken me a while to get to the speed and level of comfort that I am at now. I learned through repetition and with the assistance of an accessible typing tutor program. First, if such a keyboard was to be developed, I would support the development process and recommend the app to anyone who I thought it might benefit. However...I honestly don't see much of a benefit to an ABC-style keyboard, even for adults who have recently lost their vision. This is because if the person was able to type before losing their vision, it would probably be relatively easy to teach them to "touch type" if they don't do so already once vision has been lost--because the person would be able to draw on previous experiences and memories of the keyboard layout. The big downside for instructing on an ABC-style keyboard vs. a traditional QWERTY keyboard is that the skills would not be transferable beyond the application--meaning that the user would be left in the cold, if you will, when an ABC keyboard is not an option. While I think there are certainly cases where this type of keyboard could be benefitial (where the user was unable to memorize the layout of a QWERTY keyboard because of a secondary disability, for example), I feel that this approach should be an absolute last resort because of the non-transferability of the skills being taught.

Submitted by DPinWI on Saturday, March 1, 2014

Having this ABC keyboard as a baked in, alternative keyboard foraccessibility would be a good thing. I don't think the "downside" of a nont transferrable skill is a big deal. For some people, an iOS device is their one and only computer. This previously learned order of keys would be quicker to learn, and may never need to be transferred to another device. If we extend the logic of having only a readily available keyboard layout on an iOS device based on the idea of an transferrable skill, Braille apps must also be questioned. It's not like you'll find a Braille keyboard on a computer unless you have expensive, additional hardware. However, a standard keyboard could be easily remapped as an ABC layout. Which skill is really more transferrable? The Braille comparison is an imperfect analogy as it is a skill one must have previously learned, just like the qwerty layout. What we are talking about is a person with no keyboard familiarity. Starting from sscratch, the ABC layout would be easiest to learn, specifically because of the previous familiarity people have with it. What makes those fluent with Braille or qwerty able to use those layouts on an iOS device is previous familiarity. I'm not trying to be argumentative. I'm just surprised at the negative reaction. This idea would be simple for Apple to implement, and might make the devices more accessible to many people who have no previous computer experience.

Submitted by Laszlo on Saturday, March 1, 2014

I think we can all agree that having different access options is important. And I agree that it would be nice to have an ABC layout available in iOS--for specific circumstances. My concern is that well-meaning, but uninformed, instructors teaching people who are blind how to use an iOS device might automatically show them how to use the alternative ABC-style keyboard based on a misperception. "Oh, they're blind; they wouldn't be able to type using the QWERTY layout because it isn't organized alphabetically and they can't see the keys," that kind of thing. If a person is truly unable to learn to use a QWERTY keyboard and an ABC-style keyboard is the best option, then they should have access to it. I just don't think that showing a new computer user an ABC keyboard--without first trying to learn a mainstream QWERTY keyboard--is a good idea because everything from typewriters on up to well, iOS, uses a QWERTY style. And I would hate for a person to be limited to that ABC keyboard just because a well-meaning but uninformed instructor assumed they needed it and couldn't learn the QWERTY layout because of their blindness.

Thank you for your point mentioned above. I'd like to know the advantages and disadvantages of having a such keyboard. Will this keyboard layout effect voiceOver users? How this feature can work well for VoiceOver users? It's very easy to remap a keyboard as mentioned above, but it won't be easy to quickly enter a letter. Users have to tap several times to type the letter L for example.

Submitted by Clare Page on Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hi! I can see where the idea of this ABC keyboard is coming from, and I don't have anything against it being an option: however, I do agree with one of the previous posters, that, if this ABC keyboard becomes part of IOS, there is a risk of well-meaning instructors teaching that keyboard to new blind users of i-devices rather than the qwerty keyboard. Admittedly, it was pointed out that an i-device might be the only computer these people have, but how often is that actually the case, that anybody has only an i-device and no computer? I don't think I know anybody personally who doesn't have some kind of desktop or laptop computer as well as their i-device. Also, I was wondering, how would this ABC keyboard be laid out? I get the impression that some people who have posted here think it will be like the keypads many of us used to use for texting on our mobile phones, where, for example, we had to press the number 2 three times to type the letter c, whereas it's quite possible that the layout could be rows of letters in alphabetical order, as I have seen in some word games for IOS, for example with a to g on the first row, h to n on the second, o to u on the third, and v to z on the last row. In that case, where would the numbers be? Personally, I agree with other posters here that such a keyboard should be a last resort for newcomers to i-devices, in fact I think maybe it should be a separate typing app, rather than being part of IOS, as it's pretty likely that only a very few people will actually need an ABC keyboard. Sorry this is rather long, but I wanted to express my views about this idea and it took a while.

Submitted by Khalfan Bin Dhaher on Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thank you who ever you are for your point of view. I totally agree with your point.

Submitted by Joseph on Saturday, March 1, 2014

I don't see how such a keyboard could be practical, unless, as was mentioned previously, a person had a secondary disability that made them unable to use a qwerty keyboard. I myself prefer qwerty as that's what I've learned on, although I find myself using dictation more and more on my iPhone 5c running IOS 7.0.6, rather than typing.

Submitted by Tina E on Saturday, March 1, 2014

I have sent a couple of comments to Apple about this via Email over the past year, and neither of them were acknowledged. I very strongly believe that an ABC keyboard would be enormously helpful to people who are older and who've never typed on a QWERTY keyboard, for people with limited dexterity, for adaptive switch users, for people with multiple and cognitive disabilities, memory impairment, ... the list goes on and on. The QWERTY keyboard is intuitive for those of us who have used it for years, but it assumes that if you can't see the keyboard, that you have a visual/spacial/memory map of it in your head. For those who are not very adept at spacial learning, this task can be just extraordinarily frustrating beyond our wildest dreams, as demonstrated by some of the students I teach on a regular basis. For those who type regularly, imagine you acquire a brain injury, or some other disability that makes remembering quite difficult. Then, on top of the various steps you must learn and remember to operate an app, now think how laborious a process it would be if someone moved the entire keyboard layout around on you so that the order does not make intuitive sense, and then they expect you to type in a proper name that Siri does not know.--Can we say frustrating? And then someone gives up on the device because they cannot use it effectively.--Something that is suppose to help them become independent is its own barrier to typing text. As a side note, if Apple could include it as one of its International Keyboard layouts, (like QWERTZ?--Who uses that one?), it would be very easy for them to implement. Just switch to the ABC keyboard in the International keyboard settings! Just my two cents. Tina E

As a screen reader user for about 20 years now, I notice so many people these days typing "is" for "as," leaving out apostrophes, and other things that clue me in that they are probably using Siri, and are not going back to fix her typing and grammatical errors. I, too, typically let a few of these go if I'm quickly text messaging someone, but if I am typing something more formal, I'd rather have complete control over what I'm writing. I emphasize this point to my students, many of whom will be looking for jobs, where what and how they write, are visible reflections an advertisements of their qualifications. Many other people with whom I work are not seeking employment, are not necessarily wanting to learn much about technology; they just want to get a task completed as easily as possible. And, yes, for some of these folks, all they want is an iPhone, because learning to type, and then learning to use a computer would literally take them months; they don't have that kind of time or energy to invest. They just want to figure out how to call or send a text message to their spouse or grandkids. For those who are replying saying how easy typing is for them with much time and practice, ask yourselves if you would have the patience, and if they would have the patience, if you offered to teach your great grandmother, or your neighbor's great grandfather, someone who could have difficulty using the TV remote control due to severe arthritis in one's fingers, how to touch type at 80 or 90 years old? Some of us, particularly many of you who are younger than me, have grown up eating technology for breakfast each and every day. Think of an alternative universe, where you would be required to learn to type with some other body part other than your fingers, like your big toes, on a DVORAK keyboard layout where everything is rearranged, and where the learning curve could be very slow, and unnatural. This is what it feels like to be a number of the clients with whom I work on a daily basis. Believe me, I do have high expectations when I think it is realistic for people to meet them; however, I also have the wisdom and teaching experience to evaluate what is reasonable, such as a situation where someone does not want to spend the time and obvious frustration to learn touch typing on a QWERTY keyboard, when it takes them quite literally several hours just to memorize the home row left hand keys, we're talking merely A, S, D, and F, due to short term memory difficulties and dexterity challenges. It frustrates me no end that there is not an ABC keyboard layout, such as A-J top row, K-T middle row, and U-Z with basic punctuation on the bottom row, for iDevices. This could easily be achieved as a new International Keyboard layout. There are a number of them already, and it just boils down to a developer at Apple taking the time to implement it. Look at the Emoji keyboards? There are hundreds of symbols on those. Why not a very basic ABC keyboard layout? If two letters could be moved to make a QWERTZ keyboard, or some of the other ones listed in the International keyboards, why can't an ABC keyboard layout exist? BigKeys sells adaptive keyboards as QWERTY or ABC with the flip of a little switch on the back, at least that's how they used to change layout; it might be achieved in some other way now. I'm sure they sell quite a number of them. It is obviously beneficial for folks with a wide variety of cognitive, motor, and memory-related disabilities. So why can't iDevices have a similar ABC layout available? We just need to ask the right person at Apple, whoever that might be. Thank you all very kindly for taking the time to read my thoughts here. Tina E

Submitted by Clare Page on Saturday, March 1, 2014

You have made some very good points in your posts, Tina, that's why I don't think the idea of an ABC keyboard should be ruled out altogether, either as another possible keyboard in Apple's settings, or as a separate app for those who need it. I still wonder where they would put numbers on such a keyboard, as giving it too many rows might take up too much of the screen. To change the subject slightly, for your information, the q w e r t z keyboard is the German keyboard layout. In France, where I live, the standard typewriter and computer layout is called azerty, since the a and z are swapped with the q and w, among other changes. These different layouts date from the days of mechanical typewriters where they couldn't put too many frequently used letters close together because that might have made the typewriters jam, and of course frequently used letters are different in different languages.

Submitted by Tina E on Saturday, March 1, 2014

In reply to by Laszlo

I think many of us are scared of the unknowns, of "what will other people think," and the idea that many people in society have low expectations of people who are blind. Each and every one of these concerns is well-founded. The suggestion of the future possibility of an ABC keyboard is simply to encourage the creation of yet another tool in one's toolbox. I often start a very basic adaptive tech evaluation by assessing whether someone can type on a QWERTY keyboard. If not, have they ever typed using a couple or a few fingers as a sighted person who used to be able to see the keys? If neither of these is true, or if we begin basic typing lessons, and the student has considerable difficulty with either the memory or motor portion of a random four-letter sequence, or a simple three-letter word like "dad" or "sad," and this difficulty is demonstrated repeatedly, with what I judge to be very, very slow progress indeed, such a person desperately needs an alternative to learning standard touch typing. I believe we have an obligation to help make the learning process a little smoother for someone who just wants to type short Emails or text messages. This is not the person who eventually wants to type 60 words a minute, or the young or middle-aged student who wants to go back to college or engage in a career. This is someone who wants to type in a family member's or friend's basic contact information so that they don't have to struggle to remember a phone number or Email address. Our minds and memories are amazing things, but brain injuries, memory issues due to medication, cancer treatments, and all sorts of other complications can make learning new information quite challenging, exasperating, and not so possible for some people. They can remember the alphabet, though, because that is stored in very long term, not short term, memory. They didn't learn the alphabet as a s d f g h j k l, and this sequence is virtually meaningless, baffling, and doesn't make any sense at all to them whatsoever. This confusion can impede the learning process for them, and without much encouragement, they would just give up and not use a device at all. I hope this provides a brief illustration of someone who could benefit from an ABC keyboard layout. Sincerely, Tina E

Hello there, Clare and all, Thank you so very much for the explanation of the AZERTY keyboard! I was hoping I could eventually understand the rationale for inclusion of some of the, what sounded to me as unusual, international keyboards, and that is a perfect explanation that I'll share with other coworkers who are also curious. When you explain it like that, it makes all the sense in the world! Thank you for sharing this perspective with me! Have a great morning over there! Tina E

Submitted by Larry Thacker Jr. on Saturday, March 1, 2014

The first time I ever picked up a mobile device, I wondered why the qwerty keyboard was there in the first place. To me it doesn't make any sense on a handheld device regardless of whether one can see or not. I've been touch typing since the fifth grade, but one cannot touch type on a mobile device in the same way that a physical keyboard is used. This idea may have some accessibility implications as others have pointed out, but frankly I think qwerty on a phone is stupid and would love to see an ABC option. I believe I would adapt quickly and type faster because I could logically predict where the next letter was likely to be without having to think about the positioning of letters in a qwerty layout. It's not nearly as big a deal for sighted users, but I bet there are some out there who would also appreciate alphabetical positioning of the letters on the keyboard. Yes, I would resent the implication that I could not use a qwerty keyboard, but I would probably not use it if given another option. Sell it as something that makes sense and just happens to have some accessibility benefit too.

I know someone who cannot afford a computer so they got an iPhone and do everything, and i mean everything from it. they did learn how to touch type though and they are doing very well at it.

On my computer now I can type about 68 wpm with a 95 percent accuracy. On the iOS typing keyboard I thick i can do about 7 or 8. I'm slowly speeding up because of practice and fleksy.

Take care.

Submitted by Jesse Tregarthen on Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hello, these are all great views. It seems to me that making it available as an alternative keyboard would be a good idea. This way, people who prefer this way or need it to learn as was mentioned could use it while the rest of us could use the mainstream keyboard. People being trained on the IOS device using an ABC keyboard would just have to be informed that if they intend to use a computer, they would still have to learn QUERTY. I am sure that is something Apple could easily add in a user guide or on their website as a cautionary message. The way I see it, some people benefit better from a normal keyboard, some from the handwriting feature and maybe some from an ABC keyboard. Anybody who is unable to use a computer as a result of the ABC keyboard would be so either because they have chosen to be or because they couldn't anyway. Best to all, Jesse

Submitted by Jessica Brown on Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I think an abc keyboard on iOS is a good idea. And who's to say that learning an abc keyboard on iOS would make it hard to use a computer? Who knows, maybe someone can make usb and bluetooth keyboards that are abc format to hook up to and use with computers? But I will stop now because I am getting off topic. Just something to think about.

Submitted by Leslie Burkhardt on Friday, April 4, 2014

ATTN: AJ Lonkar, University Village, Seattle WA Hi AJ, We spoke briefly at a prior training about the possibility of providing an on-screen keyboard option with an ABC-format for low vision retired adults who are using Voice-Over, but do not have proficiency with a QWERTY keyboard layout. Please go to this link and read my original AppleVis post on this topic plus the many responses: You will notice some responses from iDevice users who are not in favor of an ABC-keyboard option. They are familiar with the QWERTY keyboard, and believe that an ABC-format is a potentially "dumbing down" option. I am not proposing this option for users who have familiarity or need to gain familiarity with a QWERTY keyboard to achieve their life goals. Most rehab specialists work with two very distinct groups of people with vision impairment: The low vision or blind person who was born or has acquired blindness earlier in life vs. the retired adult with who has acquired low vision or blindness later in life and has relatively basic access needs. These two groups often do best with very different rehab strategies. "Dumbed down" rehab options are unacceptable, but presenting goals that require greater resources than a particular person possesses is likewise unacceptable. A good rehab specialist must always take into account all the variables that have the potential to affect a successful rehab option for the specific individual seeking services. In the postings you will also read some very well-articulated responses for why an ABC-format might be a very helpful “make-or-break” option for certain iDevice users with low vision. Please think about the potential benefits of this option from your training perspective, and forward this on to your developers with your comments. This relatively simple modification has the potential to be very beneficial for some low vision users due in part to the rather revolutionary potential of a touch-screen keyboard combined with Voice-Over. I think it should be considered. Best regards, Leslie Leslie Burkhardt, MSLVR Low Vision Specialist 800-458-4888

Submitted by Hilde on Monday, March 2, 2015

Hi all,

I came across your conversation about an ABC keyboard. I am a designer at AssistiveWare. The last few months we have been working hard on making an accessible iOS keyboard named Keeble.
Keeble is an iOS keyboard that allows users with fine motor-challenges, switch users and users with vision impairments to type in any app. The keyboard offers word prediction, timing options, Select on Release, Select on Dwell, auditory feedback and other accessibility features.

Keeble is currently localized in English, French, Spanish and Dutch, and offers optimized layouts for simplified, advanced and scanning keyboards.

Use alternative access
- Prevent accidental selections with timing options
- Compensate for motor challenges with Select on Release and Select on Dwell
- Adjust key repeat delay and rate
- Use scanning-optimized keyboards: ABC and frequency of use

Receive auditory feedback
- Turn on keyboard clicks
- Use spoken cues as you move your finger across the keyboard
- Hear each key, word or sentence you type with Speak as you Type

Speed up typing
- Benefit from automatic capitalization
- Reduce typing effort with self-learning word prediction
- Choose between word completion, next-word prediction or multi-word prediction
- Define the number of suggestions and suggestion order
- Adjust the size of the prediction bar to your needs

Optimize for different users
- Use with beginning readers and select lowercase letters, ABC layout and colored vowels
- Customize for adults by allowing access to all characters and selecting QWERTY layout
- Select your preferred theme: Colored, Gray or Customized

User comfort
- Use Keeble in any app
- Benefit from 100% privacy with zero data collection
- Enjoy the large, school-friendly font

You can find more information about the keyboard on

I would love to hear what you think of this keyboard. The ABC layout won't work for everybody this is why we also included a QWERTY layout.


Submitted by Leslie Burkhardt on Friday, December 25, 2015

In reply to by Hilde

This looks great for people with low vision! I'll let you know if I have a chance to try it out. I'm going to let the AT specialist at our agency know about it. Best wishes, Leslie B.