How Does a Person Who is Blind Use an iPhone, iPad, or iPod?

The iPad, iPod, and iPhone are all visual devices utilizing touch screen technology, however they all accessible using Apple's built in screen reader called VoiceOver.

What is a screen reader?

A screen reader is a program that does exactly what it says it does, it reads the screen. Which means you listen to a computer voice describe what is visually displayed on the screen using speech output.

What does it read? Everything! A screen reader not only tells you what is visually displayed on the iPad touch screen it also gives you information about buttons, links, text attributes, and even describes the position your holding the iPad. For example, "VoiceOver on, home screen, landscape, home button to the right."

Great! Now what?

Well now you need to decide how you are going to move the VoiceOver cursor by determining which input method you will use. VoiceOver allows the user to navigate the iPad using finger gestures, a Bluetooth keyboard, or a Refreshable Braille display.

Finger Gestures VoiceOver Navigate and Read .pdf
Using VoiceOver Basic Finger GestureCommands.pdf
VoiceOver Finger Gestures Entering and Editing Text .pdf

Refreshable Braille Displays

What's a Refreshable Braille Display?

  • A refreshable Braille display is an electronic device that displays visual information (text) as Braille (text) on a Braille display.

  • A refreshable Braille display can also be used as a Braille Keyboard. Utilize six-key entry (similar to a Perkins Brailler), to navigate your iOS device, input/enter text, using contracted or un- contracted Braille.

  • A refreshable Braille display also be used as your visual display like a monitor. It tactually displays information as Braille text.

  • A refreshable Braille display can also be used to move the VoiceOver cursor or open Apps much like a computer mouse. Move the VoiceOver cursor anywhere within line displayed by pressing the corresponding router key.

  • A refreshable Braille display also functions as your touch screen. Open Apps, type in forms, move sliders, and click buttons using the router keys. For example, to send an email you tap the send button. The same is true while using a refreshable Braille display. Visually I see a button on the screen that says send. Tactually on the refreshable Braille display, the word "send btn" is displayed in Braille. Simply press any router key within the word to activate the "send btn". You could press s,e, n, d, b, t, or n: VoiceOver doesn't care.

So what's so hard about it then?

Hum.. As a sighed person I take for granted how much information I can see and process at one time. To locate an App on the home screen it might take me 3 seconds to visually scan my choices. Well the 10 inch iPad screen does give me an advantage over your 18-40 cell refreshable braille display.

Let's put that into prospective shall we. Imagine typing a letter using the App Pages. Lets say a single line of text contains 80 possible characters (numbers, space, punctuation, status cell). So how much can you see on your refreshable Braille display?Well that depends on the kind of display your have. Refreshable Braille displays can display any where from 18 to 40 Braille cells depending on your model. Therefore while reading Braille on the APH RefreshaBraille 18, the reader will only see 18 cells of Braille at a time. To see the next 18 cells of Braille you must pan using the advance bar.

Well That is Gonna Take too long. Now what?

It's easy to locate information if you know what your looking for. The easiest way to locate what your looking for is to use the spotlight search tool. It's simple type in the name of the App, name of a personal contact, or a date. Scroll through your choices and double tap your selection.

In addition to the spotlight search tool, the Internet, and many other Apps have a find feature. Typically the keyboard shortcut is ctrl F.

What if I don't know what I'm looking for?

Have VoiceOver read the entire contents of the page. For example, from the home screen pressing w chord will make VoiceOver read entire page starting at the first element. That would be the first thing VoiceOver finds which is typically top left corner of the entire screen.

This is an example of auditory scanning, listen for the the name of the App (pages), when you hear the name of the App (pages), press (3,6 chord) to stop the VoiceOver cursor on or as close to the App as you can. Move the joystick to the right or left to locate the App (Pages). Push down on joystick, press (3,6 chord) or press any rotor key displaying the Apps name (i.e. Pages ... You can press any letter 5 letters = 5 rotor keys), or double click by tapping the iPod screen 2 times to open.

What if you don't have a Refreshable Braille Display?

You don't need to have a refreshable braille display or even know Braille to utilize an iPad, iPod, or iPhone. All of these devices provide accessibility to blind users though the VoiceOver utility which provides an auditory description of all visual information on the screen. A refreshable Braille display is a great tool but the VoiceOver utility is really what make the iOS devices accessible. In general a refreshable Braille display is just another keyboard.

Why not, don't all people who are blind know Braille?

No, just because your blind and can't read print doesn't mean you can read Braille. Many people who are blind utilize Braille however just as many choose to use auditory alternatives to print such as electronic/audio books. A screen reader, such as VoiceOver, is another example of an auditory alternative to print.

So what should you know by now?

  • VoiceOver is a screen reading program/utility which makes iOS devices accessible to the blind.

  • VoiceOver reads what is visually displayed on the screen using speech output. Speech output means the device talks to you, you don't talk to the device as that is speech input such as dictation. VoiceOver describes aloud what appears onscreen, so that you can use iPad without seeing it.

  • Provided you have a refreshable braille display VoiceOver will transcribe your print documents into contracted, un-contracted, or 8-dot Braille.

Using VoiceOver Gestures to navigate iOS Devices: iPad, iPhone, or iPad

How can someone who is blind use the touch screen on iOS devices? How do they know where or what to touch when they can't see the screen?

Well... let's think about how a sighted person would use a touch screen. All iOS devices with a touch screen, such as the iPod, iPad, or iPhone, utilize gestures to move around or navigate your device. The touch screen of your iOS device is more than just a visual display such as a monitor, it is also an input device such as a keyboard. A gesture is basically a command given to the iOS device using your finger/s on the touch screen. Common iOS gestures include: tap, swipe, touch, pinch, drag, and slide.

Blind users can also navigate their iOS device with gestures using VoiceOver.

VoiceOver changes the gestures you, (sighted people), use to control iPad. Once you turn VoiceOver on, you must use VoiceOver gestures to operate your iOS device—even to turn VoiceOver off again.

VoiceOver changes the gestures you use to control iPad, so that you can hear descriptions without activating buttons. For example, if your trying to open an App a single tap or touch will not work. Why because the VoiceOver uses the touch or tap gesture to identify the name of the App touched on the screen. To open an App using VoiceOver commands you must double tap instead of single tap.

There are many ways to enter VoiceOver gestures. For example, you can two-finger tap by using either two fingers on one hand, or one finger on each hand. You can also use your thumbs. Try different techniques to discover what works best for you.

If your gestures don’t work, try doing the same gesture again but faster, especially for double-tapping and flicking gestures.

Finger Gestures VoiceOver Navigate and Read .pdf
Using VoiceOver Basic Finger GestureCommands.pdf
VoiceOver Finger Gestures Entering and Editing Text .pdf

VoiceOver tells you about each element on the screen as you select it. An element could be anything VoiceOver reads such as buttons, Apps, toolbars, tables ....etc. When you select an element/item (such as an App icon), a black rectangle encloses it (for the benefit of those who can see the screen) and VoiceOver speaks the name or describes the item. The enclosing rectangle is referred to as the VoiceOver cursor.

To interact with items on the screen, such as Apps, buttons and links, you must double tap. Its similar to using a computer mouse, left click once to select and double click to open. When the VoiceOver cursor encounters a control (such as a button or switch), VoiceOver provides instructions for you, "double tap to open."

If you turn on Speak Hints, VoiceOver will give more information about the item selected such as hints about what VoiceOver gesture to use. For example, VoiceOver will announce the item name, identify the item function, and a hints such as "Double tap to enable more options."

What about typing or entering/editing text?

When VoiceOver encounters an item or App with an editable text field, you can use the onscreen keyboard to enter text.

There are a few ways to enter text using the onscreen keyboard and none of them are even close to touch typing using a Bluetooth keyboard or refreshable Braille display.

When VoiceOver is in typing mode (a VoiceOver rotor setting) the user can choose between "Touch-type" or "Standard-type."

“Touch-type” is not the same a touch typing on a keyboard however, Touch-type is much faster than Standard-type.

How does it work? Basically place your finger near the bottom of the touch screen where the onscreen keyboard is located, drag your finger across the screen (don't lift your finger yet) and listen for the key or letter desired. Once you hear the letter/character you want to enter lift up your finger. This method of typing is much faster provided you are familiar with the basic location of the keys on a qwerty keyboard.

“Standard-type” flick left or right until VoiceOver speaks the letter/character you want, then double tap to enter the letter/character. Basically you have to keep flicking right or left moving the VoiceOver cursor letter by letter, in Qwerty order until hear the letter you want. I think this method is to slow and only allows for left to right navigation. You can make this method faster with a few changes in procedure listed below.

1. Enter a character/letter by dragging your finger around the keyboard and listen of the character/letter you want, then double tap to insert it or while holding the key with one finger, tapping the screen with another finger. VoiceOver speaks the key when it’s selected, and again when it’s entered.

2. Touch the onscreen keyboard, use a two finger swipe down to listen to VoiceOver read the keys on the keyboard, tap to stop VoiceOver cursor once you hear the letter you want, double tap to insert it.

Bluetooth Keyboards

There are many Bluetooth keyboards that will pair with iOS devices such as the iPad 2 and you don't have to use a Apple Wireless Keyboard. Before using a keyboard should familiar with the location of all the keys. In addition to the letters on the keyboard you should also know the location of the following keys: escape, command, control, return, home, end, page up, page down, and the arrow keys.

You can control VoiceOver using a Bluetooth Keyboard with VoiceOver keyboard commands. VoiceOver keyboard commands let you navigate the screen, select items, read screen contents, adjust the rotor, and perform other VoiceOver actions. All the keyboard commands (except one) include Control-Option.

While using a Bluetooth keyboard to control VoiceOver you will have access to Quick Nav. Quick Nav is off by default but you can turn it on by pressing the left and right arrow keys at the same time. As far as I know Quick Nav commands are not accessible using a refreshable Braille display or gestures.

Utilizing the iPad or iPod with Blind Students in Regular Education Classrooms
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Braille on the iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone