Home iOS VoiceOver Getting Started Guide

iOS VoiceOver Getting Started Guide

The iPhone and iPad have some of the best accessibility tools built directly into a mobile operating system. The VoiceOver and accessibility tools allow you to use the iPhone without looking at the screen. This has obvious benefits for people who have no vision or low vision but it also has a benefits for people who do have their vision.

I happen to have my vision but I still frequently use VoiceOver features.  I'll skim emails in bed, read tweets, check Facebook and listen to music and audio-books. I can do this lying down comfortably in a pitch black room. The lack of light helps your body go to sleep and not having to hover your phone over your head is much more comfortable. I've also used VoiceOver to keep my eyes on the road while driving or walking down the street. I'm able to use my phone instead of staring at it.

Getting Setup

Most of these settings can be accessed via:  Settings, General, Accessibility.

As part of my basic setup I have set the triple tap home button setting to turn VoiceOver on and off. This allows you to turn on VoiceOver when you want to use it and quickly turn it off as well.

The Basics

The operation of the iPhone when in VoiceOver mode takes some getting used to. The basic gesture are mostly one-finger gestures and allow you to use most of the features of the phone.

  • One finger scan - sweep your finger across the screen. As you touch different areas the iPhone will speak the label. The home screen is a good screen to try this out.
  • Double tap - once a label has been read double tapping anywhere on the screen will activate the last item read.  This is nice because you don't have to tap in the exact same spot. If you heard the label "Email" and that's what you want you can double tap anywhere on screen to open up email.
  • One finger scan, second finger tap - sweep your finger across the home screen. When you hear the item you want tap the screen with a second finger, keeping the first finger on the screen. This is more efficient then the double tap and allows you to navigate and input text much faster.
  • One finger swipe left & right. Once an item is selected a one finger swipe left or right will select the previous or next item in the respective list
  • One finger swipe up & down. In lists of items, such as email, a swipe up or down allows you to select a secondary action. For example when you select an email message from your inbox default action is to "open" the message. If you flick up the system will read off the secondary action "delete."  In certain apps like Safari the flick up and down gesture can be customized using the "Rotor." More on this in the pro section.

These basic give you enough to open apps, navigate lists and take a number of actions. There are many more gestures that are possible and most of these involve multiple fingers.

Intermediate Gestures

  • Two fingers swipe up. Start reading the current list/table from the top. The system will read the entire page/email/list from the top.
  • Two fingers swipe down. Start reading the current list/table from the current location down the page.
  • Three finger swipe up. Scroll down one page. Usually done when reading a long list.
  • Three finger swipe down. Scroll up one page. If you are already at the top of a page this will refresh the content
  • Three finger swipe left/right. Scroll to the next/previous page. This is most useful on the home screen.
  • Two finger double tap. Pause and Play your current music track.

Advanced Gestures

The advanced features allow you to take even more advantage of the system, allowing you to perform more complex interactions and dealing with applications that have poor VoiceOver support.

  • One finger double tap & hold. Allows you to access drag features primarily on the home screen.
  • Two finger triple tap. Opens up an item chooser dialog that lists out all the items on the screen. Useful for finding something on a long page or when the controls are small.
  • Two finger double tap & hold. Allows you to add a custom label to buttons that have poor accessibility labels. Hold until you hear three beeps, a dialog will pop up allowing you to enter a custom label.
  • Two finger "Z" gesture. When you're in a navigation controller that has a back button you can often draw the letter Z with two fingers and it will navigate you back.
  • Two finger rotation. This is also called the Rotor, this tools allows you to setup how the speech will read through content. It's most useful for jumping around in a longer piece of web-content. Once you select a rotor setting the system will read headings, words or characters based on the setting.
  • Three finger triple-tap. This turns on/off screen curtain. This will dim the screen so you can't see it. If you've figured out the gestures you can use this to use your iPhone in total darkness.
  • Three finger double-tap. This turns on/off speech.
  • One finger triple-tap. Brings up a context menu on an item if one is available. For example the copy/paste menu in calculator.


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