Part 1: What’s new in iOS 5 for the iPhone by Scott Davert, HKNC for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults

Photo of Scott Davert, standing on the sidewalk with his white cane and assistive technology

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A. (at left), is a Senior Instructor in the Communications Learning Center and Adaptive Technology Departments at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults in Sands Point, New York. This week, Scott reviews today’s new iOS 5 release from Apple. iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system, or OS. Originally developed for the iPhone, it has since been extended to support other Apple devices, such as the iPod touch and iPad. In June 2010, Apple rebranded the iPhone OS as simply “iOS.”

Today’s iOS 5 Release

Today marks the highly anticipated release of Apple’s new iOS 5. Although my review emphasizes what’s new for individuals who are blind, deaf, and deaf-blind, there are many excellent enhancements to iOS 5 that are not directly related to accessibility, which you can learn more about at Apple’s New Features In iOS 5 page.

The best part about iOS 5 is that it is a free upgrade to all customers. It is compatible with the following devices: iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 2, iPad, and the iPod touch 3rd and 4th generation. Obviously, the iPhone 4S will come loaded with iOS 5, so no upgrade will be required.

iOS 5: The Basics

Under settings/general, you will still find the accessibility menu. It contains many more features that are now much better organized. For example, there are now three different headings: Vision, Hearing, and Physical/Motor. I’ll begin with the enhancements to Vision and following that, discuss Hearing and Physical/Motor enhancements in Part 2.

I. Vision Enhancements

Launching VoiceOver

One of the liberating things about operating within the Apple environment’s desktop and laptop solutions for those who are blind has been the ability to walk up to any Apple machine running Mac OSX 10.5 or later, and press command f5 to launch VoiceOver. That same universal access has now come to Apple’s mobile operating environment.

With any device running iOS 5 or later, whether that’s an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, one can simply press the “home” button three times quickly to launch VoiceOver. Not only is this good for trying products in a store, but it’s also great to know that one can now take an Apple product out of the box and be up and running with it independently in seconds.

More about VoiceOver in iOS 5

VoiceOver in iOS 5 is much clearer because the text-to-speech engine has been upgraded to a higher sampling rate. The text-to-speech engine will install after iOS 5 has installed and a Wi-Fi connection is available. iPhone 3GS users have reported some sluggishness with the new voice, but iPhone 4 users shouldn’t have an issue. The old “compact voice” is still available and can be toggled off and on within the VoiceOver settings.

VoiceOver also contains a new feature named “Item Chooser,” which is useful when the user wants to jump from item to item in bulleted lists, for example.

Several new options have been added to VoiceOver’s “Quick Nav” function. The user can now jump between links, form fields, headings, and many other settings on web pages with one-key navigation when “Quick Nav” is turned on. You can read a complete list of VoiceOver’s “Quick Nav” commands at iOS VoiceOver Gestures and Keyboard Commands.

The ability to add custom labels to buttons has also been added to VoiceOver. If the user is able to identify apps or web pages that contain unlabeled buttons, he or she can now assign labels to these elements.

The calendar now works well with VoiceOver. Before, when scrolling from day to day, VoiceOver would report that there were no events for that day, even if this were not the case. (Double-tapping on the day would report events, however.) This is now fixed in iOS 5, and VoiceOver will announce daily events via scrolling.

A significant mainstream improvement is that iOS 5 no longer automatically reads notifications, such as text messages, aloud when the screen is locked. The user can now turn off the reading of notifications, which helps with privacy issues (or potentially embarrassing moments).

The Rotor

Arabic, South African English, and many other languages have been added via the updated language rotor. (You can learn more about all rotor functions at Apple’s VoiceOver Accessibility page.) The web rotor is now called simply “the rotor.” One new option is the ability to use vertical navigation instead of moving left to right across web pages. This is a feature that many users of Windows-based screen readers will probably enjoy, since it puts web pages in a more familiar navigational system.

In addition, the ability to adjust the volume of VoiceOver independently is now included in the rotor. This comes in handy when you don’t want VoiceOver to be louder than your music and interrupting the jamming of your favorite tunes.

There are also two new rotor settings: one that allows the user to select all items shown, and a second that allows the user to jump to searchable edit text boxes.

Braille Displays and iOS 5

An issue encountered by Verizon customers who used braille displays in iOS 4 was that each time a user wanted to use a braille display, he or she had to go into settings/general/accessibility/voiceover and manually reconnect/re-pair the two devices. It was not necessary to reenter the pairing code, but the display would not pair with the phone automatically, as it did with all other Bluetooth devices.

An individual who did not have enough hearing or vision to reconnect the two devices had to rely on someone else to reconnect/re-pair them, or go without access to his or her iPhone. This has been fixed in iOS 5.

I tested iOs 5 with the Refreshabraille 18, Focus 40 Blue, and BrailleNote Apex braille devices. Now the only pairing issue, which exists with both the Verizon and AT&T versions of the phone, is that the user must reconnect/re-pair the display if the phone is set to “airplane” mode and then turned back off. Bluetooth is disabled in airplane mode already.

In Part 2 of his review, Scott discusses enhancements to the Hearing and Physical/Motor headings of the new iOS 5 release for deaf, hearing impaired, deaf-blind, and physically disabled users.

For more information, you can contact Scott at