Part 1: What’s New in iOS 7 by Scott Davert, AppleVis Editorial Team and Accessibility Specialist

Photo of Scott Davert with his white cane and assistive technology

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, (at left) is an AppleVis Editorial Team Member and a Senior Instructor in the Adaptive Technology Department and Communications Learning Center at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults. Previously, Scott has reviewed RoboBraille: Enhancing Document Accessibility, and the Humanware Communicator app, which facilitates communication between deaf-blind and sighted and hearing users.

This week, Scott reviews the new iOS 7 release from Apple, with an emphasis on accessibility features for individuals who are blind, deaf-blind, or have low vision. 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.”

Apple’s iOS 7 Release: the Basics

During the past several years, each autumn has brought a new iOS release. And like other iOS releases, this one brings many new features and functions to supported iDevices. Major changes include (a) enhancements to Siri; (b) a new Control Center available from anywhere within the OS, providing instant access to several essential controls; and (c) a revamped Notifications Center. You can learn more about these features at Apple’s What’s New In iOS 7 page.

Many blogs – and Apple – will be highlighting these new enhancements to iOS, so I will not discuss them in great detail; instead, this review will address accessibility enhancements for individuals who are blind or deaf-blind.

One of the joys (and frustrations!) of getting a new release from Apple is that they do not actively document changes in accessibility with their products. This is good for me, because it gives me the chance to share new features with my readers, but it is also a challenge.

While I have taken care to work extensively with the new version of iOS since the first beta release in June, there will be items I have missed. I’m confident that this will be the case with other reviewers as well. But this is also part of the fun. Whenever I discover a new, previously unreviewed, feature, it’s almost like solving a puzzle or getting an early birthday present.

With those caveats out of the way, here are the changes “Detective Davert” has discovered while investigating accessibility with the new iOS 7.

General Changes

Siri and Accessibility Options

As anyone who has tried to enable VoiceOver on an iDevice can tell you, “Triple-Click Home,” which is designed to enable selected accessibility features quickly, will not be operative unless it is configured during the initial set up of the device.

With iOS 7, however, you can press and hold the Home button and tell Siri to enable some accessibility options, such as VoiceOver, inverted colors, assistive touch, and guided access. Simply say “Turn on VoiceOver” or “Turn on assistive touch.” Unfortunately, this feature does not appear to work with other accessibility features, such as Zoom and hearing aid mode.

I hope that Apple will consider making this an option for other accessibility features in the future, so that more users can toggle settings on and off quickly as needed. Also note that to use Siri, you must have either a data connection to a cellular network or WiFi. You can still use the Triple-Click Home function once VoiceOver is configured, but using Siri provides another way to toggle some accessibility features on and off. You can also tell Siri to go into the Accessibility Settings menu by saying “Open accessibility settings.”

Automatic App Updating

One mainstream feature that may concern some users is the automatic updating of apps. By default, this is set to “on.” As anyone who runs apps can probably tell you, developers sometimes unintentionally break accessibility when updating their apps; thus, users may wish to disable this automatic update feature. To do so, go into Settings > iTunes & App Stores and under the “Show All” heading, you’ll find “Updates.” Double tap to toggle this setting on and off, or tap once if not using VoiceOver.

VoiceOver Changes

The list of gestures with VoiceOver continues to grow with each major release of iOS.

New Gestures

  • The first new gesture is the four-finger double tap, which enables VoiceOver help from anywhere on your iDevice. Instead of going into Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > VoiceOver Practice, you can now perform this four-finger gesture to activate VoiceOver from any location.
  • A second new gesture is the three-finger quadruple tap. This gesture will copy the last spoken text to the clipboard. This is a handy feature which will save a lot of time, since you will no longer need to go to the Rotor to find “edit” and then copy the selected text to the clipboard.
  • A third new gesture is related to the new Control Center feature. To access the Control Center, which provides quick access to many popular toggle settings within the iDevice, you must first tap the status bar, then swipe up with three fingers. You will now be in the Control Center. Double tapping any of the options (single tapping without VoiceOver) will toggle settings on and off. To exit the Control Center, do a two-finger scrub on the home screen, or use the equivalent keyboard command to activate the “back” button on your external device.

Old Gestures, New Functions

  • Previously, the “slide to unlock” button was located directly above the Home button on iDevices. This is no longer the case. To unlock the screen with a gesture, press the Home button, tap anywhere on the screen, and then swipe three fingers from left to right across the screen. You can still find the “slide to unlock” button, now simply called “unlock,” slightly above and to the left of the Home button.
  • Since the release of iOS 4, the two-finger double tap gesture has started and stopped audio, answered phone calls, and started and stopped the timer. Now this gesture has a new function. When in an edit field, the two-finger double tap will allow the user to start dictating in that edit field. Double tap with two fingers again when you have finished speaking to send the audio to Apple’s servers for decoding.
  • When the Notification Center was unveiled in iOS 5, one of the ways to access this feature with VoiceOver gestures was to tap on the status bar and then swipe down with three fingers. This is still the case. However, swiping down from anywhere else on the home screen will now launch Spotlight Search. Previously, Spotlight Search was accessed by pressing the Home button when on the home screen.

iOS 7: Part Two

In Part 2 of his review, Scott discusses new Rotor settings and braille options. For more information, you can contact Scott at