Part 2: 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 month, Scott is reviewing 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.”

In Part 1 of his review, Scott discussed iOS 7 basics, including Siri and accessibility options; automatic app updating; and VoiceOver changes. In this week’s Part 2, Scott discusses new Rotor settings, including Containers, Handwriting, and Sound Effects, and braille options.

More VoiceOver Changes: New Rotor Settings

The Action Rotor Option

The “Action” Rotor option has been expanded in Mail. In apps such as Messages and Notes, you can flick up when on a note or message thread, and double tap to delete. This functionality is still present, but it has been expanded in Mail to launch a “More” menu which allows you to reply, forward, archive, flag, mark as read (or unread), move to junk mail, or move the message. The Delete and Archive options are also accessible through this feature. The setting that will appear (either Delete or Archive) will depend upon whether you have inbox archiving enabled in the Advanced settings for the particular email account.


“Containers” is a new Rotor setting found on the iPhone and iPod (and already in use on the iPad). Here’s an example of how the Containers setting is useful: When you open an email message, moving to the first container jumps you to the header information of the message. Going to the next container will land you in the body of the message, and going to the third container will land you on message options such as reply and archive.


“Handwriting” is a new Rotor setting, which may appeal to users who dislike using the touch screen to type and who know the print alphabet. Turn the Rotor to Handwriting when in a text field, and then begin writing text using one finger. Note that all VoiceOver gestures are disabled other than the Rotor option (i.e., turning clockwise or counterclockwise with two fingers placed diagonally on the touch screen) when handwriting is enabled.

The following gestures are used in Handwriting mode:

  • Swiping right with two fingers on the touch screen creates a space.
  • Swiping right with three fingers creates a new line.
  • Swiping left with two fingers deletes a character.
  • Swiping up with three fingers will cycle you through the following features: upper case, add punctuation, and add numbers.

When you are on the Home screen and Handwriting mode is activated, writing text with one finger will generate a list of apps with the same title as the text you’re writing. When you’re finished with the Handwriting feature, turn the Rotor to a different setting and all gestures will function as expected once again.

Sound Effects

Another new function found in the Rotor is “Sound Effects.” With this feature, you can now enable and disable the VoiceOver-specific sound effects that are activated as you navigate through iOS. With iOS 5, muting speech would disable these effects; in iOS 6, they could only be muted by muting all sounds. Now, however, the VoiceOver sound effects have their own toggle.

This is particularly helpful for iPod users who utilize braille displays with speech muted. It is also great for iPad and iPhone users who want to hear system sounds but not the clicks and beeps of VoiceOver. This setting can also be turned on and off in Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver.

Other Changes with VoiceOver

Speech Synthesizer

For users who require additional languages on an iDevice, it is now possible to install more than one high-quality speech synthesizer. To do this, go into Settings > General > Accessibility > Speak > Selection. Then activate the Voices button, followed by the language and dialect (if available) you wish to add. Finally, move to the right and double tap Enhanced Quality.

After the files are downloaded to your device, they will be available within the Languages and Dialects option in the VoiceOver settings. Be aware, however, that each high-quality voice will consume anywhere from 50 MB to 300 MB of space on your device.

Dismissing Apps

Dismissing apps from the App Switcher is now easier. Prior to iOS 7, it was necessary to go into the App Switcher, double tap and hold on the apps you wanted to dismiss, and then double tap again to close the desired app. Now, when in the App Switcher, you can flick up and then begin double tapping the apps you want to dismiss.

This is great news for braille users who could not previously dismiss apps without interacting with the touch screen. This was annoying when trying to use the phone when it was stored in a pocket, for example.

New in Braille

Control Center

As noted in In Part 1, iOS 7 has a new Control Center feature, which has a keyboard equivalent on braille displays. The command “space” with “dots 2-5” will launch the Control Center from anywhere within iOS 7. This is actually faster than the touch screen, which requires you to tap the status bar before doing the “three-finger swipe up” gesture.

Notification Center

The command “space” with “dots 4-6” allows you to jump to the Notification Center. Like the Control Center, this command seems to work from anywhere within iOS 7. For users who were hoping for a “double tap and hold” equivalent keyboard command on braille displays, I’m sorry to report that I couldn’t find one.

iOS 7: Part Three

In Part 3 of his review, Scott discusses braille options, including automatic braille translation, and enhancements for low vision. For more information, you can contact Scott at