Part 3: 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.

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 accessibility options and VoiceOver changes. In Part 2, Scott discussed new Rotor settings and braille options.

This week, Scott concludes his review with additional braille options, including automatic braille translation and enhancements for low vision.

More Braille Changes

Automatic Braille Translation

iOS 7 now features an option called “Automatic Braille Translation.” When this option is turned on, contracted braille input will translate as it did previously in iOS 6. When this option is turned off, however, VoiceOver will only translate what you have typed after pressing the space bar or backspace.

I believe the backspace auto-translation could be a bug, but I’m not certain. To test it, I tried typing the word “great,” which in contracted braille is “grt.” I typed G and R, but waited two minutes before entering the letter T. VoiceOver still translated my keyboard input correctly after pressing the space bar. Users still have the option to auto-translate (“space” with “dots 4-5).”

Virtual Keyboard

The option to hide or show the Virtual Keyboard should always be available; however, this setting does not always work as advertised.

When I was in the Notes app, I was unable to make the onscreen keyboard appear. Pressing “space” with “dots 1-4-6” would not change this setting – it would only speak the status of the setting.

Having Virtual Keyboard functionality is a particularly helpful communication tool for deaf-blind iDevice users, who, in the past, could open a note in the Notes app and use the onscreen keyboard – once VoiceOver was set to “touch typing” – to communicate with hearing and sighted persons.

Previously, it was often necessary to press “space” with “dots 1-4-6” to turn the Virtual Keyboard back on when attempting to use the iDevice for the above-mentioned communication function. Now, however, this feature is gone.

Bugs for Braille Users

Braille users should be aware of some bugs. The first, and most significant, is that it is no longer possible to send a text message using a braille display by choosing a contact in the contacts list. If the user goes to “compose,” adds a contact from his or her address book, and attempts to flick right (“space” with “dot 4”) or left (“space” with “dot 1”), nothing will happen. In order to get VoiceOver to recognize that there is text beneath the cursor, it is necessary to tap the touch screen.

There is, however, a work-around for this bug: Activate the “compose” button in the “to” field, type the first few letters of the contact, and flick right twice (“space” with “dot 4”) to select the contact.

Low Vision Changes

Most of the low vision information in this review was acquired by talking with low vision users. Since I have never had sight, it is not possible for me to evaluate these access features. I’d like to thank Amy Mason, in particular, for giving this a thorough look-through and providing much of the following information pertaining to low vision.

One of the major new features in iOS 7 is the complete visual redesign of the platform. Apple uses bright, almost pastel, colors; very thin and narrow fonts; and translucency effects to refresh iOS. Unfortunately, many of the design choices made by Apple are likely to make iOS more difficult for users with low vision.


iOS 7 has many issues pertaining to contrast that are not addressed by the new and existing visual enhancements. For example, the Notification Center, Siri, and Control Center pop up over the home screen with a translucent (frosted glass) effect behind them, which makes everything on these screens much harder to see.

The new Improve Contrast feature flattens this translucency to a matte background, which is sometimes beneficial, such as in Notification Center and Siri, which display white text on a black background.

The Control Center background, however, is now light gray. Some controls are black, which has passable contrast, but selected controls are white, which is nearly invisible on the light gray background. Furthermore, the Invert Contrast option cannot be used to fix contrast issues on the device.

Apps Contrast

The apps interface, in terms of contrast, is inconsistent:

  • Many apps (Notes, Music, the iTunes and App Store, Game Center, Passbook, Calendar and Reminders main screen) display black text on a white background.
  • The Weather app displays small white text on weather-related backgrounds, which change dynamically to show the weather being experienced in an area.
  • Siri, Notifications, and Stocks display white text on a black background.

This inconsistency, along with the Control Center’s unsatisfactory contrast, means that – depending upon which applications a person with low vision wishes to use – Invert Contrast will help with certain apps, make some apps worse, and will not improve others.

Note: You can read Scott’s complete iOS 7 review on the AppleVis website, in which he summarizes additional vision changes, including bold text, dynamic text size, and Hearing and Physical/Motor changes.

My Conclusions

There are many great enhancements to iOS 7 with respect to accessibility changes. From a visual standpoint, it would seem that the new operating system could be a significant challenge to users who need a high level of consistent and strong contrast. As such, I suggest that low vision users, in particular, examine the new OS in person at an Apple store or other retailer selling iDevices.

If you are a speech and/or braille user, I advise checking out the bug list on to be certain you can handle the bugs before upgrading to the new iOS.

iOS 7 is a free upgrade and is available for the iPhone 4 and newer, the iPad 2 and newer, as well as the iPod touch 5th generation. You can find a general list of new features at Apple: iOS 7: What’s New and instructions for updating your iDevice at Restoring iOS Software.

For more information, contact Scott at