Ten New Tips for Braille Users of iDevices: Scott Davert, AppleVis Editorial Team

Scott Davert head shot

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, is an AppleVis Editorial Team Member and the Coordinator of the New York Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, administered by the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults. The Program provides no-cost communication and technology training to persons with significant combined vision and hearing loss who meet federal income guidelines. Equipment can include smartphones, tablets, computers, screen readers, braille readers, and adaptive software.

Last month, Scott reviewed Apple’s new iOS 9 release, with an emphasis on accessibility features for users who are blind and deaf-blind. In this week’s review, Scott updates his previous “Top Ten Braille Tips” list and provides 10 all-new helpful tips for braille users of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, based upon his personal experience and his work with individuals who are deaf-blind and use braille with their iDevices.

According to Scott, “As a power user of braille devices on iOS, it’s very liberating to me, as a deaf-blind person, to be able to take full advantage of the technology we have in our society today. Just a decade ago, my access to resources was much more limited if braille was my only means of accessing the world. Today, with the help of technology, I can be just as well-informed about what’s going on around me as my sighted and hearing counterparts.”

1. Unlock the First Tip

On iOS 9, when you press the Home button and are on the Lock Screen, you can use Touch ID to unlock your device. However, if you happen to be using a finger that doesn’t work with Touch ID, or if you have a device that doesn’t feature Touch ID, you may be looking for a faster way to unlock it. Here’s a tip: Once the braille display has connected, press Space with dots 2-4-6 and you will unlock your iDevice without having to scroll. You will still need to enter your passcode if you have set one up, but this method can save some time when Touch ID is not a convenient or available option.

2. Inputs and Outputs, Oh My!

The ability to quickly toggle the type of braille you want to read and/or write was introduced in iOS 8. This comes in handy when you do not want to fight with the quirky Apple braille translator, which you can read more about in my iDevice Primer 109: Braille at the AppleVis website. Another reason you might want to toggle a different braille input (i.e., what you type) from braille output (i.e., what you read) is to read contracted braille without necessarily being comfortable writing it just yet.

The three different types of braille you can select are Contracted, Uncontracted Six-Dot, and Eight-Dot. To toggle the input, press Space with dots 2-3-6. VoiceOver and the braille display should report the status of the currently selected setting. To toggle the output, press Space with G (dots 1-2-4-5). You can also change these options by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille and selecting either input or output and configuring it to your preferences.

3. Speed it Up!

For users running iOS 8 or 9 on older devices, braille input has become a bit less rapid. While there is currently no way to get braille back to iOS 7 levels of responsiveness, you can speed up how quickly the text gets sent from the display through VoiceOver and on to your device.

There are several settings you can change which have proven helpful on some devices. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Typing Feedback. Under the hardware and software keyboard settings, choose “nothing.” You should see an increase in the speed of your text as it goes from the braille display to the iDevice; however, the tradeoff is that you will not hear any spoken words or characters. Because I almost never use speech on my iDevices, this doesn’t bother me, but it may be helpful information for some users.

The other setting to change if iOS doesn’t translate your braille input fast enough is to turn automatic braille translation to “on.” On devices running iOS 8 and later, this is set to “off” by default. Once you’ve upgraded from iOS 7, it’s worth verifying that it is set the way you want it, since it was disabled on many devices when they were upgraded.

Find it by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille > Braille Display Input. Under the options for input, you will find the option to turn on automatic braille translation. This will help users who are confident braille inputters/typers, but it will introduce some quirkiness if you are using contracted braille. You can read more about this feature in my iDevice Primer 109: Braille.

4. Here and Gone in a Flash

Many users like (but some definitely do not like!) alerts flashing on their braille displays. Some of the more common announcements are VoiceOver hints, which usually don’t apply to users who only use a braille keyboard on their braille displays. However, some information can be very useful, such as recognizing a bill in LookTel Money Reader or seeing possible moves in Dice World.

You can configure the duration of these alerts in iOS 9 by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > Braille > Braille Display Alert Duration. Enter the duration time in the text field provided, or press Space with dot 4 to activate either a Decrement or Increment button. Although you cannot turn these alerts off altogether, entering “0” will set it to the smallest duration, which is 0.5 seconds, while the longest duration is 20 seconds. You can also review a list of recent announcements by pressing Space with N. You can read more about this option in my previous “Top Ten Braille Tips” list.

5. So Many Choices, So Many Items

Sometimes it’s quicker to jump right to something with just a few direct keystrokes when you’re in an app. In many (but not all) apps, any item that can be activated by VoiceOver can be put into a list. This is called the Item Chooser. Pressing Space with I (dots 2-4) will present you with a list of available items.

Before you get to that list, however, you will find a search box in which you can type what you are looking for. Then press Space with dot 4 until you find it. Pressing a cursor routing button or Space with dots 3-6 will take you directly to that item. You can then press either a cursor routing button or Space with dots 3-6 again to activate the item currently in focus.

6. Making the Web a Bit More Manageable

The Item Chooser is a great way to locate items quickly on an app. However, if a certain string of text is what you’re looking for, the Item Chooser isn’t going to help. If you want to find text – on a web page, for example – press Space with F (dots 1-2-4), enter the text, and then press Space with dot 8. VoiceOver should jump directly to the first occurrence of that string of text on a web page. Interestingly, in apps this often appears to function like the search box on the Item Chooser, but in Safari, for example, the “Find” function works quite well.

7. Now Hold It Right There

With some applications, such as Twitterific 5 for Twitter, a way to launch a quick menu for options to work with tweets is to double-tap with one finger and then hold. However, you can also access this function by pressing Space with dots 3-6-7-8. You can also use this command to delete apps from your Home Screen. It will not, however, enable you to move apps around various screens like you can with touchscreen gestures or their Bluetooth keyboard equivalents.

8. Start and Stop at Will

Another useful keyboard command rolled out with iOS 9 is Space with dots 1-5-6. This is sometimes referred to as the “Magic Tap” gesture: the equivalent of double-tapping with two fingers on the touchscreen, or pressing VO with – on a Bluetooth keyboard. You can now answer and hang up calls, start or stop dictation, interact more easily with stories on Facebook, and pretty much whatever else double-tap with two fingers can achieve on iOS.

It’s worth noting that sometimes dictation doesn’t work in text fields. I believe this is some kind of bug related to whether the onscreen keyboard is visible or not. If you try Space with 1-5-6 and dictation doesn’t start, try pressing Space with dots 1-4-6 to unhide the onscreen, or as Apple calls it, the Virtual Keyboard. It’s a good idea to toggle it back off when you’re done, since the onscreen keyboard can sometimes get in the way of reading text you’ve typed.

9. Containers Aren’t Just for Storing Stuff

Containers are another way app developers can assist VoiceOver users to navigate quickly between different sections of their apps. In the Mail app, for example, the screen is divided into containers which allow you to jump from the header information, to the body of the message, and to the actions you can take on the open message at the bottom of the screen.

While Containers is a Rotor option, it could take a while to get them set on your rotor, thus losing the time you may save by using the actual function. And while there is not a gesture to jump by container, there are a series of braille keyboard commands that will help braille display users take advantage of this feature. To move to the previous Container, press Space with dots 1-7. To move to the next Container, press Space with dots 4-7. Remember that dot 7 is typically to the left of dot 3.

10. Send it Off Quickly!

Many people love to text on their iDevices; in fact, some prefer texting to talking. So when anyone comes up with a faster way to use the Messages app, I think that’s rather awesome, and Apple has done just that with iOS 9.

To activate the “Send” button after typing a message, you can press Space with dot 8 and then activate the “Send” button, or just press Space with dot 8 after you complete the text of your message. Also note that Space with E (dots 1-5) will do the same thing. It’s too bad this article wasn’t a text – I could just do that now and send it immediately. It would be a long text to read, but that’s a problem for the recipient, not me!

My Conclusion

Apple continues to lead the way in terms of native braille support for its products, and it’s quite impressive when compared to any of the other mainstream devices on the market. Hopefully, armed with these new tips, you will enjoy your braille device and iDevice working together even more. Do you have a handy tip that’s not listed here? If so, feel free to leave it in the comments below.