What’s New in Accessibility with Apple’s iOS 6: Part 1

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

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, (at left) is a Senior Instructor in the Adaptive Technology Department and Communications Learning Center at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC) in Sands Point, New York. This week, Scott reviews the new iOS 6 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.”

Scott’s prior reviews include the Humanware Communicator app, RoboBraille: Enhancing Document Accessibility, and last fall’s iOS 5 release

iOS 6: The Basics

As with the previous release of a major iOS upgrade (from version 4 to 5), there are many enhancements to iOS 6 not directly related to accessibility. In this release, those enhancements include FaceTime over cellular networks, a redesigned App Store, a revamped settings menu, direct Facebook integration, and a “Do not Disturb” feature, among many others. You can learn more about these changes at Apple’s official iOS 6 page. To list and discuss all new iOS 6 features is beyond the scope of this review; instead, the purpose of this review is to focus on accessibility-related changes and enhancements.

Accessibility Is Now Integrated

A feature that many users who are transitioning between modes of operation with iDevices will appreciate is that all accessibility features now work with one another. This includes VoiceOver and Zoom, the physical/motor settings, and the new Guided Access. The Triple Click Home feature also has been updated to reflect this change.

In iOS 6, you now have the following options that can be activated automatically when pressing the home button three times: Guided Access, VoiceOver, invert colors, Zoom, and Assistive Touch. You can select any of these options, which can run simultaneously.

If you select only one option, Triple Click will turn that one feature on/off, as you were able to do in iOS 5; for example, if you select Color Contrast and VoiceOver to run at the same time, both will launch when pressing the home button three times in rapid succession.

Vision Enhancements

Zoom can now run with VoiceOver, which can now provide any combination of preferred access methods. For example, an individual who is transitioning from magnified text to speech might find it helpful to have both available until he or she no longer needs, or prefers not to function with, magnification. A user can also use braille, speech, and magnification simultaneously if he or she prefers.

One thing to note about using VoiceOver and Zoom together is that several VoiceOver gestures have changed. For example, when Zoom and VoiceOver are working together, double tapping the screen with three fingers will zoom in on an item. With VoiceOver only enabled, this gesture will mute the speech; therefore, instead of double tapping with three fingers to mute speech, one must now triple tap with three fingers to mute speech. This can come in handy when using magnification with braille, for example. You can still toggle the Screen Curtain on and off, but you must tap with three fingers four times to do this.

Another Zoom gesture is dragging three fingers to move around the screen. This reviewer does not have vision to evaluate what happens on the screen, but when dragging three fingers across the screen, VoiceOver gives no verbal or braille indication that the cursor has moved. In fact, if you do a single-finger double tap, you will still activate the item which is the focus of the VoiceOver cursor.

One bit of commentary about the Zoom, VoiceOver, and braille simultaneous access: It would be nice if there were built-in braille and Bluetooth keyboard commands for the Zoom functions, but it’s great that all of the accessibility features can be used interchangeably. With respect to braille, the commands used in VoiceOver all apply, whether Zoom is enabled or not. To my knowledge, this also seems to be the case with the Bluetooth keyboard.

VoiceOver-Specific Changes

There have been a few additions to the Rotor option in iOS 6. You can learn more about the Rotor and its already-existing functions and purpose at Apple’s Accessibility Solutions for the iPhone.

One change is the added Rotor option within the Mail application called “Actions.” With this option, you can choose the Default action to open up a mail message or a one-finger flick to delete a message when one is open.

Another addition to the Rotor is an option to adjust the amount of punctuation spoken by VoiceOver. The options are none, some, and all. While the “none” and “all” options are self-explanatory, the “some” option is not so easy to understand at a glance. Essentially, the “some” option will read punctuation out loud in web and email addresses, but will not read a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence, for example.

There is one other minor VoiceOver change: When using the onscreen keyboard for text input, you can now single tap with one finger to activate the More button or the Shift key. Previously, it was necessary to double tap, even when in touch typing mode.

Finally, Assistive Touch, which was introduced in iOS 5, but which was not usable to those using VoiceOver, is now compatible. Thus, if a VoiceOver user wishes to set up custom gestures through Assistive Touch, he or she can now do so in iOS 6.

The Maps Application

While not a VoiceOver-specific change, it is worth noting that the Maps application is now able to pull up points of interest, and, according to Apple, works with turn-by-urn directions once a route is planned. This feature is only compatible with the iPhone 4S and 5.

In Part 2 of his iOS 6 review, Scott evaluates the remaining iOS 6 updates, including braille-specific, hearing, physical/motor, and the new Guided Access. For more information, you can contact Scott at scott.davert@hknc.org.