What’s New in Accessibility with Apple’s iOS 6: Part 2

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.

In Part 1 of his review, Scott discussed the basics of iOS 6, newly integrated accessibility, vision enhancements, VoiceOver-specific changes, and the updated Maps application. In Part 2, Scott discusses the remaining iOS 6 updates: braille-specific, hearing, physical/motor, and the new Guided Access feature.

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.

Braille-Specific Improvements

iOS 6 has been tested and found to be compatible with the following braille displays, which had compatibility issues in iOS 5, or were not supported at all:

iOS 6 also contains a braille-specific bug fix. Previous versions of iOS would unmute previously muted speech if the user moved to the “previous” or “next” option (space with dots 2-3 to go back; space with dots 5-6 to go forward). This has been corrected, which is great news, especially for users who want to browse content in quiet environments.

However, unlike iOS 5, the “progress beeps and clicks” will still work unless the user unmutes his or her phone. Personally, I’d prefer just to have all sounds turned off from VoiceOver, although I have worked with several consumers who wanted this to be an optional feature.

Finally, a new keyboard command – Space with I – will now launch the Item Chooser. This was a touch screen command in iOS 5, and now has a braille keyboard equivalent in iOS 6.


Apple now has “Made for iPhone Hearing Aids,” which are Apple-certified hearing aids that will work specifically with the iPhone and iPad. This feature, like the turn-by-turn directions in the Maps application, will only be supported on the iPhone 4S and 5.

Customized vibrations have also expanded, now allowing vibration customization for calls from contacts and from text messages. In iOS 5, users experienced difficulty when setting up this feature with VoiceOver in iOS 5, but it now works correctly.

Guided Access

Under the Learning heading, you will find a new feature called “Guided Access,” which allows the user to set restrictions in apps and will no longer require activation of the Home Button to leave an app. This feature can be useful when restricting access to a specific app; in an educational setting, for example, it could be helpful for keeping students “on task.”

If the user wants to leave the app in which Guided Access is activated, he or she must enter a preset password to do so. Once Guided Access is turned on, find the app you want to use (i.e., restrict your access to), press the Home button three times, and select “start Guided Access.”

To disable Guided Access, press the Home button three more times and enter the four-digit password created in the Settings/General/Accessibility/Guided Access menu. You will then have the option to turn off Guided Access.


With iOS 6, it’s now possible to adjust the speed at which the Home button will register a double or triple click. The additional options are “slower” and “slowest.” To determine which will work best, you can select an option and the phone will vibrate to demonstrate each speed option. This will not work on the compatible iPods and iPads, which do not vibrate.

An Update Summary

While iOS 6 contains fewer changes/updates than iOS 5, these changes are still significant to users who need such features. The ability to use all aspects of accessibility interchangeably in iOS 6 is compatible (with limitations) with the iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, and 5. It’s also compatible with the iPod 4G and 5G, and with the iPad 2 and the latest generation of the iPad.

Thank You, Scott

We thank Scott for his review and look forward to more Scott reviews in the future! For more information, you can contact Scott at scott.davert@hknc.org.