When I started teaching myself how to use VoiceOver, I often got very frustrated at how much of a challenge it seemed to be. There were moments where I fantasized about throwing my iPad out the window because I couldn’t figure it out, and I consider myself to be very tech-savvy. It wasn’t until I sat down and talked to some of my blind friends that I finally learned how to use it, and now I feel confident with using VoiceOver whenever I am having a bad vision day or find certain material hard to read. Today, I will be sharing how to use VoiceOver for Beginners, with limited technology skills required.
What is VoiceOver?
VoiceOver is the screen reader built-in to Apple products, including iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPod Shuffle and the Apple Watch. It is also available for Mac computers, but this post is geared towards learning VoiceOver on portable electronics. VoiceOver was first introduced in 2009 on the iPod Shuffle and iPhone 3GS and has been included on every Apple product since, with the exceptions of the iPod classic and iPod nano. It is free of charge and requires no additional downloads to use. Read more about selecting an iPad here.
How to activate VoiceOver
Follow these steps to activate VoiceOver on any device. Blind users will need to ask a sighted person for assistance, though devices purchased at the Apple Store can be activated after purchase.
- Go to the settings app
- Find the general section
- Select the accessibility menu
- Tap VoiceOver, which is at the top of the list
- Turn VoiceOver on
VoiceOver can also be activated using Siri- more on that in a minute. Read more about other iPad accessibility settings for low vision here.
The voice in VoiceOver can be customized to user preference. Here are the settings that are available to adjust:
The speaking rate can be sped up or slowed down by adjusting the slider. It can be sped up by dragging the slider to the right and slowed down by dragging the slider to the left. The default speaking rate is 50%, but most people increase it to 75% speed.
The voice used by default is Samantha, a female American voice. Users can choose between different male and female voices, as well as different accents from the UK, Ireland, Australia, and South Africa. Pitch can also be adjusted to make the voice higher or lower, but everyone I know keeps it at the default 50%.
Verbosity determines what information is read, such as punctuation, capital letters, embedded links, table headers, emojis, and similar. Users can choose to turn these settings on or off. Read more about emoji and vision impairment here.
Settings for VoiceOver can be backed up in iTunes in case of emergency. Read more about how my iPad died suddenly and how to create a backup here.
The gestures used for VoiceOver are similar to the gestures used to navigate an iPad, with a few minor differences. Here are the most common gestures:
- Single tap– selects an app or other item on the screen. VoiceOver identifies what the item is
- Double tap– Select an app or other item on the screen
- Double tap with two fingers– answer or end a phone/FaceTime call
- Double tap with three fingers– turn VoiceOver speech on or off
- Triple tap with three fingers– Screen curtain, more on that in the next section
- Two finger swipe– swiping down reads the entire screen
- Three finger swipe– swiping to the left or right moves across pages
- Pinch and drag– zooms in on screen, not very helpful for blind users
Activating the screen curtain
The screen curtain blacks out the screen, giving the user privacy so that sighted users can’t look at the screen. The screen appears to be off, though full functionality of the phone is still available. To activate the screen curtain, triple tap on the screen with three fingers, and triple tap again to turn it off. Speaking of privacy, read more about creating secure passwords here.
Typing with the keyboard
To type on the default keyboard with VoiceOver, users double-tap on the desired letter in order to type it out. Users can also select a random letter on the keyboard and swipe right or left until they get the letter they are looking for- as an example, if I typed a “S”, I could swipe to the right until I get to the letter “J.” Keyboard dictation is also available, so users can convert speech into text with ease. There are other keyboards available on the App Store as well that work with VoiceOver, though I don’t have any specific recommendations for keyboards at this time. Read more about making keyboards accessible here.
To download an application, follow these steps:
- Open the App Store application
- The default screen is the apps of the day for download
- Search for an application by tapping the bottom of the screen and selecting the search menu
- Tap at the top of the screen and type in the desired search term
- In results, tap at the top of the screen for the first result, and swipe to the right to view other apps
- Double tap on a desired app and then tap the “get” button
- Type in account information as needed
- The app will be added to the newest home screen page
Read more about some of my favorite apps in my iPad/iOS tag here.
Pairing VoiceOver with Siri
Siri is Apple’s voice assistant that pairs excellently with VoiceOver. Here are some of the things Siri can do, and how to ask for them:
- Make a phone call– “Siri, call mom” or “Siri, call 867-5309”
- Open an app– “Siri, open Twitter”
- Compose a message– “Siri, send a message to dad” followed by the contents of the message. Works for text and email
- Activate settings– “Siri, turn on wifi” or “Siri, turn screen curtain on”
- Web search– “Siri, Google search Buddy Holly” (speaking of Buddy Holly, read more about his glasses and vision impairment here)
This is just a snippet of all of the things Siri can do, but they are definitely the most useful functions.
Avoid relying on Siri
It’s important to not be fully reliant on Siri, since the voice assistant only works on wifi or over cellular data connections, and can also drain the battery quickly. Practice finding apps, making phone calls, typing (or dictating) messages, and going through settings both manually and with Siri to ensure there are no interruptions.
Start learning early
It’s important to start learning technology skills as early as possible. This way, more time is spent using the device for learning, as opposed to learning the device and struggling to keep up with technology- read more about important tech skills to learn for transition here. By learning how to use VoiceOver, people with vision impairments such as blindness and low vision can be more independent and thrive in both educational and social environments.