Teaching VoiceOver Gestures: 3-Finger Tricks and Tips

Previous posts in this series discussed the 1-finger and 2-finger gestures. (See Teaching VoiceOver Gestures: 1-finger Tricks and Tips post and Teaching VoiceOver Gestures: 2-Finger Tricks and Tips.). This post will focus on the most common 3-finger gestures. The 3-finger gestures are used for scrolling.

Note: If Zoom is enabled on the iOS device, 3-finger gestures are also used for Zoom.

3-Finger Scrolling Gestures

Scrolling enables the user to move to the next or previous page. Some apps are set up like a book, where your turn the page (scroll left or right) while other apps are set up as one long continuous page, where you scroll up or down in order to see the next or previous sections. 

  • 3-finger swipe left: Scroll right one page
  • 3-finger swipe right: Scroll left one page
  • 3-finger swipe up: Scroll down one page
  • 3-finger swipe down: Scroll up one page

Initially, most people find this confusing - with 1-finger swipe right, you move right but with 3-finger swipe right you move LEFT? Yes, this is an intentional movement and command.  One way to think about this is if you are turning to the next page in a book. You reach for the page on your right and move it which way? Yes, you pull the page to the LEFT to the move to the next page. In workshops or when teaching students, I often take a book and ask them to the turn the page. Which way do you move the page? What if you want to go back to the previous page? (move to the left side of the page and pull the page to the RIGHT). To demonstrate the scroll up or down, I can hold the book so the binding is up and then pull the page up to show the next page.  For some, this is a confusing thought process; with these students and adults, I simply tell them that these are the four scrolling commands and then provide lots of practice so they develop good muscle memory and perform the action without thinking. Think about it - when YOU are on the Home screen, how do you swipe to the next page of apps? (1-finger swipe LEFT). Moving between Home pages with one finger swipe left to move right is not confusing for those of us who rely on vision - we 'just do it'.

Relaxing Exercises

Repeat the Sit/Stand and Running exercises discussed in the 2-finger gestures post. Fingers should be relaxed, spread slightly apart and be slightly curved.

Physical Gestures

There are a couple of options on how to physically make the scrolling gestures. 

  • Make a fist then extend three fingers. The three fingers will be pointing away from your body. With a slight wrist movement (rotate wrist), swipe the 3-fingers to the left or to the right. (Elbow stays at the side of your body is the same position as when making other gestures.)
  • Turn the right hand to the left so that your three extended fingers are pointing left. The fingers, hand and arm should be straight - held out parallel from the body. Push the whole arm, hand and fingers to the left (to scroll right) or pull to the right (to scroll left).
  • For some, it is easier to pull than to push. In that case, position your left hand so that the extended three fingers, hand and arm are facing to the right and pull the fingers/hand/arm to the left (to scroll to the next page). Use the right hand facing to the left and pull right to scroll to the previous page (same as earlier push or pull position).

The video below demonstrates how to make the 3-finger scroll gestures.


3-Finger Mute and Screen Curtain Gestures

There are two more important 3-finger gestures: 

  • 3-finger double tap: Speech off/on
  • 3-finger triple tap: Screen Curtain on/off

The 3-finger double tap turns the VoiceOver speech off - meaning VoiceOver is no longer heard - but VoiceOver is still active. Voiceover sounds (called earcons) are still heard. This is different than pause/start VoiceOver  (2-finger tap). Turning VoiceOver speech off is typically used by refreshable braille display users, as VoiceOver has to be on in order for the braille display to work. However, a braille reader may want to read the braille but not hear VoiceOver announce everything. This may be for privacy reasons or in the classroom, VoiceOver speech might be muted so that the student can only read/write using braille. This might be important when a student is learning to read braille or perhaps during a spelling test when it would inappropriate for VoiceOver to announce the word!

The 3-finger triple tap toggles the screen curtain on or off (makes the iPad screen go black). Again, this might be for privacy reasons - an adult is doing his/her banking or a student is taking a test and other students cannot copy his work. Turning the screen curtain on also saves battery power.

NOTE: If you turn VoiceOver speech off and turn on the screen curtain, it appears that your iPad is broken, as you will not see the screen or hear VoiceOver talking. (However, you will hear clicks and sounds as you move your finger around the screen, unless you have muted your VoiceOver sounds too!) This will happen to you or your student at some point!  Simply use 3-finger double and triple taps to toggle the voice on and the screen curtain off!

Zoom Enabled

If Zoom is enabled on the iPad - even if it is currently not being used - the commands for toggling VoiceOver speech and screen curtain changes. These are the only two iOS gestures that change. Zoom also uses three-finger gestures.

When Zoom is enabled:

  • 3-finger double tap: zooms in/out the screen
  • 3-finger triple tap: toggles VoiceOver speech on/off
  • 3-finger quadruple tap: toggles the screen curtain on and off
  • 3-finger drag: drags around the zoomed screen
  • 3 finger double tap and hold, drag up/down: increases or decreases the amount of zoom

To enable/disable Zoom, go into Settings > General > Accessibility > Zoom > Zoom (toggle on/off)

Note: In iOS 13, Accessibility will no longer be under General; it will be found on the left column on an iPad.