How the Blind Master their iPhones with VoiceOver


Every iPhone comes with a powerful feature regular owners don’t use. But when the iPhone gets into the hands of visually impaired users and they enable this feature, the whole device becomes “probably the number one assistive device for people who can’t see”, right up there with “a cane and a seeing eye dog”, as Joseph Danowsky described it while speaking with David Pogue. Yeah, I’m talking about VoiceOver.


At its heart, VoiceOver is software that makes the smartphone speak – using a female voice – everything you touch, such as the name of the apps, the percentage of the battery, etc. You need to double-tap to open an app such as Mail, Phone. You can also make the voice stop speaking with a two-fingered tap, but when you tap with three fingers, you turn on another feature called Screen Curtain: the screen goes black, and users gain visual privacy and likely a battery boost.

But there is more: Apple’s VoiceOver also includes a feature called the Rotor. This is actually a configurable dial, which enables blind users to control dozens of settings such as voice, gender, language, volume, speaking speed, verbosity, etc.

“Let’s say we want VoiceOver to read word by word, because there’s something there that we want to hear spelled. We bring up the Rotor,” Joe told me. “It’s a deep menu system. And I can choose what I’m putting there, and the order. There are 20 or 30 items that could go on the Rotor.”

You can get VoiceOver to move from one item to another by flicking a finger up or down, and this feature can be especially helpful when browsing the Web.

You can read the full story, including how Joe uses his iPhone throughout the day – Joe is private-client banker at US Trust – by following this link.



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  • Brian W Pietrzyk

    I’m sighted and I’m trying to help a completely blind friend learn voiceover. I just dropped off an iphone 5C for him last week then we did the ios 10.2.1 update and now voice over is adding all these wierd codes to its announcements like ‘Char’ between rotor clicks and ‘snc800’ for spaces after words. Reported it to apple and waiting to hear back. So that threw him off. I’m also looking for tutourials or even classes to get him started. Its a big change for him coming for running Jaws and XP. So on the lookout for ideas to help him get going on it. He’s 39 so he has age on his side.