Exploring iOS Accessibility

Submitted by Mike Shea on Mon, 12/09/2019


iOS is a mobile operating system created and developed by Apple Inc. and is used all over the world. This operating system is responsible for powering Apple’s mobile devices, such as the iPhone. The user interface uses direct manipulation using multi-touch gestures. For example, swiping, tapping, and pinching the screen of the mobile device. Apple is noted as creating the world’s most personal device designed for every person through its extensive accessibility features. The iOS accessibility features support a user’s vision, physical and motor, hearing, and learning needs.

Getting Started

The first step into accessing these great accessibility features is turning them on. When first setting up an iPhone triple-clicking the home button or side button on newer phones, will turn on the VoiceOver. Turing on the zoom takes a double-tap on the screen with three fingers. These are a few of the many features available to users. The entire accessible features suite can be found in settings under accessibility. They are broken into four main categories: vision, physical and motor, hearing, and general.


One of the most popular features for users that are blind or have low vision is VoiceOver. VoiceOver is a gesture-based screen reader that reads what is on the screen to the user. VoiceOver gives the user a description everything happening on their screen from as small as battery level to who is calling you and what app you’re touching. VoiceOver can be customized to adjust the speaking rate and pitch for the most comfortable experience. In the most recent versions the user can actually choose from a wide range of gestures and assign them to specific commands. VoiceOver works with all iOS apps which includes third-party apps. Navigating with VoiceOver is as simple as dragging your finger around on the screen and it will read aloud each item. Tapping will give you a description and to select the item after it is read aloud you double-tap to select.

When typing it will read aloud each character and after it reads it a double-tap will type the letter. For privacy a Blind user can activate a screen curtain that turns off the display, but they will still hear what the VoiceOver reads. When VoiceOver comes across an image it will describe the image, even in some cases when the image has not been annotated. If you are reading a PDF file turning on the rotor function will help navigate the document. When rotor is on, turning two fingers on the screen like a dial will help you navigate through settings such as headings, links, and images. You can then skip headings to get to the portion of the document you’re looking for. VoiceOver will also support a braille display through Bluetooth. iOS will allow you to invert colors, reduce the white point, enable grayscale, and choose from a wide selection of color filters. These settings help users that have a different forms of color blindness and vision challenges. The zoom allows you to enlarge up to 1500 percent and text can be customized by font and font weight. The camera has a built in magnifier to get a better look at something sitting on your desk.


The system has been created to work seamlessly with many of the top manufactures for hearing aids. This helps give the user the best sound quality and a more customized experience. The system works with hearing aids and sound processors using Live Listen, which uses a microphone to pick up what people are saying by eliminating background noise. The Noise app will track decibel levels of any environment you’re in to help you identify any areas that may be damaging your hearing. You can use your iPhone to make and receive RTT phone calls, which is an instant transmission of a message. The iPhone also supports TTY phone calls without the need for additional hardware. Customized vibrating alerts can be created to distinguish between different types of alerts.


When it comes to a user who have a mobility disability they can use voice control to tell the phone exactly what to do. There is a comprehensive set of commands that makes it easy to quickly open and interact with all of your apps. Switch Control allows the user to navigate through using Bluetooth enabled switch gear, so there is no need to tap or pinch.  

The iOS accessibility control center is fully customizable and you can easily add and organize all your shortcuts that are most useful to you. If you experience any issues with getting you accessibility features setup you can schedule an appointment with your local Apple store and they will help you get setup.

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The Rocky Mountain ADA Center's blog, Access Granted, tackles ADA issues through unique and diverse perspectives. Articles are written by staff of RMADAC and a variety of special guest authors. Some may be educational, others might be personal or thought-provoking. Either way, Access Granted will bring you the ADA of today!

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