June 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 6

Technology and Productivity

Series: Removing the Stress from iOS: A Blueprint for Incorporating Touchscreen Products Into the Classroom, Workplace, and Community

Part II: Success With iOS: Making it Happen!

This article is the second in a series of four articles designed to incorporate accessible iOS know-how into your adaptive technology journeys. If you read the first article, you'll have an understanding of the importance of iOS technology in educational, employment, and community settings. You will also be familiar with the idea that accessibility does not always directly correlate with usability, and that implementation of iOS devices can require properly positioned third party hardware, methodologies, and strategies for the best learning experience.

The ideas in my first article don't amount to much when it comes to our day-to-day efforts as service providers and users unless we tie practical strategies for effectively and independently using iOS technology to the performance of the tasks that are important to us and our sighted peers.

The Rotor Gesture: An Efficient Means of Navigation

One of the most feature-rich gestures in the Voiceover screenreader is undoubtedly the rotor gesture. Experienced iOS users can take advantage of this gesture to effortlessly navigate through different elements in highly graphical iOS applications like iTunes and the Safari Web browser. To make the gesture, place and rotate your thumb and forefinger counterclockwise anywhere on the iOS touchscreen. The motion is similar to that of turning a dial or knob on an old school radio or television set. With each turn to the right or left, the various navigation elements are spoken. If you wish to edit a document, you can easily move the cursor by characters, words, or lines by changing rotor settings. Once the desired setting is selected, you may swipe your finger up to move back or down to move forward through the desired elements. When surfing the Internet, you may use the rotor to move by links, headings, tables, and form controls. The rotor also allows you to navigate between "containers" or specific compartments that house various controls and information within applications.

The rotor also gives you the ability to copy and paste text that you have selected within an application. You may also "select all" text and paste the contents to another application. Lastly, the rotor enables you to alter the way that you enter text using the touchscreen via its "typing" setting. You may elect to double tap the respective characters that you wish to enter into an edit field or simply lift your finger off a specific character once it has been spoken, and the character will be inserted where the cursor is located.

All of these rotor commands can be accessed via refreshable braille displays with braille input capabilities. Rather than using the rotor gesture on the touchscreen, the user may change the rotor settings via specific key combinations, and then navigate through the selected element by using a joystick or key combination to move forward and backward through texts or application controls. Before you can expect to fully benefit from the various applications on an iOS device, it's imperative to establish a solid understanding of how to use these rotor settings. My bias is very heavily weighted to accessing these settings using a braille display which truly provides me with a very fast and efficient means of navigation by character, word, line, heading, table, link, and form control.

A Few Ways to Input

There are a few different ways to input information into an iOS application, including the two discussed above.

Onscreen Keyboard

Apple provides two ways to access its on-screen keyboard. You can move your fingers over specific characters when you hear the letter you want, you can double tap anywhere on the screen to insert the character. With the second method, you simply lift your finger from the screen when the target character is spoken. Using the rotor settings to navigate by characters, words, and lines is essential for effective editing of text using these two methods.

Bluetooth Keyboard

There are also a variety of external, Bluetooth QWERTY keyboards that are supported by iOS. You can easily enter text and navigate using arrow keys when you pair a Bluetooth keyboard with an iOS device. Lastly, one may elect to enter text using a wireless refreshable braille display with braille input keys. It's worth noting that Apple supports both contracted and uncontracted braille input. Nevertheless, there are some glaring backtranslation issues that occur when a user is brailling contracted braille into an application and pauses while entering in these contractions. Voiceover often begins the backtranslation process to the given application before the user has completed a given word or phrase. For instance, if I am brailling the word "Larry" using contracted braille, and I braille the letter L followed by an ar sign, and then pause, VoiceOver will backtranslate these two characters as "likear." I've personally raised this issue with Apple and unfortunately the best is to input contracted braille characters at a constant, steady pace without pauses.

Regardless of the method you choose for text entry, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind:

  1. When entering text into an edit field using the onscreen keyboard, double tap the screen to ensure the onscreen keyboard is present for text input and editing. Voiceover will speak the phrase "is editing" when it's possible to enter text.
  2. When using a QWERTY or braille keyboard, press the Enter key, or equivalent (e.g., depress the joystick) to begin text entry. Voiceover will speak the phrase "is editing" when it's possible to enter text.
  3. Remember to swipe your finger up and down to move between selected characters, words, and lines. Use the corresponding arrow keys on a QWERTY keyboard, and the necessary chording commands on a braille display to navigate to previous or next characters, words, and lines.
  4. Remember that the cursor's insertion point for text entry is generally at the beginning or the end of a given chunk of text unless you manually move the cursor, so be confident of your cursor's location before proceeding to enter or edit specific text.
  5. There will be times when you enter search terms, user names, and passwords into edit fields. In many applications, there is a "clear text" button located to the right of these edit fields which, when activated, clears the text from the edit fields allowing you to re-enter new data.

iTunes, the App Store, and You

Now that we've addressed navigation and text input, we're ready to begin exploring the endless number of apps that are available for download. Before you dive headlong into the iTunes App Store, be sure to do the following:

  1. Make sure you are connected to either a cellular or wireless network. You're not going to get very far if you are not connected to a network to receive or share information.
  2. Establish an iTunes account: This can be done either by registering using the iTunes application using your PC or by using iTunes on the iOS device. The registration process will require that you provide iTunes with a variety of account information, including user name and password, and payment method.
  3. If you are a service provider, particularly in an education environment, you may have concerns about working with clients in a retail context. It's possible to set up an iTunes account that does not have a method of payment associated with it by navigating to the App Store on your iOS device and locating a free app. Once you select the "free" button associated with the application, you'll be asked to sign in or create an iTunes account, and will not be prompted to associate a method of payment with this account as long as you only download free apps.
  4. Bookmark the Applevis website, a wonderful, rich resource that will keep you up-to-speed on new apps that work particularly well with Voiceover and warn you about apps that might have accessibility obstacles. Voiceover is similar to every other screenreader on the market in that the third-party applications developed for iOS may not always be as accessible as they should be for the blind user. You can even contribute your own experiences and findings to this invaluable forum.
  5. Draw the distinction between iTunes and the App Store. iTunes delivers content (music, movies, books, and TV shows) to your iOS device, while the App Store delivers applications to be installed on your device. On your iOS device, iTunes and the App Store will appear as two separate apps. On your PC, iTunes provides access to both content and apps through the same interface, and also allows you to back up and synchronize all of the data (content, apps, contacts, notes, e-mail, etc.) on your iOS device to your computer or computers.

The App Store application has five tabs, located at the bottom of the application. Three of these tabs focus on locating currently featured apps. You may also browse "top charts," or the apps that are most frequently downloaded, or search for apps by specific categories and device compatibility. There is also a "genius" tab which, when enabled, takes a snapshot of all of the apps you have purchased and uses this information to recommend apps you may wish to consider installing. You may also review apps that you've purchased. Lastly, and most importantly, there is an "update" tab that indicates available updates for all of the apps installed on the iOS device. To activate one of these five tabs, navigate to the bottom of the application, and double tap on a desired tab. You may then navigate to the top of the App Store application to browse or search.

Once you've found an application you want to purchase and install, either double tap on the app to learn more about it, or double tap the "buy" or "free" button, sign into your iTunes account, and locate the "install" button to download and install the app onto your iOS device. Remember that apps are the means by which we complete tasks using this technology, so try to associate specific tasks with particular applications and use task descriptors as your search criteria for specific apps.

A Different Way of Surfing

The biggest challenge to overcome when surfing the Web using an iOS device is how different it is from the browsing experience we're used to on a PC. Apple's Safari browser gives surfers who are sighted or visually impaired a very different look and feel when retrieving information using an iOS device than it does when using a PC. The first step in mastering iOS browsing is to accept that the methodologies you've employed to surf the web using a PC are not always going to apply when surfing the Web using a portable, touchscreen device. The second step is to realize that much of the same functionality present within a PC browsing experience is present within Safari. It's all about understanding how the Safari application is presented on the touchscreen, and using the navigation methods that have been discussed to negotiate various Web elements.

Once Safari is launched, you will be presented with a series of buttons that are positioned at the top of the application. These buttons assume a role similar to that of Internet Explorer's toolbar, and allow you to navigate forward and backward through webpages that you've accessed within the browser. Obviously, when you begin your browsing session, neither the "back" or "forward" buttons are applicable options for you. You're also presented with an edit field for entering a URL, and a search field tied to Google's search engine. Either open a desired webpage or search for pertinent information using any of the input methods described earlier in this article.

Once a webpage has been opened, or a search has been completed, it's important to use similar strategies to those employed when surfing using a PC to determine the types and numbers of Web elements present on a given page. For instance, when I'm searching for information using Google, I can quickly locate my search results by navigating through various headings that present specific search results. When I log onto my checking account to perform banking functions, I know that the second table on my homepage provides me with my account balance and that the links above this table enable me to transfer funds, pay bills, etc. Much of the success of Web surfing is not so much what browser you use, but how familiar you are with the Web browsing process. Get familiar with frequently visited sites, and if you're not familiar with a particular site, use the rotor command to cycle through the various elements on a page. Voiceover will tell you how many links, headings, tables, and form controls are present on a particular page as you cycle through these settings. To be sure, there are limitations to Web access when using Safari, as there are when using any screenreading technology to access webpages, but the pluses definitely outweigh the minuses when incorporating this browser into your portable Web surfing experience.

Now that we've covered navigating, entering text, finding and installing applications, and surfing the Internet, you can begin the business of making the most out of your IOS device. In the next article, we'll direct our attention to the various applications that enable us to search for, download, and read books using these same devices.

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