Using the iPad with a screenreader

As part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day I’ve just spent 1 hour using my iPad with VoiceOver, the in-built screenreader. I have some limited experience of using screenreaders, but being sighted have never used one for for an extended period of time. I have used them on PCs, but was especially interested to see how they worked on a touchscreen device.

I spent what can only be described as a very frustrating hour and now have an even greater respect for screenreader users.

I was attempting to continue with my normal work but several problems prevented me from performing straighforward tasks. I’m not saying these are problems with VoiceOver on the iPad as it gets good reviews from blind users. I share them to illustrate how tricky it could be for a blind user to access a device such as the iPad with no previous experience.

So that I couldn’t cheat I also turned on the screen curtain which turns the whole of the iPad’s screen pen black.

Firstly I found it hard to navigate in text fields. I had intended to tweet from @BRITE_Fil as I was going along, but typed Google as Goggle and then couldn’t navigate to correct it.  After about 10 minutes I gave up and decided to tweet after my hour was up.

Incidentally, I was trying to tweet about Google as when you access the Google App none of the buttons are labelled, all you hear is “button,button, button” as you move your finger around the screen.

Another task I complete often during a day is placing an item in my diary. This seemed straightforward until I had to select the date and time. When VoiceOver is on you double tap to select an item and then swipe up or down with three fingers to move through options (in this case dates and times).  I wanted to insert an appointment on 14th May, but was only able to select 7th, 15th or 23rd.  Likewise I wanted the appointment to start at 9am but could only select 4am, 12 noon or 8pm.  I’m sure this is something to do with my swiping technique, but it was incredibly frustrating.

I decided to search the web to find out if I was swiping incorrectly.  The safari browser works very well with VoiceOver and using the Rotor enables you to choose which items you want to cycle through on the page (headings, links, buttons etc.). Anyway I couldn’t find out I whether my swiping was flawed so I gave up on the diary entry also.

All in all my hour taught me about how much practice it must take to use a screenreader and how different it is using a screenreader on a touchscreen device rather than via a keyboard. Part of the problem was that I was trying to use my visual memory to recall the location of items on the screen.  I also could do with a great deal more practice!

iPad and Android accessibility options will be explored as part of BRITE’s input to the  ICT and Inclusion 2012 event taking place in Edinburgh and Aberdeen in June.

Fil McIntyre, Assistive Technologist

2 thoughts on “Using the iPad with a screenreader

    • Phil

      I can understand how frustrating you found the IPad to navigate using voice over. I am a blind user, and I too sometimes struggle with swipes, gestures, and finding the buttons I want in Edit fields. Let me recommend that for anyone who uses an IPad not on the move, a simple plug in keyboard is well worth buying. I use one of these along with on screen gestures and get along much better than I did at the start. Typeing in fields is much easier using this method.
      I don’t use the google app as it is clumsy, and yes, many of the buttons are not labeled, making it inaccessible. Much better simply to stick with Google in safari, as this works really well, and everything is labeled.
      I’ve never experienced the problems you describe puting appointments etc in the diary, but there can be a really annoying on screen message sometimes which stops you inputing data, and this may be the cause of your problems here.
      Keep working on the IPad, its really worth it, and have a look at Seri on the IPhone 4s too. Needs some work, but I use it a lot for short e main and text replies, although you sometimes have to say words as they sound before it is accepted. “How now brown cow”, and all of that kind of stuff!

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