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Getting started with VoiceOver on iOS

VoiceOver is a screen-reading tool built into Apple Inc.'s iOS. It helps people navigate and use their iPhone without needing to see the screen. First introduced in 2009 with the iPod Shuffle and iPhone 3GS, VoiceOver has been in the picture in every Apple's iOS release ever since.

For developers, it is always a good idea to test out VoiceOver with your project on your chosen testing device.

There is also VoiceOver for macOS - a separate screen reader from VoiceOver iOS. If interested, you can check out Mat Marquis's detailed guide to macOS VoiceOver!

How does VoiceOver work?

On an iPhone, VoiceOver responds to gestures (single tap, double tap, et cetera) and audibly communicates to us all the information we need to know (for example, what we have selected or done, the hints, values and traits of the items).

How to start using VoiceOver on iOS

The easiest way to turn on VoiceOver on your iPhone is to:

  1. Open Settings app on your iPhone.
  2. Select Accessibility.
  3. Under Vision, select VoiceOver.
  4. Turn on VoiceOver.

You can also make it easier to activate/deactivate VoiceOver and use it frequently, by adding an Accessibility Shortcut:

  1. Open Settings app on your iPhone.
  2. Select Accessibility.
  3. Under General, select Accessibility Shortcut.
  4. Select VoiceOver.

Then you can toggle VoiceOver feature on or off by triple clicking the side button (on iPhone X or later). If it is an earlier version of iPhone, triple click the Home button.

You can also ask Siri to turn on VoiceOver on or off instantly by saying "Hey Siri, turn on VoiceOver!" or "Hey Siri, turn off VoiceOver!".

Basic VoiceOver gestures

Here are some common gestures you can use to navigate our iPhone with VoiceOver:

Touch the screen anywhereHear an item
Drag finger on screenExplore items
Quickly flick left or right with one fingerLocate items or apps
Double tapSelect and activate app, link or button
Triple tapDouble tap items
Tap once with two fingersPause VoiceOver
Swipe up from bottom edge (ends with a haptic response and sound)Return to Home
Swipe up from bottom edge and keep dragging upward (ends with a second haptic response and higher pitched sound)Bring up App Switcher
Flick left or right with three fingersMove through pages in App Switcher
Flick up with three fingersForce close an app while in App Switcher
Swipe down from top edge of screenOpen Control Center
Swipe up from bottom edge of screenQuit Control Center

For a more comprehensive list of gestures, check out Apple's official VoiceOver guide!

VoiceOver Rotor

VoiceOver Rotor helps us change how VoiceOver works to suit our needs, whether it is adjusting the volume or speaking rate, selecting Braille Screen Input or more.

iOS VoiceOver Rotor showing a list of settings on The A11Y Project's homepage on mobile.
VoiceOver Rotor on iOS
  1. When VoiceOver is on, you can open VoiceOver Rotor by rotating two fingers on the screen as if you are turning a dial. Alternatively, you can drag up one finger from one hand and drag down another finger from the other hand.
  2. Keep rotating the Rotor and hear the settings being read aloud until you get the one you want.
  3. Finally, swipe one finger up or down to use the setting.

For example, you can read The A11Y Project's webpage on mobile via headings. First, you rotate the Rotor and stop at Headings setting. Then you swipe one finger up and down to read the webpage headings by headings.

Have fun trying out VoiceOver!

Further reading