10 more tips for users of Braille displays on iDevices
Two years have passed since my original 10 Tips for Braille Users of iDevices article was published, and many changes have happened since that time. There were also a few more helpful tips I didn't pass along due to Space constraints. So, I've decided it was time for another list, given that we’re two iOS versions later and some useful things have been updated since the last article came out. Don't worry, though, most of the information provided in the first article is still just as valid, so if you want a refresher or have not read that one, I recommend doing so.
Unlock the First tip
On iOS 9, when you press the Home button and are on the Lock Screen, you can use Touch ID to unlock your device. However, if you happen to be using a finger that doesn’t work with Touch ID, or you have a device where Touch ID is not a feature, you may be looking for a faster way to unlock your device. Once the Braille display has connected, press Space with dots 2-4-6 and you will unlock your iDevice without having to scroll around. You will still need to enter your Passcode if you have one set, but this can save some time when Touch ID is not a convenient or available option.
Inputs and Outputs, Oh My!
The ability to quickly toggle the type of Braille you were reading or writing was introduced in iOS 8; this comes in handy when you do not want to fight with the quirky Apple Braille translator. If you're not familiar with Braille translation and all of its oddities, see this Guide. Another use for a different input and output type of Braille would be if you are wishing to read contracted Braille but are not yet comfortable writing in it. The 3 different types of Braille you can switch among are Contracted, Uncontracted Six-Dot, and Eight-Dot. To toggle the input (what you are typing), press Space with dots 2-3-6. VoiceOver and the Braille display should report the status of the currently selected setting. To toggle output (what you're reading), press Space with G (dots 1-2-4-5). You can also change these options by going to Settings>General>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Braille and selecting either input or output and configuring it to your liking.
Speed it Up!
Particularly for those on older devices, Braille input has become a bit less rapid than what you would find in iOS 7 and earlier. While there is currently no way to get Braille back to iOS 7 levels of responsiveness, you can often times speed up how quickly the text gets sent from the display through VoiceOver and on to your device. There are a few settings to change which has been found to help on some devices. GO to Settings>General>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Typing Feedback. Under the hardware keyboard, choose "nothing". Also go under the software keyboard heading and set this to “nothing” as well. You should see an increase in the speed at which your text goes from the Braille display to the iDevice, but the tradeoff is that you will not hear what words and or characters are spoken through speech. While that doesn't bother me at all, since I almost never use speech on my iDevices, it may be helpful information for some users.
The other setting to change if you are finding iOS doesn't translate your Braille input fast enough is to turn automatic Braille translation on. On devices running iOS 8 and later, this is set to off by default. Once you’ve upgraded from iOS 7, if you have not turned this feature back on, it’s worth verifying that it is set the way you want it, as many devices had it disabled once they were upgraded. Find it by going in to settings>General>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Braille>Braille display input. Under the options for the various types of input, you will now find the aforementioned option. This will help those who are more confident Braille typers, but it will introduce some quirkiness if you are using contracted Braille. Again, see the above linked-to guide for more information if this is something you are not familiar with.
Here and Gone in a Flash
Many people like, and some do not like, alerts flashing up on their Braille displays. One of the more common announcement types are VoiceOver hints, which largely don't apply to those who only use a Braille keyboard on their Braille displays. However, some information found in announcements are very useful. For example, recognizing a bill in LookTel Money Reader, seeing possible moves in Dice World, and many other examples in many different apps. Whether you like these announcements delivered to you fast or slow, you can configure this in iOS 9. Go to Settings>General>Accessibility>Braille>Braille Display Alert duration, and set it from there. You can enter the amount in the text field provided, or press Space with dot 4 to activate either a Decrement or Increment button. You cannot turn these alerts off altogether; however, entering "0" will set it to the smallest duration which is 0.5 seconds. You can have the alert show on your display for up to 20 seconds. Remember, you can also review a list of recent announcements by pressing space with N. Learn more about this in my previous article.
So Many Choices, So Many Items
In many apps, while one can scroll pages and move around the screen with keyboard commands, sometimes it’s just quicker to jump right to something with a few more direct keystrokes. When in many apps, any item that can be activated by VoiceOver can be put in to a list. This is called the Item Chooser. Bring it up by pressing Space with I (dots 2-4) and you will be presented with a list of available items. Before you get to that list, though, you will have a search box where you can type what you are looking for. Then, press Space with dot 4 until you find it. Pressing a cursor routing button or Space with dots 3-6 will take you directly to that item. You can then press either a cursor routing button or Space with 3-6 again to activate the item currently in focus.
Making the Web a Bit More Manageable
The Item Chooser is a great way to quickly locate items on an app or in Safari. However, if a certain string of text is what you’re looking for, the Item Chooser isn’t going to help. If you want to find something, on a web page for example, press Space with F, (dots 1-2-4), enter the text, and then press Space with dot 8. VoiceOver should jump directly to the first occurrence of that string of text on a web page. Interestingly, in apps, this only appears to often function like the search box on the Item Chooser, but in Safari, for example, the find function works quite well.
Now Hold it Right There
With some applications, such as Twitterific 5 for Twitter, a way to launch a quick menu for options to work with tweets is to double-tap with one finger and then hold. You don’t have to mess with the touchscreen to achieve this function though, simply press Space with dots 3-6-7-8 and you will accomplish the same thing. When you want to delete apps off of your Home Screen, you can also use this command in that situation. Unfortunately, you cannot move apps around various screens like you can with touchscreen gestures or their Bluetooth keyboard equivalents.
Start and Stop at Will
Another useful keyboard command rolled out with iOS 9 is Space with dots 1-5-6. This is sometimes referred to as the "Magic Tap" gesture--the equivalent of double-tapping with 2 fingers on the touchscreen, or pressing VO with - on a Bluetooth keyboard. You can now answer and hang up calls, start or stop dictation, more easily interact with stories on Facebook, and pretty much whatever else double-tap with 2 fingers can achieve on iOS. It’s worth noting that sometimes dictation doesn’t work in text fields; I believe this is some kind of bug related to whether the onscreen keyboard is visible or not. If you try Space with 1-5-6, and dictation doesn’t start, try pressing Space with dots 1-4-6 to unhide the onscreen, or as Apple calls it, the Virtual Keyboard. It’s a good idea to toggle it back off when you’re done, since the onscreen keyboard can sometimes get in the way of reading text you’ve typed.
Containers Aren’t Just for Storing Stuff
Containers are another way app developers can assist VoiceOver users to quickly navigate between different sections of their apps. In the Mail app, for example, the screen is divided in to containers which allow you to jump from the header information, to the body of the message, and to the actions you can take on the open message at the bottom of the screen. While Containers is a Rotor option, it could take a while to get them set on your rotor, thus losing the time you may save by using the actual function. And while there is not a gesture to jump by container, there are a series of Braille keyboard commands which will help Braille display users take advantage of this feature. TO move to the previous Container, press Space with dots 1-7. TO move to the next Container, press Space with dots 4-7. Remember, dot 7 is typically to the left of dot 3.
Send it Off Quickly!
Many people love to text on their iDevices; in fact some prefer texting to talking. SO when anyone comes up with a faster way to use the Messages app, I think that’s rather awesome, and Apple has done just that with iOS 9. TO activate the “Send” button after typing a message, you can press Space with dot 4 and then activate the “Send” button, or just press Space with dot 8 after you complete the text of your message. Too bad this article wasn’t a text, I could just do that now and send this thing immediately! It would be a long text to read, but that’s a problem for the recipient, not me.
Apple continues to lead the way in terms of native Braille support for its products, and it’s quite impressive when compared to any of the other mainstream devices on the market. Hopefully, armed with these new tips, you will enjoy your Braille device and iDevice working together even more. DO you have a tip not listed in either of these 2 articles you found handy? Feel free to leave it in the comments below.