How to Use VoiceOver and Other Visual Assistance Features on Your iPhone

By Dwight Spivey

After VoiceOver is turned on, you need to figure out how to use it on your iPhone. Using it is awkward at first, but you’ll get the hang of it!

Here are the main onscreen gestures you should know how to use:

  • Tap an item to select it. VoiceOver then speaks its name.
  • Double-tap the selected item. This action activates the item.
  • Flick three fingers. It takes three fingers to scroll around a page with VoiceOver turned on.

If tapping with two or three fingers seems difficult for you, try tapping with one finger from one hand and one or two from the other. When double- or triple-tapping, you have to perform these gestures as quickly as you can for them to work.

Here are additional gestures to help you use VoiceOver. If you want to use this feature often, I recommend the VoiceOver section of the iPhone online User Guide, which goes into great detail about using VoiceOver. When there, just click on the model of iPhone or the version of iOS you have to read its manual. You can also get an iBooks version of the manual through that app in the iBooks Store.

VoiceOver Gestures
Gesture Effect
Flick right or left. Select the next or preceding item.
Tap with two fingers. Stop speaking the current item.
Flick two fingers up. Read everything from the top of the screen.
Flick two fingers down. Read everything from the current position.
Flick three fingers up or down. Scroll one page at a time.
Flick three fingers right or left. Go to the next or preceding page.
Tap three fingers. Speak the scroll status (for example, line 20 of 100).
Flick four fingers up or down. Go to the first or last element on a page.
Flick four fingers right or left. Go to the next or preceding section (as on a web page).

Check out some of the settings for VoiceOver, including a choice for Braille, Language Rotor for making language choices, the ability to navigate images, and a setting to have iPhone speak notifications.

Several Vision features are simple on/off settings that you can turn on or off after you tap Settings → General → Accessibility:

  • Zoom: The Zoom feature enlarges the contents displayed on the iPhone screen when you double-tap the screen with three fingers. The Zoom feature works almost everywhere in iPhone: in Photos, on web pages, on your Home screens, in your Mail, in Music, and in Videos — give it a try!
  • Magnifier: Enable Magnifier to use your iPhone’s built-in camera as a magnifying glass. Just triple-click the Home button to activate it (after you’ve turned the feature on, of course).
  • Display Accommodations: Includes such features as
    • Color Filters (aids in case of color blindness)
    • Reduce White Point (helps reduce the intensity of bright colors)
    • Invert Colors (which reverses colors on your screen so that white backgrounds are black and black text is white)

      The Invert Colors feature works well in some places and not so well in others. For example, in the Photos application, pictures appear almost as photo negatives (which is a really cool trick to try). Your Home screen image will likewise look a bit strange. And don’t even think of playing a video with this feature turned on! However, if you need help reading text, White on Black can be useful in several apps.

  • Speech: Options here include the ability to have your iPhone speak items you’ve selected or hear the content of an entire screen, highlight content as its spoken, and more.
  • Larger Text: If having larger text in such apps as Contacts, Mail, and Notes would be helpful to you, you can turn on the Larger Text feature and choose the text size that works best for you.
  • Bold Text: Turning on this setting restarts your iPhone (after asking you for permission to do so) and then causes text in various apps and in Settings to be bold.
  • Button Shapes: This setting applies shapes to buttons so they’re more easily distinguishable. For an example, check out the General button in the upper-left corner of the screen after you enable Button Shapes by toggling its switch to On. Turn it back off and notice the difference.
  • Increase Contrast: Use this setting to set up backgrounds in some areas of iPhone and apps with greater contrast, which should improve visibility.
  • Reduce Motion: Tap this accessibility feature and then tap the On/Off setting to turn off the parallax effect, which causes the background of your Home screens to appear to float as you move the phone around.
  • On/Off Labels: If you have trouble making out colors and therefore find it hard to tell when an On/Off setting is On (green) or Off (white), use this setting to add a circle to the right of a setting when it’s off and a white vertical line to a setting when it’s on.