Using screen readers on touchscreen devices

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The most popular touchscreen devices, including iPhones, iPads, Windows 8 tablets and Android devices have screen readers installed. This makes them able to be used by people who are blind.

Getting used to a screen reader on a touchscreen can be a challenge. On this page we have compiled a list of six tips to help people use their devices seamlessly. At the end of this page there’s an embedded YouTube video by Luis Perez which demonstrates how to use VoiceOver on an iPad with iOS 7.

1.     Screen readers change the gestures you use

A ‘gesture’ simply means the way you touch the screen to perform a task. This includes pinching your fingers to close an app or holding your finger down to highlight text. When the screen reader is turned on these gestures will change.

Screen readers on Android, iOS and Windows will use an ‘explore by touch’ feature that allows the user to move their finger around the screen to receive sound and vibration feedback identifying items on the screen. However, this also means that the common single-tap feature is generally unavailable as it is assumed that the first tap will be to identify the item, then a second tap is required to activate it. Android devices provide a tutorial which can provide you with an opportunity to practice the new gestures so you can navigate your device more effectively.

2.     Avoid accidental gestures

When exploring by touch, it is easy for your other fingers to accidentally brush the screen and trigger a gesture command. Keep your primary fingers separate form the others when navigating around your device, then use your other fingers when you’re ready to do a gesture command.

3.     Consider screen orientation

Most devices have the ability for the screen content to shift depending on which way the device is held. When the device is moving, it can easily switch between portrait and landscape mode, making it confusing to orientation on the screen. Try to ensure that your device is level so that the orientation doesn’t change. Most devices also have an option to prevent auto-rotation which may also be useful.

4.     Allow time for lag

The performance of a screen reader will depend greatly on the model of your phone or tablet. As such, some devices will be faster than others and there may be a lag between when you move your finger on the screen and when you receive feedback. If this starts to happen, or you get a sudden rush of information after a pause, take your finger off the screen, pause for a second and then place it back on the screen. The device will then detect your finger and is likely to get back on track.

5.     Be familiar with the ‘back’ button

Sometimes devices may respond in an unexpected way, such as interpreting a quick double-tap as a triple-tap, or the incorrect app is launched due to lag.  In these instances it is helpful o know where the ‘back’ button is. In some devices it will be a physical hardware button, while in others it may be a an option on the touch screen. Once familiar with its location you can quickly return to your previous option and try again.

6.     Consider a keyboard

While mobile devices are becoming more touch-based, most still support keyboard shortcuts. For example, the touch interface in Windows 8.1 is relatively new but the keyboard shortcuts are well established and may prove to be an easier alternative. Keyboards are also available for iOS and Android.

Further detail about using INCOBS user testing tablet article.

Video: turning on VoiceOver and unlocking a device with iOS 7


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