Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Going Dotty: Refreshable Braille on iOS Devices:

I never really appreciated what a gift to organized thought that learning to read Braille was while receiving my own education. Braille was always bulky and heavy. The army surplus backpack I carried through the halls earned me the nickname of Fifty. People thought that it either had fifty things in it or else it weighed fifty pounds. If they were too close behind me while I turned a corner in the hallways of my school, they were liable to get crushed up against a wall. I doubt any of them suspected that the Braille volumes which added most of the weight to that pack were mere fractions of the text books and novels they could easily carry whole under an arm or in a pocket. In early grade school, the class of blind students I was in made use of a copy of the "American Vest Pocket Dictionary". It was comprised of seven thick volumes despite the pages being double-sided. Each volume was thicker than a phone book and the whole dictionary completely filled a long shelf stretching across a wall. For years, I thought the title was someone's idea of a joke. Eventually, on a pure whim, I asked to feel a dictionary carried by one of my sighted classmates. You couldn't quite stick it casually inside a pocket, but it was light and easily carried in hand. For the first time in my memory, I was brought up against the reality of what a profound and massive difference having eye sight could actually make in one's life.

There's also the cost of producing Braille to consider. I walked around grade school with a solid metal contraption somewhat like a typewriter. It was a Purkin's Braille writer which weighed around fifteen pounds and cost at least fifteen hundred dollars. Braille embossers designed for mass production are even more expensive. This has drastically restricted what is made available for blind people to read. The paperback book you can buy for under $10 would cost hundreds to produce in Braille. Until audio and Ebooks recently hit their stride, I've been quite restricted in my reading choices compared to a person who had eye sight.

I'm part of a generation who has learned Braille naturally as part of my school experience while there was really no other credible alternative. However, we have now been liberated from the cost, bulk and weight of Braille by the advent of synthetic speech and more widespread accessibility to mainstream Ebooks and computing. In everyday life, now that I know how to read, I haven't felt the need to constantly use Braille. Quite the opposite in fact. While reading for entertainment and even when referring to books as references, speech output has proved more than sufficient and ever so convenient.

While I can fully appreciate why one might think Braille was no longer needed, I would contend that mastering the art of reading is essential to everyone's education be that print or Braille. If sighted parents faced the prospect of their children not being tought to read and write due to a lack of resources, they'd be horrified and never stand for it. Parents of blind children should feel no qualms about insisting on Braille literacy. The many lessons I learned while gaining literacy have served me well in countless ways. Like riding a bicycle, literacy is one of those things you never forget even if you don't read Braille beyond signs and labels for years. The lessons it teaches about proper use of punctuation, sentence structure and other aspects of writing have stayed with me. As a result, I have been able to use my writing and language skills to help others and express my thoughts clearly and with confidence.

I was never a particularly fast Braille reader and don't feel I've lost what speed I achieved. The same applies to writing. I'm far faster on a QWERTY keyboard than I ever was on a Braille one. In most circumstances, text-to-speech access has proved far supperior in terms of portability and actual access to books. Other than my spelling having deteriorated over the years, I don't feel that the absence of Braille has done me much harm. And yet, I'm profoundly thankful that I was taught Braille reading and writing. The lack of actual literacy would have had a strongly negative impact on my quality of life. Now that you have and idea where I sit in the great Braille debate, lets continue.

Who would have thought that a device with a smooth surface might prove to be an amazing conduit for Braille? Apparently, Apple did. Right from the start when VoiceOver first appeared, there has been support for Braille displays. I never thought much about it when I got my iPHONE4. It was so intuitive and easy to use speech and the capabilities of the platform made learning how to use Braille on it far less attractive than it would be currently. Before embarking on writing this guide, I hadn't given the implications a whole lot of thought. As I've taken the time to dig into what iOS offers in terms of Braille support, the implications become very apparent.

You may wonder why I've chosen to give the Braille experience its own somewhat lengthy section. I have several reasons for doing this. First of all, if people don't intend to use Braille displays, all of the extra commands are out of their way. Those who wish to learn how to use refreshable Braille will find all they need in this section which isn't covered elsewhere. Experiencing iOS through a refreshable Braille display is markedly different than via the touchscreen and speech output. Rather than a whole screen surface which can be explored with a finger plus immediate speech feedback, using a Braille display may change your approach. You can explore the screen in a similar way with one hand operating the iOS device and another on the Braille display. Alternatively, you could operate entirely from the Braille display using all the key commands to navigate. That will feel very different and be more similar to using a traditional screen reader. People who struggle with using a touchscreen may well find this mode of operation to be preferable. In either case, you will find that the Brailledisplay gives you a window in the form of a line of characters whose length depends on that of your display. The position in exact focus, such as the current character in a document being written, is shown by two dots on the bottom of the cell which tick up and down repeatedly.

Another advantage to separating the Braille-specific information in this way is that people can more easily grasp how much support there is and how integral Braille can be if you wish or need it to. Those who might think to presume that Apple has paid mere lip service to Braille support do Apple and themselves a serious injustice. There's a whole lot of ground to cover, so lets begin connecting the dots.

Over time, Apple has gone to considerable lengths to support the use of refreshable Braille with its devices. In fact, it's possible to purchase a Braille display from the Apple Store app which you can obtain for your iOS device. If you already have a Braille display or a Braille notetaker capable of being used as a display and connecting via Bluetooth, you can pair it with your iOS device. VoiceOver has been designed to allow complete access via Braille throughout the operating system. While you can't completely avoid using the touchscreen, you can certainly minimise the need to. Doing this requires the learning of commands making use of key combinations or other buttons which your Braille display may have.

IOS has support which allows far more then simple Braille input and output. Similar to an ordinary Bluetooth keyboard, you can take full control of your device using only your Braille display. There are key commands to do everything you can do with gestures. If you can memorize the commands, you could have excellent and accurate control of your device. This includes things like summoning Siri, controling the volume, and much more all without lifting your fingers from your Braille display.

The catch is that there are a heaping ton of commands to know if you want that kind of complete control. People may find that these commands feel less intuitive and easy to learn than the touchscreen gestures they are designed to replace. Personally, I find a middle of the road approach works best where I still use the onscreen gestures but learn the commands of particular use to me.

 Byebye Braille Book Bulk!

Ebook sellers are starting to get onboard making certain that the apps everyone uses to read them offer support for accessibility. What this means for someone with an iOS device and Braille display is that they are completely liberated in their choice of reading. Braille books used to take hours and hours to translate and be very costly to produce. They also used to weigh quite a bit and take up a lot of space. I mentionned a vest pocket dictionary earlier which serves as a perfect example. Now, that same dictionary would take up a tiny fraction of the data storage available on even the cheepest iPHONE. A Braille display which you could comfortably carry in one hand would let you access that dictionary and thousands of other books on that iPHONE in perfectly readable and translated Braille.

One thing to keep in mind is that the apps you'll use to read these books are designed for people who can see. They're fully accessible but things are done in such a way as to maximise reading pleasure for people who can take in a lot of a page at once. Current Braille displays only present one line of text at a time. There may occasionally be slight problems as the apps and book formats are updated over time. Also, it may be eeasier to use the touchscreen when accessing menus and other functions which reading apps have. For instance, it's far quicker to learn the locations of tabs across the bottom of the screen or use menus which appear when you double-tap on the screen. In exchange for putting up with these small issues, you can read damned near anything you want as soon as it's published and at the same cost as anybody else who buys and Ebook.

Always a Catch;

Pitfalls to Consider with Braille and iOS:

There are some possible trouble spots for those who choose to acquire a Braille display and iOS device rather than opt for a more traditional Braille notetaker or other solution made especially for blind people. There may be times when your Braille display will disconnect since the Bluetooth software is always trying to save battery power. If this happens, simply lock the screen with the power button on your device and then unlock it again. This should result in your display reconnecting. Some displays can be more problematic and require more steps to get them reconnected. This kind of thing also happens with other Bluetooth devices such as keyboards or even Apple's own AirPods. The AirPods are designed to reconnect quite quickly and do so automatically nearly all of the time. There are so many different Braille displays that having the same kind of Bluetooth reliability would be impossible. This is very similar to my having to press a button on my Aftershokz Trekz Titaniums to make them reconnect if I stop hearing things through them.

We saw an instance of another potentially major pitfall when iOS11 was released. People who updated suddenly found that they couldn't enter text quickly on Braille displays. Words would simply be lost and not be recorded in the document or edit field on the iOS device. Because people's fingers were busy typing in Braille, they couldn't immediately realize there was a problem if they weren't also using speech. You can't read Braille while you're in the act of typing it. Muting speech while using a Braille display is a very common practice. The issue was reported by testers but not addressed prior to the release of the update. Braille display users would be a very small percentage of the overall number of users of iOS. Every so often, their issues won't be dealt with in time and may take a while to address.

This happens with other things as well. It's not just a problem for blind people. At one point, an iOS update was released which resulted in iPHONEs being unable to make phone calls. This problem was addressed extremely quickly as you might well imagine. However, it can be especially devastating if you rely completely on having Braille input since issues in that area won't be regarded as being so dire. Apple tries to only release updates when enough improvements have accumulated that receiving the updates will be noticeably helpful to a good portion of users. This practice can leave things hanging for periods of time. It took around two months for things to be fixed so that people could type productively on their displays once again. That kind of delay could be especially inconvenient for students and employees who rely on having Braille access for input and output.

I can also use speech so Braille isn't absolutely essential for me currently. However, if you're utterly reliant on Braille working correctly, keep in mind that there may be periods of time where things don't go smoothly. iOS is a very complex operating system. The more unusual your particular needs are, the higher the chance that problems like the example above will be encountered for hopefully short periods of time. Apple has learned from these mistakes and has introduced public testing of upcoming iOS updates in an attempt to catch major issues.

When looking for pitfalls, I spent some time putting myself in the worst possible case. For people who are deaf and blind, Braile had better work because there's no other way. If you absolutely can't hear speech or see enlarged print, touch is your ownly pipeline of information. In such circumstances, you may well want to look for alternatives or have a backup plan such as sighted assistance if things go wrong.

There are some things which might require sighted assistance to resolve. Certainly, you'd need such help to set up your device and then connect your Braille display initially. I don't believe there's any way to get at the Braille settings in VoiceOver until after the setup process is complete. Another thing which might be troublesome at first is entering your passcode in order to unlock your device. I have an older Focus40 display so more current displays may simply allow you to type in the passcode on them. Mine didn't so I had to enter it using standard typing mode on the touchscreen. I had one hand on the Braille display feeling which number was highlighted as I used my other hand to find and then enter the numbers using the split tap method. This is the best way I've found for making certain you enter the passcode correctly. You can, of course, find the delete key at the bottom right of the virtual number pad on the touchscreen and get rid of mistakes. I found this process somewhat nerve-racking without speech output but I think it would become second nature after a while. There's really no avoiding the need to enter the passcode every so often and after any time you shut down and turn on the device. Once that's been done, you can then use easier methods to unlock your device most of the time like Touch ID or Face ID.

While Braille focus will jump to where new messages are displayed, other things such as choices or controls may need to be more actively searched for by Braille users. Everything will be reachable but without such proactive exploration on your part, you might not realise there are choices or controls present in some apps. The ability to actively explore the screen is a key part of iOS accesssibility which works differently from other screen-readers that may look for and announce more things automatically.

Mainstream Economics and Wider Horizons;

The Advantages of iOS Over A Traditional Braille Solution Tailored For Blind People:

There are several advantages that iOS devices bring to the table for blind people wanting to make use of Braille in daily life. Braille notetakers work extremely reliably and typically have excellent battery longevity. However, they are also very limited in what they can do. They offer a set number of highly perfected functions which work flawlessly, but they don't offer much ability to grow beyond those. On the other hand, IOS gives you very good but sometimes imperfect access to an ever expanding ecosystem of apps, ebook markets, and other things available to sighted people. Even though only a fraction of the total apps available for iOS are accessible to blind people, that still far surpasses anything you'll find elsewhere other than perhaps on Android devices. No Braille notetaker will let you do your shopping and banking with apps designed by the bank and grocery company you and potentially millions of sighted customers select. This access to the same apps used by sighted people could be very helpful socially to blind students and other Braille users. It's an option they've never really had before the iPHONE gained its VoiceOver screenreader. You could read news articles on an app or web site in Braille while talking about them with friends. And then, there are the specialised apps which take advantage of hardware built into your iOS device. Presuming you opt for a small portable Braille display, you could use an app like KNFB Reader to take pictures of the pages of a restaurant menu and then read it in Braille while conversing with your dining companions. There are all kinds of situations like that where you want access to information but also want your ears free.

Braille is especially useful when it comes to the study of Mathematics. It can be tremendously hard to picture how an equation is laid out while using synthetic speech. A Braille display supported with software such as the VoiceOver screen-reader will let blind students and others feel the positions of part of equations. This can make solving them a far easier process. There are other instances where having the ability to feel the position of information is critical such as when examining charts or tables. How practical that is will depend on the length of your Braille display or feeling a table one-handed while the other hand is reading the Braille display.

Braille displays are very costly items and are built to last. I've had the same Focus40 display since I got my first iPHONE in 2010 and it still works great in 2018 with my current iPHONE7. Barring disaster, I expect my display to see me through potentially five to ten more years. The core of my system is my iPHONE and I can have the latest features without upgrading the far more expensive Braille component. Also, I can use my display with more than one device. If something happens to my iPHONE, I could still use the display with my iPAd for instance. If your notetaker breaks down, you need to repair or replace a very expensive device and be without all of its functions while you're taking care of that. If my display breaks, I still have my iOS device which can be used with speech.

If you already have a Braille notetaker, fear not. Most of them can connect via Bluetooth and act as Braille displays for iOS. You have the best of both worlds. Some notetakers are designed to integrate with apps on iOS devices making them an even more powerful combination.

Attention Please;

When Notifications Pop Up:

You're reading along when all of a sudden, the Weather Gods app decides to reveal that it's raining heavily outside. Perhaps, a friend has chosen to send a message asking how you're doing. Unless you have your device on "Do Not Disturb" or have notifications turned off, you will eventually be interrupted from whatever you might be doing by a notification from another app running in the background. In such a case, the same sort of thing happens with the focus of Braille as happens with speech. The interrupting notification automatically gets focus for a short time which you can determine before focus returns to what you were doing. Also, if you pan through the notification while it has focus, you should be able to read it in an unhurried manner. Remember that if they do disappear on you, you can always find them in the notifications centre.

Commonly Used Commands:

This guide won't go through every single command. The set of commands available to you depends on which Braille display you're using. The place you want to reach is a page called Braille Displays Supported by iPHONE, iPAD and iPoD Touch. Below that heading, you'll find a series of links to specific Braile display command lists. Additionally, below this, you'll find a link to a set of universal commands which should work on any display. At the time of this writing, this helpful resource can be found at:


The lists of Braille Commands are comprehensive well-organized lists divided into headings and tables. Apple might change one or more of these commands at any time so it's best to get them directly from Apple's own documentation. However, this subsection should go through the commands you'll need to start trying things out.

Most Braille displays come equipped with some basic control buttons or other things like wheels or rocker switches. These minimise the need to take your hands off the display in order to control the computer it is connected to. Pretty much all displays include a Braille keyboard to facilitate input. Presuming you've gotten your display paired, you should feel Braille pop up as you move your finger over the screen. The controls on your display should do what the instructions which came with your display indicate. For instance, panning buttons will move left or right through text. Navigation rocker switches and advance bars should behave in logical ways. To start finding out what all the buttons do, you can use the keyboard help command. That's the space bar plus the letter K, dots 1 and 3. Think of the space bar like a control key. Once you've entered keyboard help mode, try other space bar and character combinations. You will be told via speech what they are. This also applies to any other controls on your particular Braille display. VoiceOver has full support for at least 70 different Braille displays at the time this guide is being written in 2018. Even if your display only has a Braille keyboard, there will be enough space bar key combinations for you to control your iOS device with reasonable proficiency.

Navigating Important iOS Areas:

Any time you want to reach the home screens, just use the space bar and letter h [dots 1,2, and 5] This should work from anywhere in iOS. While on the home screen, you can start typing in the name of an app you want to get to and matching items will appear in a list which can be quickly scrolled through. You can scroll through this list or through all apps on the current home screen in order via the space bar plus dot 1 or 4 for previous and next item respectively.

Braille Settings in VoiceOver:

Within the settings for VoiceOver inside Accessibility settings, you'll find a subgroup simply called "Braille". The VoiceOver screenreader is doing all the thinking while your ultra-expensive Braille display simply moves dots up and down in perfect obedience. Your overall experience should be similar regardless of which display you use. This certainly holds true for the group of settings we'll discuss now. However, be aware that there is another group of settings called "Braille commands" which we will discuss later that allows for total customisation of what buttons and key combinations you enter on your Braille display will do.

These settings let you set things such as the particular code of Braille to be used with input and output. For instance, you might want six-dot uncontracted Braille for input and contracted Braille for output. You may not want to use UEB Braille if you aren't yet familiar with it. That's perfectly possible. Also, you can choose whether you want word rap on or off. Word rap determines whether lines end with the last possible entire word or whether they can contain the beginning of a word completed on the next line. You can also decide whether or not to have the panning buttons automatically proceed to the next page when you reach a page boundary and pan further.

Connecting a Braille Display:

The first thing to do is pair your Braille display with your iOS device. Make certain the Braille display is ready to be paired via Bluetooth and then flick right through the Braille settings until you come to "choose a Braille display." You should then find a list of any detected Braille displays. Be careful since it may think ordinary keyboards are Braille displays. When you come to the name of your display, double-tap on it to initiate pairing. You may be asked to enter a pin number using the Braille display to help secure the pairing and make certain input coming from the display is recognised as that. There may be other Bluetooth devices connected to your device or operating close by. The number you enter sets up a secure and easily identifyable connection. Once a display has been paired, you shouldn't have to go through this process again in normal circumstances. If your display loses connection, simply locking the screen and unlocking it again should restore the connection.

After you have successfully paired your display, the Braille on it should change as you move your finger around the screen. It will be showing the labels of apps or information on the screen as Braille when you touch it.

Braille Screen input:

You need not have a Braille display for Braille to be a part of your iOS experience. The Braille screen input lets you use a virtual Braille keyboard by positionning your fingers on the touchscreen as if you were writing on a braille writer. You need to enable the option in the VoiceOver rotor settings. The dot position can be calibrated to your natural finger positions on the screen surface. This kind of input can be very useful and people may find it easier than dealing with the ordinary onscreen keyboard. The Braille screen input setting lets you customize whether you want contracted or uncontracted Braille. You can also decide to reverse the positions of the outer dots so dots three and six are closest to the imaginary space bar rather than have the dot numbers increase the farther away from the space bar you get as they traditionally do.

Status Cells:

You can choose to have a cell on your display be used for showing status information rather than a character of normal output. Each dot in that cell indicates something such as that your battery is low, there is more text on the current line, a message awaits your attention, etc. You can choose whether the status cell is on the left or right side of the display. You also may choose whether it shows general information like I described above or text information such as format, font, etc for the current character. This would be useful when writing a document. If you're using a status cell, you can turn the rotor to a status cell setting and flick up or down to find out what each dot on the cell means.

Math and Equations:

There is a setting where you can choose whether Nemeth code is used for equations. Increasingly, Ebooks and other documents which contain mathematical equations are accessible through reading apps and VoiceOver. If you encounter mathematical equations while using a Braille display, one of the settings deals with whether you want the Nemeth code designed to represent mathematics in Braille to be used.

Word Wrap:

Because iOS has full control of formatting what is sent to your Braille display, it can decide when lines end. The word wrap setting lets you choose whether words rap neatly onto lines or whether a line can end with a partial word that's completed on the next line when you pan over. The first choice may help to clarify all words encountered at the end of lines. However, the other choice which allows lines to contain all possible text which can be accommodated by your Braille display may allow for faster reading.

Crossing Page Boundaries:

Another setting lets you choose whether panning over a page boundary automatically moves onto the next or previous page. I have it automatically advance but can appreciate the utility of having panning stop at page boundaries. Keep in mind that some Ebooks don't always give you printed page position. Kindle books provide a location number which you can use to instantly jump to a precise position if you know the number.

Input, Output, and Braille Codes:

There are different styles of Braille much as there are different forms of writing. Depending on when and how people learn Braille, their needs and comfort with the various forms will be different. The input and output settings let you choose whether you want six dot, eight dot, contracted or uncontracted Braille. IOS can support any of those choices quite well. You can also switch between these modes as needed. You might, for instance, wish to read in contracted six-dot Braille but write in uncontracted Braille.

In addition to the type of Braille, there is a separate setting from the input and output settings that lets you choose the overall code of Braille to be used. You can choose between US, UK, and UEB Braille codes. The UEB Braille code is the recently introduced code of Braille which Braille libraries all over the English speaking world are now using to produce books. Thanks to the Marrakesh Treaty, this will allow institutions and library patrons to take advantage of books already produced elsewhere provided the countries have ratified the treaty. By eliminating the need to duplicate work already done elsewhere, institutions belonging to countries which have signed this treaty will free both time and money to broaden their selection of books. The ability to use this new code or, at the user's preference, the older US and UK Braille codes, lowers the bar for people who may not be familiar with the newer UEB code. They will still be able to read and enjoy the latest books in Braille provided they can afford to purchase them.

Hiding the Onscreen Keyboard:

If you're not using the onscreen keyboard, you are able to hide it. This is useful if you're using a Bluetooth keyboard or a Braille display which typically has a built-in physical keyboard. A setting lets you choose whether the onscreen keyboard is shown or hidden. If you don't want the onscreen keyboard shown, that space will be re-purposed and used to display more of whatever is on the screen such as a document or page.

Braille Commands:

Taking Full Control Using a Braille Display

Controlling two separate devices at once can be taxing on the brain and on productivity. In iOS11, Apple eliminated the need for this for people using Braille displays. There is a somewhat hidden group of settings which lets you customize what all of the key combinations and extra buttons on your Braille display will do. We will now explore this group of settings Apple has chosen to. call Braille Commands.

To reach these options, you need to go into the VoiceOver settings and into the "Braille" subgroup of settings. Next, flick right through until you reach the "Choose a Braille Display" area. Flick right until you reach the "more info" button to the right of the name of your display. Double-tap on that. The very first button you come to in the "More info" area will be "Braille commands". Double-tap that and you'll have found your way in.

This seems like a strange place to stick such a powerful bunch of settings. However, it fits with how Apple has chosen to handle other Bluetooth devices. Beside any connected device in Bluetooth settings, there's a similar "More Info" button. Any connected Braille displays are Bluetooth devices so they're keeping to an established pattern. This means that you can have a different series of commands for any additional Braille displays you might need to connect with. For instance, you might have a different Braille display to use at work versus at home. In such a case, the correct set of Braille commands will be ready when you need them with no extra effort on your part.

There are seven categories of commands each with their own button. There are a good many commands and most are rather self-explanatory. Rather than exhaustively going through each one, we'll take a quick tour of each of these areas. I'll give you an idea of what you'll find and why you might want to use what's there.


The Braille area is where you can set commands that relate directly to Braille control. For instance, you can set a specific key command like space bar and dotsfive and six to let you change quickly between output modes. This would be useful if you wanted to quickly go into uncontracted mode to feel how something was spelled and then go back into contracted mode. You may want to set a command to turn word wrap on and off depending on what you're reading. For quick progression through a novel, contracted Braille with word wrap off might be the best way to go. However, when editing document, you may want uncontracted Braille with word wrap on. Settting up commands in this area lets you do that from whereever you may happen to be. Such key combinations saves you having to go all the way into Braille settings any time you want to do this.


Lets say you're sitting on a bus listening to some nifty tunes when someone sits down beside you and says something. You could be rude and ignore him or her. Alternatively, you should pause the music. A third possibly preferable option might be to use the keys on your Braille display to turn down the volume on the music so you can hear both it and the person near you. That's the kind of thing the commands in this category are for. It's where you go to customize commands letting you control your iOS device.

You can set the command which simulates pressing the Home button. Another might take you to the control centre, the Notifications area, or summon Siri. There are commands which simulate rotating your device left and right. Others would let you easily adjust the volume using only your Braille display. All the while, your iPHONE is safely tucked into your pocket.


Sometimes, especially while using BRaille, you don't want to take your hands off the display but need to perform a gestures such as a double-tap. This area has commands which let you simulate doing things like a single or double-tap. They allow you to come up with commands on your display which eliminate the need to touch your iOS device to do simple things like a long press, use 3d touch, etc. In normal circumstances, I find it easier to just touch my device and use the normal touchscreen gestures. However, if people struggle with using the touchscreen or have other hand mobility issues, these commands might make the difference between being able to use an iOS device or not. They offer a kind of precision that only a keyboard and numerous key commands can deliver. Given the relatively short time I've used a touchscreen extensively compared to the decades during which I delt with my computer via such key combos, I'm gobsmacked at how positively old-school this now feels.


This area lets you set commands to perform special things such as selecting text, copying, cutting, deleting, etc. Options to perform these tasks would normally be present on the virtual keyboard. This lets you access these options right on your Braille display using commands which you choose yourself. Many apps include extensive toolbars with these sorts of options. 


This area lets you set up commands that help you move around. There are commands for moving to the next or previous line, paragraph, app, message, and much more. If you have an iPAD, there's even a command letting you switch between apps running on the same screen. If you want to get somewhere without having to use the touchscreen, this is definitely the category to visit and make use of.


The rotor is so important that it has a separate area from the VoiceOver area right beside it. There are just five setable commands here. Next rotor option, previous rotor option, rotor up, Rotor down, and speak current rotor item. This will be especially welcome news for Braille users who have trouble with using the VoiceOver rotor gestures. People can use similar commands on a normal Bluetooth keyboard to control the rotor.


In this last category, you can set commands letting you make use of VoiceOver functions. This includes turning the screen curtain on or off, openning VoiceOver settings, speaking fhints, muting speech, and many more. These commands can be key combinations or use extra buttons on your display if this is more advantageous to you.

Making It Work:

Controlling Apps With Your Braille Display:

Now that we've theoretically covered how to set everything up, we'll discuss what it's like to control your iOS device using a Braille display. To get a proper sense of how things work, we'll examine the Google News app and make use of it completely through the Braille display. This isn't how I normally operate. Ordinarily, I would use speech output or else use the touchscreen to control apps and my Braille display for reading. However, approaching things completely through the Braille display demonstrates the possibilities for taking full control should that be necessary or perferable for you. This is the only time in the guide where this will be demonstrated. All other instructions for using apps will presume that speech output and the touchscreen are used. The techniques demonstrated here should be sufficient to help Braille users figure out how to make use of the majority of other accessible apps. The app I have chosen is available in the app store and has stood the test of time. It is a third-party app developed by people who have used Apple's accessibility tools to include blind people. Google News is very highly regarded by blind users.

You will need to make use of the app store to acquire Google News. Searching the app store and obtaining apps are covered in detail elsewhere in this guide. One easy and quick approach is to invoke Siri and say "find Google News in the app store". You would then purchase the app by using the "get" button and then completing the identification process that occurs whenever things are acquired in the iOS ecosystem. This is explained more fully later in the guide. Lets proceed with the assumption that the Google News app is acquired and present on your iOS device.

Using Google News With A Braille Display:

Google has produced a number of very useful apps for the iOS operating system. It has made certain that these apps offer support for users of the VoiceOver screen reader built into iOS. At the time this guide was being written in 2018, Canadians were still not able to make use of the News app produced by Apple. Alternatives are quite plentiful but they don't come pre-installed with iOS. The Google Nes app should prove useful regardless of which country you happen to live in. It is also free to download and use. The more you use the Google News app, the more it learns about what you're interested in. This will effect the contents of your personal briefing which is the section of the app that you start in upon opening it. To open Google News, find your way to the app and double-tap on it. Alternatively, tell Siri to "launch Google News".

Panning Left And Right:

You start out on the personal briefing screen. Try using the panning buttons on your display. One thing which becomes immediately apparent, especially if you're using speech output as well as Braille, is that more is read back to you via speech than is obvious via Braille. The length of your display dictates how much is displayed at once. After the app has opened, it focusses on a title line which also happens to be a heading. This line indicates that you're in the personal briefing section and gives the user's name. That briefing contains the top five stories that Google believes will be of particular interest to you at the moment and also has the current weather. That's too much information for most Braille displays. To read the rest of what you would hear and continue through the briefing, use the right panning button or key combination. You'll be using the left and right panning keys a great deal to look around. If you pan left as far as possible, you'l end up finding a "search" button which wasn't spoken as the app opened up. It pays to explore. Spend some time on this initial screen getting the hang of panning around. Next, do the same with using the next and previous item button or key combinations. With the standard set of Braille key commands, these are space bar plus dot 1 to go to a previous item or space bar plus dot 4 to go to the next item. This is much faster than panning since items may contain text requiring several presses of the panning button to go past. It also brings you to things such as "read more" links, buttons, and other things which might not be obviously functional given their text.

Getting Quickly To the Bottom or Top of Things:

Lets suppose you want to get quickly to the top or bottom of a screen to then start exploring from that end of it. You'll eventually want to do this to get back to the top of a story you've read to reach the "back" button in order to leave that story. You may want to reach the bottom of a screen to locate tabs so you can quickly get to another tab in the app. To do this, use the commands for reaching the top or bottom of screens. These are space bar plus dots 1,2,3 for "top" or space bar plus dots 4,5,6 for "bottom". Note the logical progression from the earlier previous and next item key combinations. There are helpful patterns such as this in the default set of commands which will aid you in masterring them.

During your explorations, you'll have come across a number of elements such as "read more" links, buttons like the "search" button near the top of the app, and tabs leading to different areas. The Google News app is chock full of things like this making it an excellent app to practice exploring with. To activate an item, use the key combination of the space bar plus dots 3 and 6. This is the "activate" command and will cause any of the buttons, links etc, to be interacted with provided you're directly upon them. Now, you can explore to any depth you wish when it comes to items discovered in the app. There will be plenty of news and articles of interest for you to read and explore.

Search Me!:

Remember that little search button we found while panning around? That packs some serious finding power. We are, after all, talking about an app made by Google which is world famous for its search capabilities. Make your way to that search button and then use the space bar plus dots 3 and 6 combination to activate it. A new dialogue wil appear. You will automatically be placed within an edit field where you can type in whatever words you wish. You can use the space bar plus dots 3 and 6 activation command when you're finished typing to proceed to results matching your terms. You can then use the commands for panning and moving between next and previous items to look through these results. Use the activation key combination to select a result and you will be taken to it. When finished, use the "back" button to return to the list of search results. Pretty simple, isn't it?

Writing and Editing Using Braille:

While you're typing in search terms, feel what's there after you've written a word or two. Below a cell in what you've written, notice a pulsing couple of dots presuming your display has eight-dot cells. These pulsing dots beneath a character are used to indicate precisely where your cursor is so that you can edit effectively. The commands to edit a piece of writing comprise the rotor commands to move around and the delete key for removing what you don't want. The delete key using the default Braille command set is space bar plus the lettre d which is dots 1, 4 and 5. In iOS, remember that the character which is deleted is to the left of the delete key so move one character to the right of whatever lettre you wish to remove.

Rotor Turning by Remote Control:

While editing larger documents or doing many other things, you would be using options on your rotor. A set of commands lets you turn the rotor without ever having touched your iOS device. While editing and writing text, you must use the rotor to move around by various amounts through text. The rotor also gives you options for selecting and operating on blocks of text. The Braile commands to turn the rotor are as follows:

1. Turn rotor left to previous item: space bar plus dots 2 and 3.

2. Turn rotor right to next item: space bar plus dots 5 and 6.

3. Flick up: space bar plus dot 3

4. Flick down: space bar plus dot 6.

By default, there is no command to speak or display the currently selected rotor item but you could set one up for yourself in the "Braille Commands" settings.

Concluding Thoughts About Refreshable Braille:

Exploring the iOS operating system through the lens of its support for Braille has been an interesting journey. I came into this not knowing about most of what I discovered. Adding to my struggles was my lack of speed in both reading and writing Braille. I kept having a sense that things should have been quicker. Indeed, they are much quicker for people who are used to operating Braille displays with other screen readers or using Braille notetakers. People who are more proficient than I at reading and writing Braille will find a lot to like and take advantage of in terms of efficiency. I don't think they would find learning the commands and what various options did to be anywhere near as frustrating as I did.

While doing research for this section of the guide, I felt that it was important to approach People who used Braille with their iOS devices on a regular basis. I wanted to see if my intuitions on when and how they used Braille were correct and what I had doubtless not thought of at all. I found more than one helpful forum thread on the Applevis site. Many people have found using Braille displays very advantageous when they need their ears free for participating in conversations while operating their iOS devices. Also, while in noisy environments where VoiceOver was hard to hear, Braille proved to be a very useful alternative.

Typing in Braille on a display was also quite often sighted as a distinct advantage rather than using the onscreen keyboard. One lady mentionned that she used text adventure games to improve her Braille typing in a less stressful way than doing homework and fretting over every mistake. Provided one is proficient enough, Braille can at times be even quicker than speech when it comes to reading or getting things done. Also, it leaves your ears free for listening to music while reading a good book.

Proof-reading is another excellent use for Braille displays. Now that word processing has become practical on iOS, people are able to read their own writing which can give a different sense of it than having it read to you. Formating information can be conveyed without breaking the flow of reading by means of the status cell.

Braille is especially useful when it comes to the study of Mathematics. It can be tremendously hard to picture how an equation is laid out while using synthetic speech. A Braille display supported with software such as the VoiceOver screen-reader will let blind students and others feel the positions of part of equations. This can make solving them a far easier process. There are other instances where having the ability to feel the position of information is critical such as when examining charts or tables. How practical that is will depend on the length of your Braille display or feeling a table one-handed while the other hand is reading the Braille display.

There are use cases, and then, there are well designed Braille display cases which let you hang the display so it's in front of your chest. You can then make use of it more easily while on the move or even while standing. My wife Sara has a very old Braille notetaker which has such a case letting her direct the choir of her church while referring to notes. Presuming you mastered the necessary commands, you could operate apps on an iPHONE in your pocket without needing to hear it speak while having your display hanging at chest level leaving your hands free for reading or other tasks. GPS apps might be operated using Braille in this manner while on the move. While recording the lecture series which accompanies this guide, I made use of a large 40-cell display on my lap along with some notes on my iPHONE to keeep me on track. Braille displays can be a powerful advantage when it comes to public speaking and presentations.

Overall, Apple has developed a remarkable and powerful platform for Braille users. This is especially true now that the ability to customise what buttons and key combinations on your Braille display will do. With that power comes the danger of making a real mess of your interface. You might make so many changes that you forget what they all are and then discover that you can't remember what the original default options were. The only solution I've found which gets you back to square one would be to make use of the "forget this device" button in the "more Info" area for your Braille display. You could then re-pair it and the settings would all return to the default ones since your customisations for the display would have been forgotten. At that point, you could begin to set custom commands again. The good news is that once you have a command set that you like, it should stay there until you use the "forget this device" button.

People may feel overwelmed with the need to learn all of the various commands and options. I certainly did. Don't forget that it's never an either/or choice. You are always free to use the touchscreen gestures you may be far more comfortable and familiar with. I think the real strength of combining refreshable Braille and iOS is when you use some of the commands but mostly use the touchscreen gestures. You don't have to memorise and use all of the commands unless they work better for you.

One thing which I have tried and can't recommend was using a Bluetooth keyboard as well as a Braille display. I had a number of instances where this seems to have caused some confusion. I found that the only way to fix this was to forget and then re-pair the Braille display with my iPHONE. Thankfully, I hadn't customized a whole bunch of commands. Had I done so, this would have been quite frustrating. The majority of Braille displays have Braile keyboards included and I suggest using those exclusively to avoid this setback.

Braille literacy isn't something which should just be thrown away. However, people who advocate for it need to make certain they come at the problem from realistic angles. One thing which I fervently hope happens is that opportunities to have fun using Braille are as strongly encouraged as possible. I learned how to type and use access technology largely by playing games. IOS presents some unique opportunities in that apps which support VoiceOver are also perfectly accessible to sighted people. Look for games which are text-based and not dependant on visual hand-eye coordination. I'll make some recommendations in the section of this guide which is dedicated to games and their benefits. There was a series of game books which did a lot to encourage young teens to read more than they were inclined to. It was called Fighting Fantasy and combined reading with choices and dice rolling. So far, the apps which are bringing these games into the modern digital age do not include support for VoiceOver. This shuts blind people out of games which they could otherwise play quite easily. I would dearly love to see this situation change and perhaps have an organisation fund the addition of accessibility to these games and other similar apps which are currently inaccessible. The excuse most frequently given for this state of affairs is that the app developers lack the funds to make this economically viable. If people really want to see Braille thrive, steps like making these sorts of games accessible could really help. I don't have many fun memories of Braille other than the occasional enjoyable book. That needs to change. I can easily envision multi-player party adventure, board and card games played on equal terms with sighted and blind players. IOS certainly allows for this but nobody has yet taken up the challenge extensively. This should and could easily change. Over time, more companies will make their apps accessibile to VoiceOver and hence, to Braille users. Rather than having this Braille access be an accidental biproduct, I would very much like to see such efforts funded and requested by blindness organisations on the lookout for opportunities for this kind of thing. There are many circumstances in both work and play were having our ears free to focus on what others are saying can be absolutely crutial. Those sorts of circumstances are where Braille can really have a meaningful impact even to people like myself who are used to speech output.

I have high hopes for greater Braile literacy thankts to the journey I've taken with Apple and Braille. It has drastically widened the scope of possibilities when it comes to the circumstances in which Braille might be used in modern life. We're stil in the early stages of exploration. There are two sources of momentum which must come into play. The piece of this puzzle which Apple does not control are affordable Braille displays. As I write this guide, serious efforts are underway to lower the financial barrier to refreshable Braille. Initiatives like the Orbit Reader and Braille Me hope to dramatically lower the cost to individuals of reliable refreshable Braille. The second piece of the puzzle is somewhat under Apple's influence. It can take measures to facilitate and strongly encourage app developers to support VoiceOver accessibility when creating apps and to keep Braille users in mind. As more apps are made intentionally accessible to users of speech output and Braille, awarenesss will spread more widely and things will get better. Future generations won't be driven away from using Braille for lack of portability and convenience. The case for inclusion has at last reached a kind of critical mass. There is a long way to go, and in the case of Braille, the breaks have been on for quite a while now. However, technology has now taken off those breaks, started the car and started us moving again. There is the potential to take Braille to some very innovative new places.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Digitally Defending Yourself; Keeping Your Information Safe and Secure

These days, the selection of music, audio books, ebooks, apps, movies and more that you can enjoy on your iOS device is staggerring. So is the amount of personal information you'll soon have stored on the device if you make good use of it. Everything from addresses and contact information to health and other data. I remember reflecting after a year with my iPHONE about how much of my personal information and other things were store there. You don't tend to think about it in totality as you slowly start adding information so you can do this or that more conveniently. And then, one day, it hits you. The stuff of your life is contained in a light flat slab of high technology no thicker than a payne of window glass.

It is also in "the cloud", as people tend to think of it. In reality, that cloud is a bunch of theoretically secure data storage and servers where you can retrieve it whenever needed rather than storing absolutely everything on your device itself. This reduces the amount of storage space you need to have on your device. For as long as I've owned an iOS device, I have only heard of one case where someone's iCloud was hacked.

These devices are designed to be as light and portable as possible. They're supposed to be your digital companions at home and while on the go. This very portability makes them tempting targets for theft. It's in Apple's best interests to protect all that information from theft or abuse by others. This goes beyond personal information and extends to making certain that other people can't steel the books, apps, movies and music you choose to have on your device. To this end, Apple has gone to great lengths to provide a safe and secure environment for iOS users and those who provide digital content. These measures extend far beyond the obvious. For instance, all apps found in the app store must be checked and approved by Apple staff who are on the lookout for trouble-makers. Incidents of malware and viruses are very rare in the iOS ecosystem. No security is fool-proof, but Apple has done a remarkably good job in that department. All data on your device and stored in iCloud is encrypted in a way that even Apple can't break. In order to gain access to a dead terrorist's iPHONE, the FBI was forced to engage the services of a security company who were able to hack into the iPHONE at a high cost. Doing so is no trivial exercise. Apple was willing to go to court and refused to create any kind of universal back door to unlock iOS devices suspected of containing valueable information. They can and will help law enforcement in any way possible which doesn't reduce the security of innocent owners of their products.

This section will focus on elements of information security over which it is possible to exercise some direct control. These include privacy settings, passwords, passcodes, and restrictions you can activate or deactivate. This may seem a bit daunting for the non-technical people who might be reading this. By its very nature, security nearly always means a degree of inconvenience. In today's world of information, having at least a basic grasp of these measures is absolutely essential for a safe and happy experience in the iOS ecosystem. Apple keeps everything pretty simple from a user's perspective. You don't need to be a technology expert to put security features to good use. What I tend to worry about the most is for people who have a hard time rememberring passwords or numbers. You only need a few such items to be easily remembered when asked for. However, having them easily recalled and ready to be used is absolutely vital. I would strongly erge anybody with these difficulties to keep a recording or text file handy with that information clearly written or announced. Also, provide a copy of that information to someone who you trust. That will make it much easier to resolve security issues quickly and painlessly with a minimum of inconvenience and/or involvement from others who might not be as trust-worthy.

Over all, I have had a very positive and safe experience with iOS. Not once have I had to contend with a virus or data theft. While I don't go out of my way to court danger, I don't hesitate to follow links to search results which point to new items of interest. Having been online for over 25 years, I have a pretty well developed but not infallible sense of what's safe and what likely isn't. Were I ever to have my iPHONE stolen, I would be far more annoyed at the massive immediate inconvenience this would cause than concerned about my information falling into the wrong hands. I think Apple does a good job with security. There's a balance that needs to be struck between protection and annoyance. Apple has done a good job of minimising that annoyance while maintaining a good level of safety. Some people find the thought of Apple keeping an eye on things and limiting the apps available for your device to what they approve distasteful and worrying. Personally, I'm quite happy they're doing this. I have yet to be stopped from doing anything I personally wanted to do on my device. I have, on the other hand, been saved from having to deal with some of the nasty surprises people using other operating systems such as Android have found lurking on their devices.

Setting up or Changing Security:

If you don't skip the steps during initial setup of your device, you'll be putting security in place while completing the overall process. The steps wil be appropriate to the technology included in your particular device. At a minimum, you will be asked to create an Apple ID if you don't already have one. If you're setting up a secondary device or upgrading to a new one, you should use the same Apple ID. This gives you access to any personal information stored in iCloud plus apps or other things you've already purchased from Apple. For each device you own, you'll have the option to set a passcode. Next, depending on the device you have, you'll be able to set up Touch or Face ID. Apple strongly encourages the use of security features. However, it is possible to skip some of these steps during setup. You can always change your mind and turn on features later once you're more comfortable with using your device.

Some people will get these devices and then refuse to create an Apple ID or use other features due to a paranoia of big bad corporations watching their every move. Honestly, if you're that concerned about big data snooping on you, save a lot of money and get an oldfashioned dumb phone or cheeper Android tablet. In fact, you could theoretically get one of each if both were on sale and still come out ahead financially. Choosing not to create an Apple ID or not bother with a passcode will place drastic limitations on what you can do with your iOS device. Other than using the apps included on the device, you won't be allowed to get more apps, update the software on your device, etc. Also, any information stored on such an unsecured device would be available to anybody who got their hands on it. You're not saving time or protecting yourself from the big bad corporation. You're just being very stupid. Either the benefits of participating in activities one uses these devices for is worth the risk to your information privacy or it isn't. Don't shoot yourself in the foot over misplaced fear. Provided you're not doing anything criminal with an iPHONE or iPAD, Apple really doesn't care what you're up to. Take precautions using the security tools discussed here and enjoy what owning an iOS device will let you accomplish.

After setup is complete, you can go into areas within the Settings app in order to change security. These include the first item in Setttings labelled with your name, the Touch ID and Passcode area, the Privacy area, and the "restrictions" area found in "General" settings. Also, there is the "Autolock" setting found in the "Display and Brightness" area.

Your Apple ID:

In the process of setting up your device, you'll be asked to log in with an Apple ID you already have or create one if it's your first device. Ideally, each customer should have one Apple ID. It's your central account with Apple. When you create an Apple ID, it is used to keep track of all information of your dealings with Apple. You use it in the app store when you buy apps and in iBooks when you buy books. It's also used when making subscriptions to services like Apple Music. Any information you store in iCloud is also tied to your Apple ID.

An Apple ID consists of an email address and password. It is absolutely vital that you remember these. They're your way of prooving to Apple who you are. The email address should be one you actually check because there may be occasions where Apple contacts you. Also, you are sent receipts for any purchases via This address. The password you choose needs to be something you can recall while still being hard for someone else to figure out even if they know you. When deciding on a password, you should err on the side of it being easy for you to remember rather than being some complex alphanumeric sequence which confounds everyone including yourself. I've spent hours helping people start from scratch after forgetting their password or the code they've used to lock their devices. Apple's tech support staff cannot circumvent security. While there are recovery steps, they take time and are done by a separate department. Apple would rather deny you access than risk all of your information getting into the wrong hands. Remember your Apple ID and the password you picked for it. They're your ultimate key. Keep it handy and safe like you would do for the key to your home. These devices will be like a digital home.

When asked to enter your Apple ID and password, a form will appear on screen with separate fields for each piece of information. The email address will typically be filled in already and occupies the first field which is near the top of the screen.. You can double-tap on a field to go into edit mode allowing you to enter or change information. When in edit mode, you can find the "go" or "done" button which should be double-tapped to indicate you're finished with that field. The "delete" button will be above the "shift" and "go" buttons near the bottom right corner. The next field will be for your password. Enter that and then find the "go" button on the bottom right when finished.

Having a Passcode:

A passcode is a number or alphanumeric sequence which you can use to lock your device. Think of it as your first line of defence or the lock on your front door. A passcode also incripts mail messages and other data on your device so you can only access it if you know the number. You should choose a number which you can remember easily. Apple recommends a six digit passcode but you're not stuck with that. During the passcode setup process, find the "passcode options" button to opt for an easier four-digit number or a totally customised alphanumeric code of your choosing. Even if you use Touch or Face ID, you'll still need to use the passcode if you restart your device or don't unlock it for a while. You can set things up so that after ten failed attempts to enter the correct passcode, all of the data on your device is erased. If that happens, you'll either have to set up your device as a new one or restore from a backup. For the latter course of action, you'll definitely need to know your Apple ID and password.

Make certain you pick a number you can remember easily. This is especially important if you have things set so that everything is erased after ten failed attempts. I can't help people who are completely locked out of their device. Remember your passcode, Apple and password. They're your keys to everything.

To enter a passcode, input the digits using the number pad which appears on screen. There is a delete key near the bottom right if you make a mistake. If you touch a bit below near the top of the screen, VoiceOver will announce how many values you have entered. For instance, it might say "three of six". Once you've entered the correct number of digits, wait a moment. If you've entered it correctly, your device will be unlocked. If not, you'll be informed that the code was incorrect and may try again.

Touch ID:

Beneath the home button, there is a sophisticated fingerprint scanner which reads your fingerprint and unlocks your device if it matches one that you've authorised. This is what is known as "Touch ID". Instead of enterring your passcode to unlock your device or approve purchases all the time, you can simply touch the home button with a finger. You can set up more than one fingerprint for Touch ID. All prints are stored in a secure place on your device called a secure enclave which even Apple can't access. Apps and services using this data receive only pass or fail information. You can use Touch ID to approve purchases, use Apple Pay, and many other things. The chances of someone else having a print similar enough to your own is said to be one in fifty thousand.

To set up a fingerprint, place your finger on the home button and then lift it as VoiceOver instructs during the setup process. It will have you place and lift the finger several times and then have you change your grip before continuing this process. This makes certain that your device has an accurate recording of your finger. I have done this for one finger on each hand for greater convenience so I can unlock my phone using whichever hand works better at the moment. When asked to use Touch ID, simply touch your finger to the "Home" button on your device maintaining the contact until you hear a ding and feel a vibration. If you are inaccurate in your placement, it is possible that your finger won't be recognised and you'll have to make another attempt. I've never had to do this more than once to be properly recognised.

Overall, I've had a pretty good experience with Touch ID. It's handy to be able to unlock your iPHONE while it's in your pocket using one hand. I can then do things without ever removing my iPHONE from my pocket if necessary. For simple tasks like reading books or navigating music, this is a nice convenience. Also, it speeds up things like purchasing books or apps marvelously. Instead of enterring in passwords, you just touch your finger to the home button and your purchase is approved. I also use Touch ID a lot in combination with an app called Assist Eyes Wallet. This makes it possible to have sensitive information like passwords on hand while still having them require my fingerprint to access. One issue I do occasionally find annoying is that after I wash dishes or if I have wet hands, it becomes almost impossible to use Touch ID. Especially if your hands were in hot water. I often need to resourt to my passcode to unlock my iPHONE until my hands return to a dry normal temperature. Cold weather doesn't help either. You either have to remove a glove to unlock your device or have cold fingers which may not be recognised by Touch ID.

Face ID:

This technology is said to be more convenient and far more secure than Touch ID. On the more high-end advanced devices such as the iPHONE10, a group of cameras and sensors can recognise your face allowing it to be used instead of a passcode and Apple ID. It can even tell whether you're actively paying attention presuming you're capable of actually looking at your device. The chances are one in a million that anyone else's face will be similar enough to yours to fool Face ID. The chances are somewhat better if they're related or you're twins. Every so often, you'll still need to use a passcode to unlock your device such as after you restart it or if you haven't used Face ID in over 48 hours. The same is true for other things like approving purchases. For sighted people, it is very convenient since they need to look at their devices in order to use them. For blind people, it's easy to use but less convenient than Touch ID since you need to actually face your device rather than touch the home button while the device is in your pocket or pack.

Apple has taken blind people into consideration when designing this security feature. If you have VoiceOver enabled, it will guide you through the setup process telling you how to move your face so it can be properly scanned. It will also disable the part of Face ID which looks for attentiveness so that you just need to face your device rather than look at it. This does reduce how secure Face ID is. Someone could knock you out and hold your device up to your face for instance. However, take this in proper context. If somebody threatened you with bodily harm or worse, you'd probably much rather unlock the device for them anyhow. These things are only as secure as you are.

As I have no direct experience with Face ID, I can't offer additional guidance about its use. However, Jonathan Mosen has ample experience and has posted it on his web site and in his excellent book iOS Without the Eye. This is an excellent resource for keeping up to date with the latest changes and features in iOS. I highly recommend it for those familiar with iOS but needing to know about the latest changes quickly. To obtain this book and other resources, visit:


Two-factor Authentication:

Designed to protect your Apple ID from theft rather than your device, two-factor authentication sends a verification code to trusted phone numbers or devices. If a new device tries to log in with your Apple ID, it will be asked for a verification code. Blind people will need to memorise this code long enough to enter it correctly when needed. If that number happens to be for the iPHOnE which has been stolen, it won't do much good. However, you will receive an email which would let you know of this occurrence. It would stop someone trying to log in via a web site and cause trouble using your Apple ID. They wouldn't have the verification number and you would be alerted to the danger. You could then change your password or take other precautions. You can use the verification code to recover control of your Apple ID and reset your password if you believe you've been compromised. Since only trusted devices and phone numbers can receive the verification code, you no longer need to remember the answers to security questions. You can have more than one trusted phone number or device set. Parents could have their phone number be a trusted number for their child's device. This would also be useful for people who have difficulty remembering things.

Taking Charge of Security with Settings:

To have a worth-while experience on iOS, it's vital to have a good idea how to set and manage security so that it doesn't inconvenience you unduely. The Settings area is where this management can be accomplished. Options related to security are concentrated in a few key areas of Settings. Lets begin our tour with the very first item past the search field.

Presuming you've set everything up and haven't skipped steps, the first item after the search field will be labelled with your name and email address you used to create your Appple ID. This is where you manage things having to do with your Apple ID, password, payment information etc. Think of this area is having to do more with your identity in the Apple marketplace rather than about securing your device. In the "passwords and security" area, you can change your password and also choose whether you want to use two-factor authentication. Unless you have major difficulties remembering a six digit code, I strongly recommend having it turned on. This way, you can use services which require top security like Apple Pay.

Device Security Settings:

To secure your device and its contents, you'll want to manage your passcode and Touch or Face ID settings. Those settings can be found in the "Touch ID and Passcode" area of Settings. If you have an iPHONE10, it's called "Face ID and Passcode". To enter the area, you'll need to enter your passcode. That's where you can set or change your passcode and make use of Touch or Face ID. For Face ID, you can only store one face on the iPHONE10 at a time. VoiceOver will guide you through the setup process. I don't have an iPHONE10 so I can't speak from experience here. However, Jonathan Mosen's book iOS11 Without The Eye takes you through the process. It sounds like it may be a little tricky for people so be patient with yourself and take it slow and careful. For Touch ID, you can store multiple fingerprints for unlocking your device. Touch ID also can be used to approve purchases without having to type in your password. Other apps can also use it. As with Face ID, VoiceOver will guide you through the process of scanning your fingerprints. You'll find headings in this area so the rotor set to headings may help speed you to where you want to be. You will first find options to determine what to use Face or Touch ID for including unlocking the device, paying for purchases, and Apple Pay. Below that, you'll find a heading to where your fingerprints or face data is stored. You can remove these if you wish or add new ones. Further down, there's a heading where you can choose what can be accessed while the device is in a locked state. For instance, you can choose whether recent notifications, the control centre, the Apple Pay wallet, home controls for lights and other smart household appliances, etc, can be accessed without unlocking the device first. This gives you lots of choice regarding how secure versus how convenient you want things to be.

Emergency SOS:

The Emergency SOS feature is built into iOS and is used on iPHONEs. It is supposed to make it easy to contact emergency services if necessary. The exact method to trigger it differs between iPHONEs. Clicking the side button five times quickly on my iPHONE7 would initiate the distress mode. It would start a siren sound and a countdown before calling 911 automatically. You can turn off that automatic call if you want to. Otherwise, if you trigger it accidentally, you'll need to manage to cancel the countdown before the call is made. You can also add contacts who will be notified via text message that you've called emergency services. This way, if you're incapacitated or are in need of trusted help from people you know, they can be automatically alerted that you've called emergency services and may need them.

The autolock feature:

To prevent battery drain and improve security, the Autolock feature will cause an iOS device to lock itself after a short period of inactivity. This setting can be found in the "Display and Brightness" area of settings. You can set it between 30 seconds and 5 minutes or set it to "never". Normally, I have it set to never lock automatically. It gets annoying having to unlock your phone to continue doing something after merely pausing for a moment's thought. It won't suddenly lock while you're reading a book since the cursor is constantly scrolling while that happens. As long as you're actively doing things, the autolock won't inconvenience you. I'd use autolock if I felt at all nervous that my iPHONE might be stolen or misplaced. That way, there would only be a short time before your device locked itself and required your fingerprint, face or passcode to be used.

The Screen Curtain:

To help protect your privacy, VoiceOver contains a feature called Screen Curtain. Since anybody using VoiceOver is likely to be totally blind and not looking at the screen, you can invoke this feature to make certain nobody else can see what you're doing without you knowing this. It will cause your screen to be blank. This doesn't save battery power so you'll still need to reduce display brightness in order to achieve that. I have mine set to 0 and maximise my battery life. However, you may be in a situation where you often want sighted people to be able to assist. In that case, having brightness set to around 30% or lower might be a good compromise. I don't mind having to go into the control centre and raise brightness on thos rare occasions I want sighted people to see what's on my screen. You turn screen curtain on or off by tapping three times quickly with three fingers. A three-finger trippletap.

Privacy Settings:

Privacy settings are used to allow or prevent access to information. For instance, you might choose to prevent an app from accessing the microphone or camera or access your social media accounts. 

In the Settings app, you'll find the "Privacy" button just past the Battery" button and before the "iTunes and App Store" button. These are all past the "General" button.

The first settings in the privacy area deal with access to data. Location services, contacts, microphone, camera, health, and other sensitive information each have a button. These buttons lead to lists of apps which have requested access to that specific data. You can permit or deny these apps access to the information and may determine cercumstances when this might be allowed. For instance, you can let apps only use location services when they're in focus and being used. No decisions made here are carved in stone. You can change these settings whenever you wish.

Below a note which explains that preceding options deal with access to data, you'll find a further set of buttons dealing with access to social media accounts. These work similarly to the buttons dealing with data. You can decide which apps may access your Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms you might be using. For example, a game called Dice World has an option allowing me to post tweets about my victories in the various dice games it lets you play. If I chose, I could block this capability using privacy settings dealing with Twitter. Before a particular social media platform will appear, the app for it may need to be present on your device. 

Finally, you find two buttons dealing with advertising permition and whether to let Apple have data used to improve the user experience. I don't have a problem with this and hope my data will help app developers and Apple fine-tune things in future iOS updates.

I don't tend to adjust these settings often. IOS asks you as soon as an app requests access to these services so I don't need to go into the Privacy area unless I change my mind from my initial decision about what access an app should have. I mainly prefer apps to only use location services when I'm actually using them so I've adjusted those settings the most. I would certainly appreciate the capabilities they offer if I were going into a risky situation where I knew the danger of theft was greater.


Restrictions are used to prevent actions from being taken without your permition on your iOS device. You can use these to prevent children from making purchases while they use your iPAD to play a game. You can also prevent people from browsing the Web or using iBooks among many other things. This can give you peace of mind of you allow someone else to use your device that they can't do anything potentially harmful to you.

To manage restrictions, go into the "General" area and flick right until you come to restrictions. The button is found to the right of "background app refresh" and to the left of "date and time". Double-tap on restrictions to enter the area.

The first thing you'll find in this area is a button which lets you enable or disable restrictions. When you double-tap it to enable restrictions, you'll immediately be asked to enter a four-digit restriction passcode. Choose a four-digit number you'll remember. You'll need to enter it a second time to confirm. Once that's done, you'll need to know that code to disable restrictions. The only other way to get rid of the restrictions would be to restore your iOS device from a backup. This isn't a step to be done lightly especially if you haven't backed things up in a while.

The restrictions area is divided up into headings. These are "Allow", Allowed Content", "Privacy", "Allow Changes", and "Game Center". Within these headings, flicking left or right will scroll through a series of buttons. Double-tap what you want to restrict and you'll either switch it from on to off or else get to different options. For example, double-tapping on the safari button in the "allow" heading will switch between on and off. If you leave it on off, you won't be able to even find the Safari browser since the icon for it disappears entirely. If you double-tap the "movies" button under "allowed content", you can choose the rating of movies which can be viewed on your iOS device. You can specify which country's ratings you want to use. It defaults to US.

All sorts of different kinds of content can have restrictions placed upon its consumption. Everything from podcasts to books to music to news. You don't always have a lot of flexibility. Choices are more often between allowing everything or disallowing things entirely. For instance, you can restrict explicit content in books so that your child won't even come across books featuring such material. However, you can't do more complex things like eliminate violence or taboo topics. Web sites are similar. You can restrict explicit adult content or only allow visits to certain sites you approve of. For apps, you can restrict apps by their age appropriate ratings. Using these restrictions, parents could make their children's iOS devices quite safe while still allowing for some exploration on their part. Without knowing the four-digit passcode, they may not even see what they're not allowed to access.

The setings under the "Privacy" heading withing the "Restrictions" area are the same as the ones in the "Privacy" area of Settings. However, if you use the settings within the "Restrictions" area, you will need the restriction passcode to change them later.

The options under the "Allow Changes" heading are six buttons which deal with important areas and give you the power to disallow any changes which might cost money or compromise safety. For instance, you can use the "accounts" restriction to prevent any changes being made to account information. This prevents anybody from adding a new user account to your iOS device to get around restrictions. Other areas include cellular data, volume limit, bakcground app refresh, and TV provider. A change in cellular data, for instance, might result in you inadvertently using expensive cellular data for things that you didn't want to be able to.

The settings under the "Game Center" heading allow you to restrict things like adding friends or playing multiplayer games. This will be especially useful for parents who don't feel their children are ready to deal responsibly with this unsupervised contact with strangers. There are three settings here. You can disallow playing multiplayer games entirely. You can disallow adding new friends. Lastly, you can disallow screen recording. Screen recording is often used in games to share proof of noteworthy accomplishment or other information during group play. However, it could also reveal sensitive information if used carelessly.

Parting Thoughts on Security:

Don't use extra security you don't need. I can't count the number of people I've been powerless to help because they've set restrictions and then forgotten the four-digit code. They'll disallow Safari and then wonder where their web browser went. They'll want to purchase an app or an in-app purchase but discover that they've restricted that ability on their iPHONE and then forgotten their code and can't disable the restriction. I've even had one fellow restrict his GPS app from using location services. There's simply no point of having a GPS app to help you get around if you prevent it from knowing where you are. People do some really stupid things getting all paranoid and hung up on security and privacy concerns. Take reasonable precautions but don't go overboard with this stuff.