Friday, June 23, 2017

Communicating with Others using iOS Devices

Your iOS device can make communication with others on your own terms very easy to do. This is especially true once you have mastered typing, dictation using Siri, and navigating apps using VoiceOver. No matter which iOS device you get, it can be used to communicate with others. This includes the iPOD Touch which is basically and iPHONE minus the phone. There are a set of apps included in iOS especially for this purpose. In addition to these, there are more apps for various social media such as Twitter available in the app store. All of these apps tie into contact information and most of the time, tie into Siri as well. This makes communicating as effortless as possible even when you're just getting started.

The Contacts App:

The Contacts app on the home screen is your first stop. This is where you should put any contact information you have about people who you want to communicate with. iOS can then make use of that information via other apps. The more information you put in this repository, the better your iOS device will serve you as a communications aid. It is quite possible to add contacts to different groups such as for personal and work. Personally, I just have them all in a single list within the app.

Unless you change settings, contacts will be kept in alphabetical order. By using the VoiceOver rotor and turning it to headings, you can then flick up and down to the next or previous lettres. This makes for a quick and efficient browsing experience. For more control over how contacts are displayed and organised, go into the Settings app and doubletap on "contacts". You'll see settings for whether contacts are sorted by last name first or by first name. There are also settings regarding the use of short names and/or nicknames. For some languages, these settings won't apply since names are always ordered the same way.

How to Add Contacts:

Beginners may find it a chore to enter contact information. Dictation can certainly help but often, the virtual keyboard is simply the best way to do things. However, the rewards of this labour will very quickly become apparent. There is an "add" button near the top left of the screen. Double-tapping this button takes you to a form which you fill in. There are edit fields for all sorts of information. You can also use the "insert" buttons next to fields to add more things like additional phone numbers or email addresses. It's very comprehensive. You can specify different ringtones for contacts if you desire. My parents have a different ringtone assigned so I always know when it's them calling.

Some apps such as Facebook will present you with opportunities to integrate your contacts. This adds information from companies like Google and Facebook where you may have contact lists into the library of contacts on your iOS device. They will then populate your list in the "Contacts" app. Before this step is ever taken, you will always be asked to be certain you want this to happen. Generally speaking, iOS is very careful when it comes to your privacy. On that note, look in the "privacy" settings and you'll find a "contacts" category. This lets you control which apps have access to your contacts. Further along, you'll find similar buttons for Facebook and Twitter. No decision you make is ever written in stone regarding contact integration.

How to access and edit contact information:

As your contact list grows, you may want to use the "search" field near the top left of the app to quickly narrow down the selections. Type any part of the contact name into the field and you'll likely see it pop up. Flick right through the choices to arrive at the contact. Double-tapping on a contact opens it giving access to its information. You can then perform actions such as sending a message, initiating a Facetime call, sending an email, etc. The "back" button gets you out of that contact's information back to the general pool of contacts. Before doing that though, notice the edit button near the back button. This lets you access and edit the information. You can also completely delete the contact.

Once information is in the Contacts app, iOS will start using it to make the social part of life easier in many different ways. If you have an iPHONE, the first result of these efforts you're likely to notice is that you'll know who's calling. Phone calls will be identified by name. You will also be able to make use of that information from within apps like the Phone app, mail, Facetime or Messages apps. Also, Siri can use this information. This lets you order Siri to do things which is lots easier than swiping and typing especially as you're masterring the basics of VoiceOver. You can teach Siri about relationships. For example, it knows that Sara is my wife and Dan is my brother. This lets me say things like "Tell my wife I'll be late for dinner" and be understood. You can dictate text messages, emails, and Facebook posts without having to go into the respective apps first. A lot of work has gone into making Siri a good communications aid. The Contacts app is how you give your iOS device and Siri what they need to help you keep in contact with people who matter to you.

Any time you need address information, chances are you'll find an option to get it from your contacts. For instance, I sent my mother a gift from the app store and quickly got her email address thanks to the information about her in the Contacts app. Contact information is also used by the Maps and other GPS apps. This lets you ask for directions to reach addresses stored in the Contacts app. This can include transit, walking and driving directions via the Maps app, BlindSquare, or other apps which can take advantage of this pool of information.

The Phone App:

People who have iPHONEs will be happy to know that the Phone app is very comprehensive and easy to use. It was originally one of the centrepieces of the iPHONE. Making, receiving and managing calls are all very easily achieved presuming you have mastered operating the touchscreen with VoiceOver. Siri is fully integrated with this app so you can call anybody in your contacts by simply asking Siri to call the person's name. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to ask Siri to call a number which you recite. Just don't pause for too long or it will presume you've finished and won't realise you're having trouble remembering the rest of the number.

There are five tabs across the bottom of this app. They are Favourites, Recent, Contacts, Keypad, and Voicemail. Double-tapping on a tab takes you to that particular area which will occupy the rest of the screen.

Dealing With Calls:

If a call comes in, a screen pops up with numerous options. If you simply want to answer it, just double-tap with two fingers anywhere on the screen. This is also how you hang up. If you're wearing wired earpods or other headsets, there should be a button you can press to answer or end a call. On the Earpods which come with your device, it's the long indented section which fels like it's been carved out of the remote in between the two round parts which can raise or lower volume. If you're wearing AirPods, double-tap either one to answer or end a call.

You can also do other things. At the top of the incoming call screen are message and remind buttons. These will make a reminder to return the call later or respond to the call with a message you can type in. Declining a call will pass the caller on to your voicemail where he or she can leave a message. At the bottom left and right corners are decline and accept buttons. Double-tap the button you want to use. You can press the sleep-wake button twice quickly to decline a call. Pressing that button once will allow you to lock your screen so you don't hit keypad buttons.


Having contacts added to your favourites has a couple of implications. First of all, you can call them by going into the Favourites tab flicking through the list of names and simply double-tapping on the one you want. Your iPHONE will then make the call for you. Nice and speedy. Also, there are different rules regarding favourites when it comes to Do Not Disturb settings. You can have these set to always allow people on your favourites list through when they call even when in Do Not Disturb mode. I'm rather thankful for this as I would typically rather not miss a call from afamily member, good friend or my landlord.


Any calls you have missed, made or received are all shown in this tab. They are organised in chronological order with the most recent call at the top. Flick right or scroll up with three fingers to quickly move through the list of calls. It is a handy way of easily returning calls especially if the number hasn't yet been added to your contacts. Simply double-tap on the number or name to return the call. Alternatively, flick right and you'll find a "more info" button next to each item in the list. Double-tap this button to obtain any known information plug find options to add the number to your contacts thereby creating a new contact. There are other options similar to what you'll find in the Contacts app.


This tab is basically like the Contacts app. Double-tapping on a contact name will move you into that contact's entry where you'll find the usual options.


This tab gives you access to a virtual phone keypad. As you input a number, you'll even hear touchtone beeps as you would if using an actual telephone. This is good for blind people as you'll know when you've successfully entered the right digits. If you need to delete a digit, You'll find the button you need near the top right of the screen. Just below the numeric keypad but above the row of tabs, you'll find a "call" button in the middle. It's right above the Contacts tab. Double-tap that button to make a call.

During a call, the keypad is display so that you can make use of touchtone systems. There are occasions, however, when this is less than desireable as it's possible to accidentally press keys with your cheek. There is a button which hides the keypad if you wish. You'll find options right below the keypad to end the call, mute, or hide that keypad.


This last tab is a very nice addition presuming your carrier supports it. Not all phone plans come with what is called visual voicemail. Presuming you have it, this tab will be where you to go receive your messages, set your greeting, etc. Messages will be downloaded to your phone for you to easily review at your leisure. I've become quite attached to this feature and pay a small fee for a package of additional features which includes visual voicemail as part of my phone plan.

If, for whatever reason, you don't wish to use this or can't get a plan which has it, you are still able to use the normal voicemail offered by pretty much all phone companies. You simply use the keypad discussed earlier to enter your passcode and operate the menus as you would with an ordinary touchtone phone. This may prove stressful for beginners as they have yet to gain proficiency with finding and enterring digits on their touchscreens. Visual voicemail eliminates this hastle and does away with any time pressure.

To use visual voicemail, double-tap the tab and you'll find a "greeting" button near the top of the screen. This lets you record your voicemail greeting which people hear when you miss or decline their call. I don't recall needing to do any other things to set up visual voicemail. I got it some years ago and have kept it ever since. You may need to get help from your carrier. When you receive messages, they are put in a chronoligical list with the most recent messages at the top. You can simply flick through them and double-tap on a message to start it playing. Double-tap on the "more info" button next to a message if you want to get to the same contact page as you'd arrive at though the Contacts tab or the "more info" button found in the Recents tab.

You can pause a message during playback, move back or forward through it, and do other things like return the call, delete the message, etc. This makes it easy to manage messages even if you have yet to deal with the rotor and flicking gestures. It makes for a very efficient stress-free way of dealing with messages.

There are other options such as call waiting, ending a first call and receiving a call that has come in while you're on a first call, adding people to calls, etc. I suspect that carriers need to support these features. In appropriate circumstances, options will appear on the screen displayed while you are in a call.

It is also possible to be in a call while still using other apps. Simply press the home button to get out of the phone app. Your call will continue even as you do other things. There is a bar near the top left of the screen which you can double-tap to return to the call screen if you like.


This app is used to make audio or video calls to others who use iOS devices or computers supporting FaceTime. To use FaceTime, you need an Apple ID for yourself. Presuming your device has been set up, you have already created your Apple ID. You'll also need to know an Email address and/or phone number of people who you want to contact via FaceTime. This information may be found in the Contacts app or added in directly from within the FaceTime app. Once done, that person will be found in the Contacts app.

How to make a FaceTime call:

You can do this in a few ways. From inside the FaceTime app, you can double-tap on the "audio", or "video" buttons near the top of the screen. Next, double-tap a contact's name. This will make a call to that person. You can also use Siri from anywhere on your iOS device to make a call. Simply invoke Siri and then say "FaceTime" or "FaceTime audio" followed by the person's name. This will initiate a call. Also, you can initiate a FaceTime call from within the Contacts app. Simply go into the contact entry you're interested in and flick right until you reach the "faceTime call" button. Double-tap to initiate the call.

There are options you can use during a FaceTime call. Video calls can make use of the front or rear-facing cameras built into your iOS device. You'll find buttons to choose which camera to use on the call screen which appears. You can also end a call in progress, sswitch to an incoming or waiting call, or mute your microphone. Double-tapping with two fingers will accept or end a call. You don't have to be in the FaceTime app to receive a FaceTime call. A two-fingered double-tap will accpt the call from anywhere. Also, a menu pops up giving you options which you can flick over should you want to decline the call for example.

Near the top of the screen, you'll find an edit button letting you delete FaceTime contacts. You'll find a search field letting you look for contacts by name, email or number.

Also, look in the Settings app where you'll find specific settings for FaceTime. These let you turn the feature on or off, choose which information people can use to contact you through FaceTime, and more. To specify whether FaceTime can use cellular data look in the "cellular" setting. Remember that FaceTime must use either WiFi or cellular data. Also, video calls use more data than strictly audio ones.

I have found FaceTime to be especially useful in a few ways of particular interest to blind people. I've used it to show distant relatives what my apartment was like using the ability to switch to the rear-facing camera on the back of my iPHONE. This has also been a useful way to have a sighted person help read things my OCR apps can't understand. Also, they can help me look for lost items. You could also theoretically use FaceTime to have someone sighted help you navigate somewhere or at least see where you were in order to find you more easily.

A Closer Look at Do Not Disturb:

As we learn how to communicate with people, it is important to make certain that we remain in control of when we communicate. The "do not disturb" mode is extremely useful when sleeping, attending meetings, visiting with friends or at other times when you don't want to be interrupted by your device. Airplane mode is easy to activate but completely cuts all transmition to and from your device. Most of the time, this isn't what you want. We often don't want to be distracted but still want to be able to make calls, check email, shop online, or surf the web. Do Not Disturb mode makes certain that no external calls or messages nor any alerts generated by apps on our devices will interrupt us. Unlike airplane mode, your device remains connected. You can still use Siri, receive calls and other information. This means that you don't miss out on notifications. They wait for you when you're ready to deal with them.

How to turn on Do Not Disturb mode?

You can simply tell Siri to do it. You can also go to the control centre by touching the status bar at the top of the touchscreen and swiping upward with three fingers. Flick right until you find the "do not disturb" button and double-tap it to turn the mode on or off.

 Adjusting how Do Not Disturb works:

Go into the Settings app and flick right until you come to a "do not disturb" button. It's right before the "general" button completely separate from Privacy settings. In the Do Not Disturb settings, you'll find options letting you do several things. You can schedule a time of day when your device will audomatically go into Do Not Disturb mode. This is useful for sleeping. I schedule my iPHONE to enter this mode at 11 PM and come out of the mode at 6 AM. You can also control who is still able to reach you even in Do Not Disturb mode. I allow contacts in my favorites such as my landlord, family members, etc, to reach me. There's also a setting to allow repeated calls through. If people call more than once within a few minutes, they'll be allowed through. You can turn this off if you don't want that to happen. Another option lets you choose whether your device will be silent always or just when it's locked.

The Messages App:

This is where any text, video or audio messages are sent, received and managed. You can send messages to groups or individuals. These are organised as conversations. Messages are sent through Apple's service if they're to other Apple devices. These can be Mac computers or other iOS devices. You need to be connected to the Internet to use the Messages app. These go through WIFI or cellular Internet connection and don't count against your texting plan. Otherwise, if they're to non-Apple phones, they are regular text messages and will use your texting plan. You can attach media from other apps, record audio or video messages, and decorate your text messages in all sorts of ways.

True to form, Apple keeps things as free of complexity as possible. There are no tabs in this app. At the top, you'll find edit, compose and search buttons. Between the edit and compose buttons is the app title which is a heading. You can always turn your rotor to headings and get right back to the top easily. Flicking right past the compose button, you come to a search field. This lets you look for contacts and conversations. Useful as you have more of these. Past the search field, you start with the main area filled with the names of groups or people and previews of the most current messages of each conversation. It is organised with the most recent conversation first. This keeps expanding as you communicate more. Double-tap on a conversation to enter it.

How to send a message:

There are a few ways to send messages. The easiest is to simply use Siri. Say something like "Tell Norman I'll be late for lunch." Siri will compose the message, ask if it understood you correctly, and then offer you a chance to cancel or change the message. Otherwise, you can just say "yes" and it'll send the message. You can also ask Siri to read messages to you. This would be especially useful for beginners still getting used to VoiceOver.

Double-tapping on the compose button opens a screen letting you make full use of the app's capabilities. You can add one or more names from your contacts. Typing a partial name will cause likely candidates from your contacs to be listed. You can flick right to get to these and double-tap the one you want to add. There are plenty of possibilities when it comes to creating your messages. You can type and edit your message in the edit field after double-tapping on it. Flicking over the field when it's ready to receive input, you should hear VoiceOver say "is editing". You can type your message or find the dictate button to the left of the space buttton on the virtual keyboard. Double-tap and speak your message finishing by double-tapping again to stop. Messages can have more than one line so use the return button if you want. When finished, flick right to get to the "send" button and double-tap it. Recording an audio message is also very simple. Double-tap with one finger and hold on the "record audio" button. While doing this, speak your message and release your finger when you're done. You can then play what you've recorded to make certain it's correct before sending the message via the "send" button.

Receiving messages and viewing conversations:

When messages arrive, VoiceOver will read them to you presuming you haven't changed any settings in notifications to stop this from happening or have do not disturb mode turned on. This makes it possible to carry out conversations without ever typing or swiping. All fine and good for curent simple stuff. When you want to look back through a conversation, double-tap on it and go into that conversation's screen. You can then flick right through the messages from oldest to most recent. At the end of the messages, you'll find tools to compose your next reply in that conversation. This will always be at the bottom right. You can also see if messages have been delivered and whether any additional content has been added such as stickers, files, etc. Near the top left by the contact name, you'll find a "more info" button. This shows you anything you've entered about the contact and gives you a series of optionssuch as making a FaceTime call, sending an email, etc.

Participating in Group conversations:

Once you've added more than one contact to a message you've composed, you will start a group conversation when you send that message. You can also receive a message which involves you in a group conversation when you reply to it. You can name groups once they're created. To do this, go into the group conversation and use the "more info" button. Flick right from the top left and you'll find a "name" field. This is where you can enter a group name. The "more info" screen also has other options letting you add new group members or leave a group conversation you no longer wish to participate in.

Concerning Emojis:

VoiceOver will describe any emojis other people use in their messages to you. If you want to use them yourself, while you're in an edit field, find the space bar at the bottom of the keyboard and flick left past the dictate button. You'll find a "next keyboard" button. One such keyboard is full of these emoji immages. Once you've switched to that keyboard, you can find whatever emoji you want and double-tap it. Use the "next keyboard" button to cycle through any keyboards you've added and get back to your normal preferred keyboard. Descriptions for emojis are generally well thought out and brief so this is perhaps the easiest way to clarify your meaning through imagery for sighted people. It also doesn't cost anything.

Settings Associated with the Messages app:

Go into the Setttings app and double-tap on messages. These let you control a lot of aspects about how the Messages app behaves. For instance, you can choose whether subject fields are shown. You can also turn on a setting which sends images in low quality in order to save data. You'll also find a "blocked" button which lets you manage blocked contacts you don't want to hear from. There's another setting letting you choose not to be notified when people not on your contacts list send you messsages They are kept in a separate list for you to review at your convenience. There are many more settings. Also, remember that settings in other areas like privacy can influence how the Messages app functions. It's one of those central apps which ties into a lot in iOS.

More To the Messages App:

Apple has built considerably more capabilities into their Messages app. The Digital Touch aspects allows people to add drawings, backgrounds and things to their messages. That was what I used to accidentally send my good friend an angry fireball. I haven't had any success using this effectively with VoiceOver. The sketching and drawing aspects seem to be the real core of digital touch. If you receive messages with drawing or digital touch elements, you'll be told the elements are there but not what they are.

Using Background Effects:

There are a set of effects you can attach to your messages. They can either be contained in boubles or else occupy the whole screen along with your messages. To use these, write your message first. Next, double-tap and hold on the send button or press firmly on it if you have 3d touch enabled. This adds a panel to your message screen containing choices. There are a more limited number of choices for bouble effects. These include slam, gentle, loud, and invisible ink. It may be possible to add more choices here. Screen effects include lasers, balloons, confetti, and many more. It will default to one effect but if you flick right past this, you'll come to a page slider which changes the effect to be sent. After choosing the desired effect, find the send button and double-tap it. If you get a message with an effect, you may hear appropriate sounds as the message is read. The effects have descriptions which VoiceOver will read out in addition to your message.

Adding Stickers:

One of the easier elements to make use of for blind people are stickers. Think of these like stamps. Using them is just as simple as sticking a stamp onto paper. Next to the "digital touch" button, you'll find a "messaging apps" button. Double-tap on this and more options will appear on the touchscreen. If you're already in a message, you need to flick left to find a "show more" button and double-tap that. Then, you can access the "messaging apps" button. This gives you access to a whole lot. Once you enter this area, a slider moves you between pages of options. You start on a "recents" page but if you've never used messaging appps and stickers before, nothing will be on it. Go to the next page and you can look through options. Near the bottom of the screen, there are buttons for browsing apps and stickers. You default in the stickers section which will contain any stickers you've acquired. Some apps come with stickers. For instance, the Weather Gods app is popular among blind people and it has a number of well-described weather stickers. There are also stickers you can purchase depicting favourite movie characters, locations, and much more. Flick right through the stickers you have and double-tap the one you want to add. It's possible to add more than one sticker but I don't think you can position them manually.

Stickers are designed for decoration whereas emojis are images carefully chosen and constructed to make the emotional context of messages clear. Think of stickers like stamps and emojis like psychological punctuation marks. There are a far more limited number of emoji symbols. They are all included in the Emoji virtual keyboard included as part of ioS. Emojis are free and available for use in any app capable of accepting typing. You won't find a Luke Skywalker emoji since Star Wars images are trademarked and don't clearly convey emotional meaning to people unfamiliar with that fictional universe. One emoji is a slice of pizza. While this is a food of western civilization, you can easily tell that it's food and conclude that the message sender may be expressing he or she is hungry. You can realise this even if you've never encountered pizza before. Emojis can certainly be use decoratively and often are but that isn't their primary purpose like it is with stickers.

The messages app store and Integrated Apps:

These apps plus others you already have are capable of enhancing your messages or making use of the Messages app to let you do things. Once you acquire an app with this kind of capability, it will be put in your app drawer. This is also where you'll find your stickers. You can manage the contents of this app drawer. Find the "manage" button and you can hide what you don't find useful removing it from the drawer. You can also re-order contents of the drawer. The first time you visit the messages app store, you can choose to automatically add apps which integrate with Messages into the drawer. I recommend doing this. Presuming the app in question is accessible, the part which integrates with the Messages app should also be.

One good example is the Music app which comes with iOS. After finding it in my app drawer, I was able to send a message to my wife Sara and add a clip of the song I was listening to. She could hear that music as she read the message. I only had a short poke around but it looks like I could have also sent clips of recently heard songs and not just the one I happened to be hearing as I wrote the message. The Dropbox app lets you send links to files you have uploaded to that service sharing them via messages. There are lots of other apps. Many of them are free. I urge people to experiment with people who know you as you try these apps out. Before spending any money, look on

The forums and app recommendations will be helpful in avoiding spending money on more visual apps or on stickers which haven't been labelled accessibly. Exploration of screens is key. Take time to flick and feel around to get a sense of what's possible with messages apps in the drawer. VoiceOver doesn't read out all your choices but encourages you to explore and find out where they are on the touchscreen.

The Mail App:

Apple has created a good simple app for dealing with email which is completely accessible. It can organise your mail by thread which can really help if you get a lot of email. You can also make use of different mail boxes to make certain you get to all your important mail. As with all of Apple's included apps, it covers the basics well and steers clear of too much complexity. It pays to have the rotor gestures mastered as they are helpful in reading and editing messages.

How to Set Up The Mail App:

Go into the Settings app and flick right to get to the mail settings. Double-tap on that and you'll be where all the setup and preference options are. You can then enter the needed information if it isn't there already. Presuming you've created an Apple ID, you'll have already given it an email account or have had one created for you by Apple. You may need information such as your smtp server, password, etc if you want to use an email account from another email service like Gmail.

There are settings for deciding how messages are organized. You can have them grouped into threads or simply placed in your mailboxes in chronological order. You can also choose how many lines are shown as a preview of messages. You can decide whether you want to be warned before deleting messages. There are options in the account area to decide how frequently new mail is checked for and pushed to your iOS device. There are also composition settings which include the ability to create an email signature which is automatically included below every message you send.

Layout of the Mail App:

This is another case where Apple didn't separate everything into tabs. Everything is on one main screen with various options like composing email taking you to a separate screen focussed on a given task. At the top, you'll find the mailbox selection. You default to the inbox but double-tapping the mailbox back button takes you out of that and into the mailbox list. Presuming you're in the right box, flick right and you'll find an edit button. This lets you do things like select a bunch of messages and move them to another box, delete them, etc. There's also an edit button near the top of the list of mail boxes. This lets you re-order, add and remove boxes as your needs change.

Right of the edit button is the search field. This lets you search for specific messages. Next comes the main area where messages are listed. You can flick through messages or threads if you choose to deal with messages thread by thread. Double-tap to go into a message fully. There's no limit to the size of your message list.

How to Browse messages within a thread:

Turn your rotor to the messages setting and you'll be able to quickly navigate through messages by flicking up or down. This lets you get a handle on discussions easier letting you quickly skip over to the next or prior message within a thread.

Composing emails:

The bottom right corner always contains the compose button. Double-tap this to get to the message composition screen. There are various fields. Getting around the screen is pretty simple. Double-tap to go into a field. You default in the "to" field where you can enter a full or partial name or email address. Flick right after typing some of a contact's name or email and you'll be presented with any options which might be who you're trying to contact. Double-tap on the ones you want to add to the message and their names will be added. Flick to the right past any such options to get to other fields like CC, BCC, subject, and finally, the message body. Remember that rather than flicking, you can feel around the screen to find out where fields are and double-tap on them to enter them. When done composing, feel around the top left of the screen and you'll likely find yourself on the "back" button. Flick right and you'll come to the "new message heading. To the right of that is the "send" button. Double-tap that to send your message.

Filtering Messages:

Touch the bottom right corner to find the "compose" button. Flick once to the left of this and you'll come to the "filters" button. This lets you filter messages so that only messages you're particularly wanting to focus on are shown. For instance, I have my filter set to unread messages so that I'm not bothered by ones I've already read. There are many more possible filters so take the time to look around the options after double-tapping the filters button.

To get back out of areas, simply check the top left corner of the screen for a "back" button. You'll never be trapped anywhere. There should always be a back button. Also, one of the drawbacks of the Mail app is that there doesn't seem to be any way to simply delete all mail in your inbox. You have to actively delete or archive messages individually. This is by far my biggest gripe with the app. Once you're done with a message and have archived or deleted it, you are automatically taken into the next messages. For more of an overview to pick what to tackle next, double-tap the back button to return to the mailbox you're working with.

One other gripe is that it doesn't look like you can compose a message and then deside to attach something later. Instead, you have to go to the file you want to attach, use the "share" option to and choose "mail". You'll then be put in the composition field and the file you want to share will be attached.

App Store Expedition:

If you want to expand your communications reach beyond what comes included on your iOS device, the app store has you well covered. For contacting people with devices other than iOS ones, there are always options like Skype,. That's a very popular communication method now owned by Microsoft. They have a very accessible app for iOS users. For private group conversations, there are apps like Zoom which again have software available for Android, Windows, and other platforms. Beyond these, for more public widespread communication, there are a whole range of social media options with often many different app choices to use them. We'll discuss social media in depth later in this guide.

Personally, I mainly use the Gmail app created by Google. I find this works better for me than the Mail app which comes with iOS. There are many other email app choices in the app store. These will offer different options and ways to help you manage your inbox without going nuts. For instance, Google created the Inbox app which automatically organizes your messages into related bundles. Your email provider may have created a special app for its customers to use. Also, other developers have taken their own crack at doing email differently. I haven't seen much discussion of different email apps regarding how accessible they are. People seem happy with things in general. As always, people interested in finding something different should look at:

Look in the app directory. It's well categorized. You can also search by keyword on the Applevis site which will also look into discussion forums where people talk about their experiences with different apps.


I hope this helps get people started using their iOS devices to communicate with others. It's one of the primary ways these portable and powerful flat objects have changed many lives for the better including my own. Whether I'm stuck in an elevator, in a car, or walking around the man-made lake near my building, I can be in touch with whoever I might need to. Should I drop something onto a patch of carpet where I couldn't hear it land, I could use FaceTime to contact a sighted friend or family member to literally look around for the object without leaving his or her home. There are just so many implications.

When you bring in apps made by others and offered in the app store, the possibilities grow vast indeed. There are special apps made to help deafblind people communicate more easily with others. There are apps like Google Translate which can render words spoken or written in another language understandable in mere fractions of a second. Combine these sorts of capabilities with the stupendous amount of information available from the Internet, and the implications for collaborative creativity seem endless. Once you've mastered the mechanics of VoiceOver and using a touchscreen, there are no other barriers to expressing yourself well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lifestyle Apps

With their extreme portability, iOS devices are uniquely positionned to be of help in many ways. From working out your share of a bill at a restaurant table with the handy calculator app to keeping track of appointments with the included calendar app, you'll be surprised how much you can do with apps that are automatically included with iOS. These are useful in everyday life and are helpful for students. These apps are simple and offer basic functionality. Beginners can feel comfortable practicing their skills using VoiceOver and exploring the screen.

Should you need more functionality or a different approach to these everyday tasks than the included apps offer, fear not. Chances are that you can get a more suitable app for your needs in the app store. I've found a number of apps offerring alternative approaches which suit me better. Later in this section, we'll go on two app store expeditions. I'll tell you about a couple of these alternative apps. I'll also explain how I found out about them. For lack of a better category term, I'm calling these lifestyle apps since they are useful in everyday situations. Calling them utilities just doesn't seem quite right.

Before we take a closer look at the various apps, remember that you can use Siri, Apple's built in personal assistant, to perform many of the tasks these apps can do. In fact, Siri makes use of these apps on your behalf. If you tell Siri to create a reminder or appointment, it will be done using the Calendar or Reminders app which come standard in iOS. Beginners who struggle with navigating and typing will be able to use Siri to enter appointments, create reminders and check what's due or coming up. More on Siri later. pause or cancel timers, do calculations for you, etc. Try asking it math questions. You can do quite a lot without ever going into the Clock and Calculator apps. Siri isn't as versatile when it comes to reviewing information in detail. If you want an overview of your scheduled events for the month, you are well advised to become familiar with the Calendar app.

The Calendar App:

The calendar app has a reasonably simple layout keeping everything on one screen. There are no tabs separating different areas like you'll find in other apps. Starting at the very topleft of the touchscreen below the status bar, you'll find Search and Add buttns. These let you search for and add events to the calendar. At the bottom right are "Today", "Calendars" and "Inbox" buttons.

So far, so good. However, things get a little tricky in the middle. The rest of the screen is taken up with a scrolling calendar. Years are separated by headings. Setting your rotor to the "headings" setting will therefore let you scroll easily through years. Each month is a button so flicking left or right goes backward or forward by month. You can scroll indefinitely backwards and forwards to past or future years. Touching a month at the top of the screen and flicking left won't get you to the search and add buttons. It will just keep scrolling. The same goes for when you're at the bottom of the screen and flick right. It takes a bit of getting used to. To reliably get to the option buttons, it's best to touch the top left or bottom right corners landing you on the "search" and "Inbox" buttons respectively. You then flick right from the "search" or left from the "inbox" buttons respectively to reach the additional buttons.

When you're at a month you want a closer look at, double-tap on it. You will be taken into that month's calendar. The current month and day are always indicated when you go over them in their respective levels detail. There are no headings in the month calendar. However, each week has its own row of days. Turn the rotor to "vertical navigation" to move quickly through the weeks of a month by flicking up or down. This keeps you on the same day of the week. Double-tap on a day to see events taking place on it. They appear at the bottom right just before the "today" button when the day is highlighted. However, you can get into an even more detailed daily view where any events in a day are shown along with their times. You can navigate this list by heading or by a special "event" setting which appears on your rotor. Double-tapping on an event will show all its details and any notes. For instance. St. George's Day is a holiday celebrated in some parts of Canada on April 23. A note included in the Canadian Holidays calendar indicates that it may not be celebrated in your area. Double-tap and hold on an event to change its start and end times.

 You can scroll through different weeks by three-finger swipes left and right.

The calendar gives good functionality but takes time and experimentation to really master. I only learned about some included capabilities while preparing this section of the guide and consulting the user guide written by Apple as part of that process. That's something you'll find as you use iOS extensively. Unless you take the time to read the user guide, there's not always a lot to point you towards useful features. It really pays to take the time to do that and also explore within various apps you use.

To add an event, double-tap the "add" button. An entry screen will appear with a number of edit fields and options. You can get around it by flicking lef and right. Double-tap on an edit field like "title" in order to enter information about the event. Once you're satisfied with the contents of the fields, find the "add" button at the top left of the screen right below the "New event" heading. Once you've entered sufficient information, this button will become active and nno longer be dimmed as it was when you began creating your event. Once you double-tap the "add" button, the event will appear in your calendar. Nothing is carved in stone. It is quite possible to change an event. Double-tap on it while in the day view where events are listed. You can also search for it and double-tap on it in the search results. You can then edit it easily and/or remove it.

The Reminders App:

This gives you the ability to create and deal with reminders. These can be repeating or once-only reminders. You can group reminders in different lists. For example, a list for work-related reminders and a separate list for home or personal reminders. This app is very basic. There's a heading at the top to get you back there quickly with the rotor. This app has no tabs. There are buttons to edit reminders, add a new reminder, and show your different lists.

Creating a reminder involves double-tapping the "new reminder" button. Type information into the edit field and flick right. Double-tap on the "more info" button to get to the details section. This lets you specify time, location, and other details needed to trigger the reminder. Otherwise, the reminder will merely contain the text in the preceding field. You can put a checkmark when you're done with a reminder to mark it as completed.

Reminders can be location specific. You could have one trigger when at the grocery store to remind you to get certain foods. Reminders which have completed or which you don't need anymore can be set to checked. This puts a checkmark beside the reminder and marks it as complete. As with the calendar app, you are able to edit and delete reminders when you need to.

App Store Expedition: Fantastical 2 and VO Calendar:

Whzat if it were possible to combine the information accessed through the calendar and reminders into a single app? All of your time management would be right there in the same place. While producing this guide, I was a regular contributor to a show called Kelly and Company. So was my colleague Tom Dekker. He runs a web site and service well worth checking out at:

By complete coincidence, both of us use our fifteen minutes of fame that week to discuss different apps which approached simplifying personal organization on iOS devices in two different ways. This provided a golden opportunity to illustrate a major advantage of the iOS ecosystem; The ability to choose and develop approaches suitable for people with varying abilities and skill levels. There's almost never just one way to do things.

Sadly, spreading the word about these choices, particularly ones designed for smaller markets, is tricky for app developers. Word of mouth is priceless advertising. Sites like:

are an essential resource for app developers and new users looking to learn about and make the best app choices with their limited funds.

Fantastical 2:

For those who are comfortable with VoiceOver and wish to use an app designed for sighted users, Fantastical is one attempt to combine calendar and reminder into something greater than the sum of its parts. This app is made by Flexibits and costs $7 Canadian. It uses the data from the calendar and reminders apps giving you a better univfied organizer. It also has a natural language parser capable of understanding event or reminder-related sentences you can type or speak into the app. At present, this works even better than Siri when it comes to understanding naturally phrased events and reminders.

To dictate an event, you must first use the "new event" button. Once you're in the edit field, find the "dictate" button on the virtual keyboard on your iOS device to the left of the space bar. If you're using a Bluetooth keyboard and want to dictate an event, you need to deactivate that keyboard so the virtual one pops up on your iOS device. The virtual keyboard is only present once you've entered an edit field. Fantastical doesn't replace Siri so holding down the "home" button or saying "hey Siri" will still behave as always. This lets you stil use Siri when you're hurrying through your day. However, if you can get into the habit of going into the Fantastical app and using its "new event" button instead, you gain the advantage to speak or type very naturally about the event or reminder and have Fantastical understand you perfectly and do the right thing. Once you're certain you've been properly understood, find the "add" button near the top left of the screen and double-tap it to complete the operation.

Fantastical has all the control buttons at the top of the screen. Below is the day ticker which displays days with events or reminders. You can choose whether empty days are shown or not. Each day starts with a heading so turn the rotor to headings to scroll quickly through days. You can scroll infinitely back or forward. A two-finger swipe downward while on the top of the day ticker will transform it into a month calendar. You can then turn the rotor to vertical navigation to examine days and weeks flicking up or down through weeks and left or right through days. Use a three-finger swipe left or right moving back and forth through months. On the day ticker, flick right to go over each event or reminder within a day. Flick down when on an event or reminder to accesss a context menu allowing you to select the default action, "more", or delete it. Double-tap on your choice to execute it or flick right or left to leave the menu.

 Creating events is very intuitive with Fantastical. The "new event" button is to the right of the "go to today" button. Double-tap it and you'll be in an edit field. Type or dictate your event in sentence form. If it's repeating, you need to be specific. For example, it doesn't automatically know that birthdays happen every year so you have to say: "Michael's birthday is on October 29th each year". It will then fill in all the fields for you. If you're happy with the result, flick right to get to the "add" button. You can also edit details to get exactly the event or reminder you want. If you want a reminder rather than an event, include the words "reminder", "todo", or "task" in the sentence.

the buttons at the top are "settings", "go to today", and "new event". There are also buttons allowing you to sort and filter what is displayed by "title", "location", and "invitees". All of these buttons will always be displayed at the top of the screen starting with "settings" at the top left.

VO Calendar:

For some people, a better approach to combining calendar and reminder into an easier overall app would be the Vo Calendar app. Produced by Devista D.B. in partnership with a Dutch agency for the blind, this app will cost you around $14. This app is only useful to people who make use of the VoiceOver screen-reader. It cannot be used without it by sighted users. The aim was to make it as simple as possible for blind users to use the built-in calendar and reminder functions of iOS. Like Fantastical, it makes use of data stored in other apps included with iOS. You can therefore share the data with other users of not only Fantastical but any apps making use of the same data sources. You can share events with friends and family who can incorporate them into their own preferred calendars. Calendar events shared by others can also be incorporated into your own calendar.

What really sets this app apart is the screen layout and ability to summarise your events so you don't need to go through them one by one. The screen is divided in two halves so you can use one hand to scan events and your other hand to tap and activate things. If you prefer, you may also use ordinary VoiceOver gestures to operate the app. Those who find it hard to master typing can record events thanks to Vo Calendar being able to tigh into the Voice Memo app included in iOS. You can hear events in your own voice.

App Store Expedition Souvenirs

This glance at two very different approaches to simplifying personal life organization demonstrates the value of looking beyond what is included in iOS. People have taken the basic building blocks Apple came up with and have produced some very innovative tools which greatly enhance your capabilities. Beginers who struggle with the basic calendar and reminder apps have alternative ways of keeping life on track. These apps could make a very big difference to people who have frequent appointments to attend and need reminders every day to take various medications at regular times. Students whose lives are filled with assignments, deadlines and social engagements will also appreciate having calendar and reminder functions enhanced and accessed in a single app.

It pays to take the time to see if apps exist which may do more of what you want with greater ease. All apps in the store have reviews and descriptions. These are quite helpful but are generally written with sighted users in mind. Not all apps offer good support for VoiceOver. This is especially important for beginners who are still learning VoiceOver gestures and getting used to how things are supposed to behave. I strongly recommend that before you make a purchase, take the time to look at:

There, you can check the app directory to see if the app you are interested in has an entry. These entries are written with blind users in mind typically by blind users. You'll find plenty of accessibility information including any discovered workarounds for elements of apps which are less accessible than they could be. As you become more experienced, you might eventually want to try apps which have yet to find their way into the app directory, podcasts and reviews on Applevis.

Once awareness spreads through the blind community about a particularly good app, it doesn't take much effort to find out about it yourself. I first heard of Fantastical 2 through online acquaintances I've made over the years. I wasn't much interested at the time and took no immediate action. However, it seemed to keep coming up in reviews of other apps and in conversation. Comments were pretty much always favourable. I did quite well with the calendar and reminders apps which came with iOS. However, when working on this guide, I thought I should get it and see how good an example it would make of an alternative and better accessible approach to personal life organization. Ever since, I've been using Fantastical 2 exclusively. I wish I had gotten it much sooner. The app developers are very responsive to ideas and/or accessibility issues.

Due to my skill level with VoiceOver, I felt no need to acquire VO Calendar. It doesn't really offer anything other than greatly simplifying calendar and reminder tasks. Others could easily come to the completely opposite conclusion especially if they struggle to use the touchscreen in general. The work which has gone into minimising the need for navigation is somewhat lost on me. However, for people just getting started or those who have motion difficulties, it could make all the difference.

The Calculator

This app is included in iOS and will likely fill the mathematical needs of most people. The calculator works well with VoiceOver. It has two different modes:

Basic Calculator:

If your iOS device is in portrait mode, you will have access to a basic calculator. Functions include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and percent.

You'll find a numeric keypad at the left of the screen covering most of the surface. Lower digits are at the bottom and higher are at the top. Decimal is right of 0. Equals is right of decimal.

Above the equals sign, you'll find functions proceeding up the far right of the screen. Adition, subtraction, multiplication and division at the top. Above the 7, 8 and 9 keys are clear, plus-minus and percent keys. Above this is where the results are shown. Voiceover automatically announces results. You can also read them more carefully with the rotor after touching the result space.

The layout is simple enough to be mastered quickly. Very handy for most day to day stuff.

The Scientific Calculator:

As long as orientation is unlocked, turning your device sideways transforms the basic calculator into a scientific calculator with many more functions.

The basic stuff is all still there but is condensed onto an area at the right side of the screen. To the left of the numbers, you'll find the rest of the screen taken up by all sorts of higher math functions. This includes parentheses, geometric functions, exponents, and lots more.

This layout will take longer to master as it crams a lot more onto the screen. I recommend the use of touch typing mode. Set this with the rotor. This way, nothing is entered until you lift your finger from the surface of your device. This gives you a chance to feel around for the right digit or function and makes entry mistakes less likely.

The Clock App:

This app packs a bunch of handy time tools into a single app. It includes a world clock, an alarm clock, a "bed time" sleep analysis, a timer, and a stopwatch. Each of these functions have their own tab. From a blindness perspective, there are a few unfortunately missing abilities. There is no way to tell time through vibrative tactile feedback like with the AppleWatch. Also, there is no facility to set chimes.

The World Clock:

The left most tab on the bottom of the screen accesses this clock which can display current time in many different cities around the world. The "Edit" button is found at the top left of the screen. Double-tapping this brings you to an edit mode which lets you arrange the order cities are displayed in as well as delete cities you don't want. Double-tap and hold on the "re-order" button next to a city's name and slide your finger up or down to move it. Hit the "done" button when you're finished.

The "add" button is one flick right of the words "world clock". It lets you add new cities from a large list. You may not find your particular city but you'll find one close enough. I have Toronto, Cupertino California and London England on my world clock. Helpful for catching online events like Apple presentations.

The Alarm Clock:

This is a very easy alarm clock to operate. You can have multiple alarms for various days and times. For each of them, you can choose which of them are on or off. You can add new alarms with the "add" button. There's an "edit" button at the top left. Use that to change the characteristics of alarms by double-tapping on an alarm and flicking right through the various options. There are plenty of options including snooze, sound choice, etc allowing quite a bit of latitude in constructing your alarm. You can select different sounds, any ringtones you have, or songs from your music library.


This lets you schedule a reminder to go to bed plus a wakeup time. You can select from a number of attractive wakeup sounds as a more gentle approach to wakefullness than the alarm clock. Also, you can set things so you're not woken up on weekends. It's pretty flexible. It analyzes your usage of your device to help determine when you're actually sleeping or when you might perhaps have gotten up early. Data is recorded and placed in the Health app.


You can perform all stopwatch functions easily. No automatic reading of time is done but you can easily check it by touching the screen near the middle. There's a heading at the top so you can set the rotor to headings, flick up to get to the heading and then flick right to get quickly to the stopwatch time. Double-tapping the "lap" button will quickly give you the current progress reading the exact moment the button was pressed. There are also stop and reset buttons.


This is your basic timer. There are no announcements as the timer counts down. You can set duration and choose the sound which plays when the timer expires. Also, you can choose to have it stop playback of whatever music, podcasts, etc that you're listening to. Handy if apps don't have their own sleep timers.

Like the stopwatch, you can check timer progress while in this tab of the clock app. Also, presuming nothing eclipses it, you can find the timer on the lock screen. Music track information can have this effect as track information seems to get priority.

App Store Expedition:

If the clock and calendar functions aren't quite meeting your needs, Look on Applevis and the app store. There are some useful discoveries. For people needing more flexibility or a different layout approach to calculating, Adam Croser has developed three different talking calculators. These can read out large numbers better than Voiceover and have other accessibility considerations such as different contrast modes. Functions are divided up into panels rather than being all crammed onto one screen. To get these, look for "talking scientific calculator", "talking statistical calculator" or "talking calculator" in the app store search field. All of these support VoiceOver. Price for these calculators is around $6.

The clock is great for basic use. However, many blind people would very much like to be reminded of the time by hourly chimes or tactile vibration. I have yet to hear of an app which gives tactile feedback helpful for keeping track of time. The Apple Watch will do this but purchasing one for this ability alone seems crazy. However, my Twitter followers pointed me to "Westminster Chimes Full", a $1.39 app made by LutherSoft. This gives audible chimes in five different traditional English styles. The app fully supports VoiceOver and is quite simple to use. The developers are well aware of VoiceOver and have taken stepts to make their app fully accessible. Even beginners will have little difficulty setting the chimes how they prefer.

For timers with more capabilities, I have an app called Timeglass. I can build more intricate multi-stage timers with that app. For instance, I schedule work time and breaks for when I'm working on these notes, blog entries, or my guide. It has the ability to construct timers with multiple stages which can have spoken or sound cues. As I go through my work time, I hear signals letting me know when it's time to take a break. The app includes many pre-made timers for everything from doing laundry to safely cooling beer in the freezer. How epically thoughtful is that? Some timers can be had for free. However, to unlock the full functionality of the app requires an in-app purchase. To complete this, you'll need your Apple ID and password plus around $6 in available funds.

App Store Expedition Souvenirs:

Again, we see that it pays to keep current on what's out there. I found out about Timeglass through word of mouth. Somebody else stumbled on it and let his Twitter followers know. Thankfully, I happened to be one of them. Quite often, you won't be able to find precisely what you're after. You'll have to make do with what the included apps offer or choose between apps which each do part of what you want. That's when it might very well pay to let developers of apps which come close to meeting your ideal about what you wish their app would do. Developers are often eager for feedback and open to suggestions. These two app store expeditions have yielded some powerful extentions to capabilities included in iOS. There are many more treasures to be found. Keep an ear out for more app store expeditions in this guide.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Leaving the Laptop Behind: Accessories For iOS Devices

As iOS devices and apps have improved, the notion of leaving the laptop behind and using your iOS device plus portable accessories grows more tempting. I have now crossed over that line. My laptop is used only at home while my iPHONE7 and a small light bag of accessories comes along with me. Generally speaking, I don't miss the laptop at all. However, part of the reason for this is that I'm very familiar with how to do things on iOS. If you're just learning the basics, keep the laptop handy until you've grown comfortable with iOS and any accessories you choose. To achieve the same speed as when using a laptop, you need to know VoiceOver gestures as well as what your options are. This isn't a transition made overnight. You will initially take longer to do things until you become more proficient with the iOS environment.

There are an overwelming number of accessories and plenty of choices in all categories. These include different cases, external batteries [often called power banks], speakers, headsets, earbuds, keyboards, etc. Accessibility for blind people is not often a consideration when these are designed. However, there are devices which are more accessible than others by shere accident. Below, we'll look at some accessory choices I've made and how I approached them. Your travel kit will likely differ from mine depending on your specific needs, budget and priorities.

Adding to the difficulty of selecting the best possible gear, it's hard to try before you buy when it comes to accessories. Sometimes, you can go to a store and find demo units available. However, most often, there won't be that option as stores don't want to open items and then not be able to sell them. This is especially true for less expensive items. Much of the time, you'll be orderring accessories online and relying completely on reviews and descriptions found there. This is especially true if you include devices which are being crowd funded on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. You can come across some very innovative ideas there. For instance, the Power Cap, funded on Kickstarter. It's a hat outfitted with solar panels and small rechargable battery. A good thought in theory. Just because a large company hasn't thought of exactly what you might want, that doesn't mean someone with the skills and resources isn't trying to fund production and get started. Crowd funding has proved to be a very effective way of funding products aimed at niche markets including devices more accessible to blind users.

Thankfully, there are reviews and descriptions of pretty much everything on the web. Mine them for the info you need to make the most informed choices possible when selecting your gear. Written reviews, podcasts, and video reviews are all very useful tools. Even if you can't see the video, reviewers tend to describe important tactile aspects in passing. You might also hear any sounds made by accessories such as how keys or buttons sound when pressed or voice prompts spoken by accessories. Look beyond what the manufacturers say. Chances are good that someone has tried what you're interested in. Learn from their experience whenever possible.

Why not a Notetaker or Laptop:

Inevitably, people will ask why you'd go through all the bother of acquiring accessories to overcome shortcomings of your iOS device rather than just taking a laptop or notetaker. It all comes down to portability, ease of repair, and economics. If something goes wrong with your laptop, you're completely out of action digitally speaking. It's a single unit which will need repair. Meanwhile, your iOS device is already a powerful enough computer for most student or travel needs. The iPHONE further gives you a fully accessible smartphone plus GPS capability in a single pocket-sized device. Information is stored in the cloud so the risk of information loss is very minimal should disaster strike your iOS device. The accessories are individually far less expensive to replace if necessary. If you send a keyboard away for repair, you aren't missing the rest of the capabilities of your iOS device while it's being worked on. Also, there are utually inexpensive accessories, like the Amazon Basics bluetooth keyboard for instance, which you could purchase if desperate. Accessories such as batteries, speakers, and keyboards typically last a long time so need not be replaced when you upgrade to a new iOS device. When it's time to upgrade a laptop or notetaker, you're generally replacing the entire device paying a substantial amount of cash in order to do this. Having external accessories last potentially long enough to be used with several iOS devices maximizes economic efficiency so you can pick your moments when it comes to upgrading various components of your overall system. Very good for people on tight budgets. For example, I'm waiting for improvements promised by Bluetooth version 5 to make their way into the next generation of speakers. Once that happens, I'll think about replacing the speaker I currently cary.

The iOS ecosystem is far more economical than others. Apps are often far less expensive and take advantage of the work Apple has done adding accessibility features to the operating system. You can make use of many of the same apps everyone else does. They need not be specially produced for blind people. That lowers the cost of adding capabilities to your iOS device like you wouldn't believe. It also makes relating to sighted people who use the same iOS devices easier. Sharing information, communicating, and tapping into the same markets for digital goods like books, music, and apps as everyone else are huge advantages blind people simply haven't experienced before iOS devices became accessible.

Bluetooth Keyboards:

Typing fast enough to take class notes on an iPHONE or iPAD is pretty much impossible for most of us. People with very good muscle memory might possibly manage. Feeling around making certain you have the right character slows me down considerably. Don't even think about trying to use Siri to dictate your notes in a classroom setting. Touchscreen keyboards are good for writing short emails, notes and contact info but for serious rapid sustained writing, a tactile keyboard is a must.

Step 1: Think about what your ideal keyboard would be like. Have a firm grasp on what you're after. You won't likely get exactly what you want but it gives you a starting point.

My ideal keyboard would be rigid enough to use on my lap when necessary. It wouldn't be too compact and would stick as closely as possible to a Qwerty design. Good tactile key travel and function buttons were important. I didn't want situations where I accidentally invoked a function like muting sound which was controlled by a flat pad I couldn't distinguish by touch.

Step 2: Pick one or two characteristics and start looking for keyboards which have them. Alternatively, think of what kind of person might want a keyboard like your ideal one. For me, that was authors. It had to be comfortable to do serious lengthy writing on. That comfort clearly trumped smaller size. It also had to be rugged so it would withstand bumping against things. If I go through the trouble of getting used to a keyboard, it had better last a long time. This thought exercise gives you plenty of good ideas for words to include in online searches. Google is very good at dishing out meaningful results from a few well-chosen keywords or phrases separated by commas.

Step 3: Go through reviews your initial criteria pointed you to and narrow down the prospects by what you read about them. Think long-term satisfaction here. It's worth paying a little extra if you plan on living with your decisions for as long as possible like I do most of the time. I would even go so far as waiting until I had the money to obtain a really critical part of your kit like a good comfortable keyboard.

Result: I chose a Microsoft Universal Mobile keyboard. I read reviews and descriptions of many different Bluetooth keyboards. However, the Microsoft one kept coming up as being the closest thing to what I wanted. Video reviews let me hear the sound of the keys in use and also described aspects like the power button on the side. It had a rigit magnetic cover which folded open like a book and could be removed to be used as a stand. It would also serve as a tray to put my iPHONE on while typing with it on my lap. Reviewers praised its comfortable size of 85% of a full keyboard and good tactile feedback. Battery life was excellent letting people go at least a week of average use without charging. Closing the cover turned the keyboard off automatically. It was still one of my more expensive investments but I found it on sale and pounced.

When the keyboard arrived, it turned out to be a bit too short for totally comfortable use on my lap. It was perfectly possible with my knees close together. The keys felt good and it was nice and sturdy. The function buttons have turned out to be an even more valueable addition now that I'm using AirPods which lack volume and playback controls. I've been very happy overall with this purchase. For increased comfort and efficiency, I later acquired a Grifiti lapdesk designed for tablets and small keyboards. This let me set my iPHONE in portrait mode beside the keyboard with both items being very stable and comfortable in my lap. A very nice combination which fits into a small shoulderbag along with other items.

Beware The Lag:

When it comes to speakrrs, earbuts and headsets, blind people have a major concern which superseeds all others. That is to minimize or completely avoid Bluetooth lag. Blind people require VoiceOver's responses to their actions to be as close to instant as possible. Even a split second delay can be very frustrating. If you're sighted, imagine having to wait a half-second before the character you typed appeared on screen. Sound delay doesn't matter as much for listenning to music. It's just ear candy. However, lag becomes bothersome when you rely exclusively on sound to function. To avoid lag, look for a highg Bluetooth version number. Don't get anything using Bluetooth 4. Bluetooth 4.1 is as low as you should be willing to go. Higher is better. Bluetooth 5 is ready and products that use it will shortly enter the market. This will give better speed, more reliable connectivity and range. Bluetooth 5 should make dealing with lag a thing of the past. Until then, look for 4.1 and 4.2. Apple uses its W1 chip to enhance Bluetooth connectivity solving many problems. My AirPods have no lag, are dirt simple to pair and have good battery life. For me, lack of volume and other control on the AirPods was a small price to pay for completely wireless operation and extreme portability. I don't mind using my iPHONE to perform these functions. Also, when I'm using my Bluetooth keyboard, it has those volume and playback functions built in. AirPods work wonderfully for me along with my hearing aids and combine unexpectedly good sound with extreme portability. However, I wouldn't use AirPods while walking outdoors. They are tiny and it would be too easy to lose them if they ever fell out of your ears. Also, earbuds block too much of your ability to hear your surroundings. Concern is growing even for sighted people about this constant quest for sound isolation. For blind people, it's vital to hear what's happening around us.

These conserns lead me to seek a good outdoor alternative. Aftershokz offers wired and Bluetooth bone conduction headsets. Basically, transducers positionned in front of your ears send sound through your bones leaving ears free to hear what's around you. These have tactile controls, voice guidance, and don't block your ears leaving them free to hear your surroundings. They also are very unlikely to fall off. You lose some sound quality compared to other headsets or Airpods but it's worth the trade when outdoors or while your ears are wet after swimming or taking a shower.

The shopping procedure is the same for audio accessories as with the keyboard. Think about what you want and then look for options which give you as much of what you're after as possible. Think long-term. Many accessories can get firmware updated. This allows manufacturers to make improvements after products are in the field. AirPods can receive such updates so Apple can improve them taking customer feedback into consideration. I expect my AirPods to last years and made my choice with long-term satisfaction in mind.

Be mindful of power required by these accessories. Apple AirPods last around 5 hours but have a charging case which contains enough for multiple charges. I likely won't have to use an external battery to recharge them between opportunities to plug in most of the time. You can use and charge them separately charging one while using the other. That won't be an option with headsets. While they're charging up, you're out of action unless you have a backup plan like using Lightning earpods which come with iOS devices or a spair Bluetooth headset or earbuds.

Sometimes, you can find devices with nice extra features. For instance, there are Bluetooth speakers with built-in FM radio capability. The USB charging cable which comes with the device serves as an antenna allowing good FM reception. Read reviews carefully to help determine how easy to operate and how tactile the controls on devices are. If devices use buttons that are hard to feel or touchscreen controls, you may not be able to use them. Also, there are companies who are more aware of accessibility issues. Aftershokz are a good example as they equip their headsets with voice prompts and have tactile controls.

Extra Power:

Blind people can put heavy demands on the batteries in iOS devices. Setting the screen brightness to 0 helps conserve power so blind people should do this. The VoiceOver screen curtain feature doesn't actually turn off the screen. It merely obscures the contents. Setting screen brightness to 0 saves a nice bit of power. However, GPS, cellular and Wifi connectivity, Bluetooth and constantly producing audio drains power. You can turn off things like Wifi if you're not using it. Airplane mode shuts down all transmition of any kind from your iOS device and is helpful when you want to recharge your device rapidly. However, if you turn off Bluetooth, AirPods and other Bluetooth audio accessories won't work. You'll likely need Bluetooth on all the time. The more connectivity you turn off, the less potentially useful your iOS device is. You can't receive a phone call or text message while in airplane mode unless you specifically turn on the needed capabilities. Same goes for handy apps like Identifi which need Internet connectivity. These devices are so helpful that we want them to be ready whenever we need them. Extra portable power doesn't cost a fortune and just makes sense.

Apple sells cases which contain additional battery power for their products. For people likely to forget extra gear like external batteries, this can be a very good idea. They offer an additional advantage of communicating their level of charge to your iOS device so you can know how much you have remaining. However, cases built for your current iOS device might not be useable on future ones. Changes in size and the position of ports can easily render a case useless once you trade in your old iPHOnE for a nice new one.

Going with external batteries, you will almost certainly be able to use them on future iOS devices for as long as the batteries can keep recharging. All rechargeable batteries will eventually ware out. However, they are relatively inexpensive to replace when that's necessary. I have yet to hear of a talking external battery or one which communicates it charge level to your iOS device. Short of asking a sighted person with you or using an app like Be My Eyes, there's no way to know how much charge your external battery has. Therefore, you need to get into the habit of charging them up regularly. Get more power than you need so that if you forget to charge the battery or are away from power sources for longer than expected, you'll be ready to cope.

Another thing to remember is that most of these batteries can serve as relatively powerful flashlights. This usually involves pressing a button located on the battery. A handy feature for sighted people but a liability for blind people who can't tell when they've accidentally activated the flashlight. One way for blind people to deal with this independently is to have a light detector app and use your iOS device's camera moving it near where the flashlight in the battery is. This is usually on the top near the power ports.

Batteries have a capacity measured in MA. An iPHONE7 has an internal battery which holds roughly 2000 MA when fully charged. An iPHONE7 holds 2900 MA. An iPAD Air2 holds around 8000 MA. An iPAD Pro has a 10300 MA battery. The general premise is that these batteries should last a day of typical use. In practice, this pretty much never happens. Talk of people running out of charge during their day is constant. Accessories are also prone to this need for additional power. My Aftershokz Trekz Titanium headset has around 830 MA and lasts around 6 hours of continuous use. Were I to use that for a full day, I'd have to recharge the headset at least once. The iPHONE would need at least a full charge and possibly more presuming heavy constant use. If you're using it as a laptop replacement, reading audio books, navigating with GPS and actually <gasp> talking on the phone, that qualifies as heavy use. You would easily burn through around 3500 to 4000 Ma or thereabouts over a long busy day.

The tradeoff is normally power available versus weight and size of a given external battery. You can get batteries holding around 27000 MA which weigh a couple of pounds and easily fit in a purse or bag. However, they're too large to fit easily into a pocket. At the other end of the spectrum, you can get batteries the size of credit cards which offer around 2000 MA of charge. Most of the time, you'll have opportunities to charge daily. Given that, I recommend a 10000 MA battery. These can easily fit in a pocket along with your iPHONE and AirPods. Anker makes good reliable light and portable batteries. They also produce other charging equipment like durable Apple-certified lightning cables. Most external batteries don't automatically come with a Lightning cable included so keep that in mind. Use the one which came with your device plugging the USB end into the battery and the lightning end into your device. Spare cables are quite inexpensive. I recommend you obtain one to be kept with your external battery at all times.


It's generally a good idea to get a case to protect your iOS device. You will eventually drop it, knock it off a desk, or worse. Considering how much you'll come to rely on your device, investing in a case is a no-brainer. Picking the right one requires some care. Shape matters. The battery case for iPHONES has a hump on the bottom where the battery is. The extra power is certainly handy. However, the hump protruding from the bottom might destabilize the phone when it's on a flat surface. Some cases are thicker than others. There are cases designed to be extra rugged for adventure travel. Others offer built-in collapsable Bluetooth keyboards. Many offer extra battery capacity. Some offer extra data storage operating like flash drives for computers.

Keep in mind that unlike other accessories, cases are likely not going to be useable when you eventually upgrade to a new iOS device. The thicknesss, port positions, size and shape of iPHONES and iPADS has changed enough to render many cases totally useless on more current iOS devices. That makes me stick with rugged simplicity. I use cases for protection only and find other accessories which I can continue to use after upgrading. I chose an Otterbox Defender case. It's thin, flat and offers reasonable protection. Lifeproof makes cases which are waterproof and offer even better protection. However, they had a reputation for muffling the sound coming from the speakers of your device. This might be an issue when not using headsets or other audio accessories. Some cases have slots for Lightning cables which are less forgiving of cable ends with thicker material surrounding the lightning end of the cable. That might prevent you from using some lightning-connected accesssories or docks. Most good cases these days have built-in screen protectors. If the case you're looking at doesn't have that, don't even consider it. Sticking on screen protectors is annoying and utterly unnecessary given the affordable protective cases available.


There are plenty of choices in your approach to accessorizing your iOS device. For starters though, don't forget the basics. You should obtain a spare Lightning cable and power brick from Apple so you're never without the ability to charge your device. A spare set of EarPods is also a good idea. These are very inexpensive items and are widely available. You can put together a travel bag which is easily slung over a shoulder and weighs far less than ten pounds. This weight could even include an external battery which could keep your system fully chared for a week's activity. This kind of easy portability and reliability is incredibly liberating. Particularly since most of the actual core capability can fit in a pocket presuming you use an iPHONE or iPOD as your computing power. iPADs are larger but are very light and thin devices. Their larger screen size can be tremendously helpful to people with useable vision.

Going beyond these basics, have a clear idea of what capabilities you want. If you're planning on doing a lot of adventure travel, you may want to look into ways of keeping your devices powered while off the grid. There are external batteries capable of handcrank or solar recharging. If you attend parties, you may want a Bluetooth speaker capable of allowing multiple users to easily pair and play songs. Such speakers absolutely exist. Most Braille displays can pair with your iOS device over Bluetooth and work with VoiceOver. Should you live with other disabilities, there are all sorts of switch controls and other accessories which may be helpful. There are even game controllers for hardcore players. New and better accessories appear all the time.

Manufacturers of accessories are quick to advertise if they work with iOS devices. As long as you take the time to read descriptions carefully, you won't end up with something that is completely incompatible. For blind people, it's very important to pay attention to details of interface. How easy is it to operate a given accessory strictly by touch and hearing? That's where it can really pay off to check out reviews from people who have used the devices you're considering. A good place to start is:

They have a growing number of accessory reviews in addition to their extensive information about apps. Often, there are even podcasts available where people discuss various accessories. In addition to Applevis, check out: