Updating to iOS 9 as a Blind Voice Over User

By now, many of you learned that iOS 9, the latest update for your iPhone and iPad, is ready for your download. As all of these major updates go, Apple included some new features, modified existing ones, and even preformed some updates that you will not realize but improves the overall functioning of your device. This guide will focus on updates to Voice Over, new iOS features, known bugs, and conclude with thoughts on taking the plunge.

Before we delve into exploring iOS 9, many of you might be wondering two things, is my device supported and how much space will iOS 9 require. iOS 9 supports the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, iPhone 6S, and iPhone 6S+, All iPads starting with the 2nd Generation through the current iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro will be able to run iOS 9. All iPad Mini’s also possess the ability to install iOS 9.

Next, some of you might be wondering how much space will iOS 9 consume. Generally, those with an 16GB device lack room, once you download some applications and take some photos, but you need not worry. iOS 9 received a significant amount of attention by Apple that not only decreased the amount of room you might need, but almost eliminated the need for this discussion. iOS 9 requires 1.3GV of free storage. If you do not need this amount, then your iPhone or iPad will temporarily upload your apps into the iCloud, install the iOS 9 update, and bring everything back.

Even better yet, iOS 9 includes a feature known as app thinning. Basically, your device will only download and install that parts of an app necessary to run on your device. For example, an iPhone 4s will only receive the parts of the app, like selected graphics and software components, necessary to run and not the components designed for an iPad. Over time, you might see a reduction in used space as developers implement this into their products.

Voice Over

Voice Over received a few changes in iOS 9. Most notably, Voice Over received the ability to use all of the Siri voices, the option to change the Voice Over (VO) keys from Control + Option to Caps lock, quicker ways to select and format text through the rotor, and more.

Siri Voices

Voice Over gained all of the Siri voices. This collection of male and female voices in many different languages provides a significant boost to the number of high quality voices available for Voice Over. As an additional bonus, each of these voices only requires 188MB or so of storage, a significant decrease when compared to Alex’s requiring 869MB. When comparing the quality of these new Siri voices to Alex, you definitely hear a difference in overall quality, with Alex possessing the advantage. However, these voices are on par if not a bit better than the standard enhanced versions of Samantha, Daniel, and other voices. You have two options to changing your Voice Over voice. This next statement is unconfirmed, but Voice Over seems to react a bit faster and more smoothly when using the voices requiring less storage space, like these new Siri voices, when compared to Alex. Older devices might notice an improvement in Voice Over responsiveness with these voices. To change to a Siri Voice for Voice Over, follow these steps:

Open the Voice Over settings by either asking Siri to “Open Voice Over Settings” or navigating to Settings, General, Accessibility, and then Voice Over.
Select Speech
Select the Default Dialect to view the list of voices for your default voice. If you use Rotor Languages as well, navigate to that section of the screen and select the voice you wish to change/add.
Select the desired voice from the next list of voices.
To delete a voice to free up storage space, simply swipe up/down while the rotor is in action mode to find the delete option.

If you use Zoom with the two finger swipe down/up to read the screen without Voice Over, you can also enjoy listening to the Siri Voice read text aloud by:
Navigate to Speech, located in the Accessibility settings
Select Voices from the next screen
Select the language/dialect for your voice
Select the voice you wish to use when implementing the speech function

Changing Modifier Keys from Command Plus Option to Caps Lock

One of the major grievances individuals familiar switching between JAWS, Window Eyes, NVDA, and other Windows-based screen readers is the lack of a single modifier key, like Insert and Caps lock. In the iOS 9 update, if you use a external keyboard to control Voice Over, you will be happy to learn that an option now allows you to select between the traditional Voice Over modifier keys (Control Option), Caps lock, or both to control Voice Over. this resolves the issue many dubbed Voice Over keyboard finger yoga. To change this setting, do the following:
Navigate to System, General, Accessibility, and Voice Over, or ask Siri to open Voice Over Settings.
Scroll down to Voice Over Modifier Keys and select your desired preference.

Double Tap Time Out

For those that struggled with preforming the double tap of the home button, you can slow down the rate by which to do this. Slowing this down will allow one to take a bit more time to preform the double tapping of the home button. This is located at the bottom of the Voice Over Settings.

Text Selection and Edit

In the rotor menu of Voice Over there is a new toggle for both Text selection and Edit. This greatly simplifies the process to select text, copy, paste, alter the formatting of text. When you are on some text, use the rotor to bring up Text Selection. When you swipe up and down, you have the option for character, word, line, page, or select all. You still have to use the pinch gesture to select text.

Once you select the desired text, once again turn the rotor to Edit and swipe up and down. Depending on the location of the text selected, you can copy, cut, paste, share, change formatting, and many other options. Once again, this depends on the location of text, so if you are viewing a webpage, your options will include copy and share. If you are composing an email or in another text editing situation, Edit will give you options for copy, cut, paste, bold, italicize, underline, and other choices. This removes the need to preform the double tap and hold gesture with Voice Over.

Voice Over Issues

At the end of this article one will find some of the known Voice Over bugs. It is recommended you view these and explore sites like AppleVis.com for more information on these items.

General Features and Updates

Back to Previous App

Have you ever encountered a situation where an app or email message link automatically launched and placed your focus in a new app? Well you now have some options that let you know when this happens and make switching back a breeze. Let’s same you are on Safari and a link wants to push you to the Linked In app or Facebook app. You will now receive a request to either allow or stop this from happening. This appears as a pop-up window, and you must select either Ok or Cancel. In the event you allow this to transpire, simply locate the Back to previous app button, that will now appear in the very top left of the screen in the menu bar.


Spotlight not only became easier to access, but also more useful . This stems from changes in how Spotlight works, where it behaves very much like Google Now. Spotlight incorporates Siri’s ability to explore not only the internet, but your list of contacts, Mail, Calendar, and numerous apps, just by preforming a search. To access Spotlight, do one of the following:
With Voice Over on, do a two finger swipe down in the middle of the screen. Zoom users just need to do a one finger swipe down in the middle of the screen
Voice Over Users can do a three finger swipe right from the main home screen to enter the full screen Spotlight mode. Zoom users just need to do a swipe to the right from the home screen to change to this page.

The new Spotlight possesses four main areas. These includes a search box at the top of the screen that searches all of your apps, the internet, and much more. Below this is a area called Siri Suggestions. The top part of this lists some of your recent contacts you can quickly call, send a message, or start a FaceTime call. Some of your recently used apps appears next. The last section contains useful information from latest news to information about your local area. While Siri might be known as the digital assistant, its integration into spotlight steadily resembles an actual assistant and not a voice on your device.

App Switcher

The App Switcher received two modifications, the removal of the contact list (which is now in Spotlight) and the order of active apps. Bring up the App Switcher still requires one to double tap the home button, though the speed necessary to do this might be found in Voice Over settings. The layout change places the home button on the right side of the screen and active apps to the left. This means you have to swipe right with Zoom or a two finger swipe right with Voice Over to find open apps. Navigating back tot the home screen can be accomplished by pressing the home button or swiping to the left.

Apple News

Through a partnership with a variety of media outlets and newspapers, accessing multiple news sources just became enjoyable. I will admit that it takes a few minutes to set up your preferences, news sources, and article genres, but upon completion you will be able to say goodbye to, or at least bury,apps like CNN, FOX, Huffington Post, NFB Newsline, and many others. Apple News will pull articles from your favorite sources based on identified interest areas, articles you liked, and ones you read.

The app is played out with the top part containing the heading, your articles occupying the middle of the screen, and five tabs at the bottom. When you are navigating the list of articles, Voice Over users can preform a swipe up or down to Like, Save, Share Story, and activate/open the article. These same options appears at the bottom of the screen when you are reading the article.

Regarding those five tabs at the bottom of the page, they include:

For You, which is the default section opening the app brings you to listing the articles gathered based on your interests.
Favorites are the types of articles and sources you prefer, making it easy to find a particular subject or latests posts from a news source.
Explore provides some additional articles types and sources currently not located in your favorites to consider.
Search acts similar to Explore, but allows you to enter a search term for a particular subject or source.
Saved refers to those articles you saved from any of the other screens.

iCloud Drive App

If your iCloud Drive is the primary way you store files and view them across multiple devices, you will be happy to learn that you now may access these folders without entering apps like Pages, Keynote, or Numbers. On a minus, you will not be able to preview the documents stored here, as Apple has not implemented an accessible method with Voice Over to read the contents of the files. Each page appears as, Preview (page number).PDF.


For those concerned about battery usage of their iPhone and connected bluetooth devices, iOS 9 made it much easier to see and control the power drain. This occurs in two areas. In Notification’s Today view, one will now find the battery levels os their iPHOne and connected devices. This eliminates the need to find the indicator button on your bluetooth device to see the battery level when connected.

If you push your iPhone’s battery life to the limit each day, a new feature will let you switch to a power save mode when announcing that you have 20% and 10% battery life left. You can learn more about this option and control it by navigating to the Battery menu now located in the system Settings main screen. Power Save will remain on until you either turn if off, or your device reaches 80% capacity.

Known Issues with Voice Over

Incoming Voice or FaceTime Calls

When receiving a call, an intermittent issue has been noted where Voice Over might completely lock up and you receive no feedback. This might happen when,
Answer a call with a two finger double tap or by pressing the action button on your headset.
Attempt to silence an incoming call by pressing the power or volume buttons.

At this time, no universal solution is available since the bug is not universal itself. Some recommendations include:
Turn off Audio Ducking by turning it off from the Voice Over Rotor.
Selecting a particular device for incoming calls in the Accessibility, Audio Routing menu.
Restarting your device by pressing the power button six or more times.

Braille Onscreen Input and Messages

In the Messages app, an issue arises when using the Messages app and the Braille Onscreen Input. When using the rotor to switch to the Braille keyboard, one might hear the audio message or dictation alert, possess the inability to type any Braille characters, only possess the ability to insert one or two finger braille characters, or simply not have the ability to do anything. Its best that you just stick with the default Apple Keyboard when composing a text or MMS message in Messages.

Bluetooth Keyboards

For those familiar with an issue in iOS 8 whereby pressing a key on a keyboard with Voice Over on caused you to double type a character is still live and well. This does not seem to be present all of the time, but it still occurs. Some have even reported that this bug might have worsen to the point that typing becomes impossible.

Voice Over Returning to the Top of the Screen

If you are using an app with a long list of selectable items, like Twitterrific or the Apple News app, after you select an item, Voice over might not always return to the spot you left off at. This is more of an inconvenience, since you will have to scroll back to your prior location.

iCloud Drive

As noted above, the iCloud Drive app might be a wonderful way to examine the files located in your iCloud storage, it lacks the accessibility features for voice over users to fully harness its potential. When you open a document, instead of switching to preview and reading the document, Voice Over users only receive the list of pages, and not the text contained on these documents.

Apple Maps

Apple maps received the ability to provide transit information and directions. This is based on Apple’s purchasing of Hop Stop. Unfortunately, only 6 US cities are covered, making testing of this feature rather limited. Look for more information related to Apple Maps Transit to come in the future.

Final Thoughts

Having used the iOS Public Beta for nearly two months at the time of the iOS release on my primary iPhone 6, I am very comfortable recommending individuals update their iPhones and iPads to iOS 9. The known bugs might prove significant in some cases, overall these do not impact me on a regular basis. The Apple News app and additions to Siri, that is not covered here, makes iOS 9 very powerful. In Spotlight, I greatly enjoy the ability to quickly see some local news, quickly access my recent calls, and search for a file throughout my iOS device.

If you are hesitant at this time, by all means stick with iOS 8.4.1 or whatever version you currently use and wait for more information to arise. We place a lot of trust in our devices, and its based on this trust you should examine your beliefs about updating to iOS 9.