What is an iPhone?
The iPhone is a touchscreen-based smartphone designed by Apple. It is one of the most popular smartphones globally, closely followed by Samsung’s smartphones which run on Android operating systems.
To use an iPhone, you regularly use applications or ‘apps’.
There are a number of apps that are specifically designed for people who are blind or have low vision, like apps that help you identify bank notes, colours or can read aloud text.
The iPhone also has an in-built screen reader called VoiceOver which can be turned on in the phone’s accessibility settings.
How can I use an iPhone if I’m blind or have low vision?
An Apple iPhone just like other smartphones are hugely useful for people who are blind or have low vision. It’s a pocket computer that speaks to you, it’s a magnifier, dictaphone, a GPS and a screen reader. Oh and it’s of course a phone, so you can call people.
Because it is a touch screen, all you need to know are a few gestures to get it going, or you can simply talk to it and Siri, the iPhone’s electronic assistant, will help you.
The iPhone is particularly known for being easy to use, and has lots of accessibility tools built in.
- VoiceOver: Describes exactly what’s happening on your iPhone, like a screen reader.
- Magnifier: Works like a digital magnifying glass.
- Colour filters: Choose from a range of colour filters, inverters or dark modes to support your specific vision needs.
- Zoom: Magnifies your screen up to 500 per cent.
- Font adjustments: Change the font size and boldness of text.
Siri is the iPhone’s electronic assistant. You can activate Siri by saying “Hey Siri”, and asking it a question.
Siri can make calls or send text messages for you. It can read your appointments or set an alarm, get directions and tell you the weather. It works a lot like an Amazon Alexa or a Google Home. You can also access the accessibility aspects of your phone just by talking to it.
Here are some prompts to get you started:
Hey Siri, what does my day look like?
Hey Siri, what is the weather today in Melbourne?
Hey Siri, set a timer for 20 minutes.
Hey Siri, wake me up at 7:30am tomorrow.
Hey Siri, where am I?
Hey Siri, direct me home
Hey Siri, show Accessibility Settings
Note: Siri only works on WIFI or over cellular data connections and can also drain the battery quickly.
VoiceOver is a gesture-based screen reader. You can hear a description of everything happening on your screen, from the battery level to who’s calling to which app your finger is on. You can also adjust the speaking rate and pitch to suit you.
To access VoiceOver, ask Siri to open VoiceOver, or you can navigate to settings and select Accessibility, and tap on VoiceOver.
With VoiceOver enabled, just triple-click the home button (or the side button on iPhone X or later) to access it.
- Tap once to select an item
- Double tap to activate the selected item
- Swipe three fingers to scroll
- Double tap with two fingers– answer or end a phone/FaceTime call
- Two finger swipe– swiping down reads the entire screen
- Three finger swipe– swiping to the left or right moves across pages
- Double tap with three fingers– turn VoiceOver speech on or off
Zoom is a built-in screen magnifier that allows you to adjust the magnification between 1.2 and 15x bigger.
You can find Zoom in the Accessibility area in Settings.
- Double-tap three fingers to zoom in and out
- Drag three fingers to move around the screen
- Double tap three fingers and drag to change zoom
Magnifier works like a digital magnifying glass. It uses the camera on your iPhone to increase the size of anything you point it at, so you can see the details more clearly.
You can find Magnifier in the Accessibility area in Settings. Once you turn it on, it will appear as an app on your phone for quick access.
Within the Magnifier app, it will allow you to use the flash to light the object, adjust filters to help you differentiate colours or snap a photo to get a static close-up.
Display and text size
Many individuals with low vision find it much easier to read light text on a dark background instead of dark text on a light background. Others find the text size too small or want to make it bold. The iPhone has numerous options to customise the display and text size:
You can find these options under the Display and Text Size option in the Accessibility area in Settings.
- Bold text
- Larger text
- Increase contrast (less blended greys)
- Invert colours (smart invert and classic invert)
- Colour filters (can make things grayscale, or green/red filters and so on)
- Reduce white point (it reduces the intensity of bright colours)
Note: Apps adapt to accommodate larger font sizes so text remains legible and clear as it grows.
An easy way to write an email or reply to a text is to use dictation. Just tap the microphone button on the keyboard while you’re in the app. Say what you want to write, then your iPhone converts your words (and numbers and characters) into text.
The table below shows you popular gestures on the iPhone to help you navigate.
|iPhone X gesture
|Triple click of the side button
|Triple click of the Home button
|Press and hold the side button
|Press and hold the Home button
|Simultaneously press and quickly release the side button and Volume Up button
|Simultaneously press and hold the Home and Power button
|Turn off the iPhone
|Simultaneously press and quickly release the side button and volume down button then double tap the "slide to power off" button
|Press and hold the power button, then double tap the "slide to power off"
Other useful guides
Technology advice from Vision Australia
Vision Australia's Access Technology (AT) team can help you set up your iPhone and teach you how to use it efficiently.
The team is available Monday to Friday between the hours of 9:00am and 5:00pm (Eastern Standard Time) to troubleshoot your issues.