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How to enable your iPhone’s screen reader

How to enable your iPhone’s screen reader


A helpful accessibility feature with multiple use cases

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Photo of the VoiceOver menu in the Settings app
VoiceOver is Apple’s built-in screen reader for iOS.
Photo by Victoria Song / The Verge

If you’re looking to enable screen reading on your iPhone, you don’t have to go very far. Since 2009, Apple has included a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver as part of its accessibility features to help those with visual impairments.

VoiceOver essentially works by describing aloud everything that appears on your iPhone’s screen. Over the years, Apple has expanded the feature to include more detailed descriptions of people, objects, text, and other graphics. It also uses gestures and haptics to help users explore their iPhone without ever having to look at the screen itself. 

While this feature was developed to help blind and low-vision users, VoiceOver can also be helpful in other use cases. For instance, you can use VoiceOver with the Kindle app if you prefer listening to your books. The feature can also be helpful for people who have limited mobility.

To enable VoiceOver:

  • Head to Settings
  • Tap Accessibility
  • Under the Vision heading, select VoiceOver 
  • Tap the VoiceOver toggle to enable

Keep in mind that VoiceOver uses a different set of gestures to control your iPhone than the standard ones. For instance, you have to double-tap an object to interact with it. A single tap won’t do anything but select an app, link, or menu button. And once you’ve turned VoiceOver on, you have to use this new set of gestures. There’s a bit of a learning curve, so take some time to practice before you dive in. 

Thankfully, Apple includes an option to practice the gestures on your iPhone. Once you’ve turned VoiceOver on, you’ll then see a new option directly beneath the toggle called VoiceOver Practice. Tap it, and then double-tap the screen to start. While you’re practicing, VoiceOver will describe what you’re doing and what each specific gesture does. When you’re finished, tap Done to select, and then double-tap to exit.

Turn VoiceOver on and off

There are alternative methods that let you turn VoiceOver on or off. One easy way is to pull up Siri and use the commands “Turn on VoiceOver” or “Turn off VoiceOver.” 

You can also make it so that triple-clicking the side button or home button (depending on your iPhone model) toggles the feature on or off. To do so, head to Settings > Accessibility and then scroll down to Accessibility Shortcut. From the list of accessibility features, tap VoiceOver

Customizing VoiceOver

This is the minimum you need to get started, but VoiceOver is a highly customizable feature. In the VoiceOver settings, you can tweak speaking rate, pick between several different voice profiles, and manage outputs to braille displays. You can also personalize a setting called “verbosity,” which determines how much speech feedback you hear (i.e., whether punctuation is read aloud, how links are handled, etc.). And if you’re concerned about privacy, you can also enable a feature called Screen Curtain to hide your screen when using headphones.

If you’re new to VoiceOver and are looking for some extra guidance, here are some quick links from Apple’s iOS Accessibility support guide and YouTube channel: