Cartoon hand with two fingers extended and text

Teaching VoiceOver Gestures: 2-Finger Tricks and Tips

Try these tried and true tips when learning VoiceOver gestures or when teaching students/adults 2-finger gestures.

In the first post in this series, we discussed the 1-finger iOS gestures. (See Teaching VoiceOver Gestures: 1-finger Tricks and Tips post.) This post will focus on the most common 2-finger gestures. When teaching VoiceOver – or when learning VoiceOver gestures yourself! – keep in mind that everyone learns at their own pace and has their own learning style. One student will speed through the various gestures in one or two sessions, while another student might spend a month or two on one gesture. As always, review and practice before adding a new gesture. These physical gestures need to be regularly practiced to build muscle memory. Think about how quickly you can type your full name or your iOS password. Do your fingers just know where to go and what to type? Now try typing “Mississippi”. With it’s repetitive characters, that should be a really easy word to type; but, you probably had to think about the spelling – character-by-character and then where those characters are on the keyboard. Muscle memory is important and it takes practice to develop the muscle memory to create consistent and efficient VoiceOver gestures!

2-Finger Gestures

I like to think of the two-finger gestures as the “reading” gestures.

2-Finger Swipe Up: Read the page starting at the top

2-finger Swipe Down: Read page starting at the selected item

Students who use a Perkins Braille Writer are used to using strong finger motions in order to push the manual keys. When initially creating a 2-finger gesture, often these students will have very stiff fingers  and the fingers will be locked together. Just like the students learned to use a gentle tickle touch when creating a 1-finger gestures, students will now need to learn how to physically create consistent 2-finger gestures. When using two or more fingers, the fingers should be apart from each other. When the fingers are kept together, often the middle finger – which is the longest finger – will touch the iPad screen first and iPad interprets this as a 1-finger touch. Spread the fingers apart eliminates this issue. Also, the fingers should be very relaxed and slightly curved.

Relaxing Exercises

“Sit/Stand” Exercise: Place your left hand out, palm facing up with all fingers flat. You will be using your palm as a flat surface. With your right hand, make a fist, then extend the index and middle fingers out. Be sure to spread the two fingers apart.  Place the tips of those two extended fingers on top of your left palm, as if your fingers are “standing” on the palm. Pretend that your fingers are feet standing on the palm, then drop your right wrist so that it is below your left palm – making your fingers “sit” on the palm. Repeat multiple times, making your fingers stand and sit on the palm of your left hand. The goal is to relax the fingers while keeping them spread apart!

“Running” Exercise: Use the same positions (left hand palm up and right hand extended two fingers) and make a running motion with your fingers by quickly lifting and lower the index finger then the middle finger. The fingers can run in place or run along the palm and fingers of the left hand. Make sure that the fingers are relaxed, spread and the taps are gentle.

“Kicking” Exercise: Use the same positions and have one finger “kick” out as if kicking a pretend ball on the palm of the left hand. Repeat and have the right finger kick the ball. Drag the ball back (kick backwards or pull the finger in towards the palm of the right hand). Now, pretend to be an Olympic kicker and kick with both fingers (kick out and kick in).

Now using the iPad, go to the Home screen and tap a random spot in the middle of the screen (to move the VoiceOver focus to the middle). Make the 2-finger swipe up gesture (2-finger kick out). VoiceOver will jump to and start announcing the first item on the screen and continue to move forward through all the items on the screen. This is the Read All starting from the top gesture.

On the Home screen, tap a random spot in the middle of the screen (to move the VoiceOver focus to the middle). Make the 2-finger swipe down gestures (2-finger kick in). VoiceOver will start announcing items starting in the middle of the screen and continuing to the end. This is the Read All starting from the selected item gesture.

Note: If the student struggles with physically creating the 2-finger gestures, then go to the VoiceOver Practice screen and practice these gestures. 

Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver (must be on) > VoiceOver Practice

Note: In iOS 13 beta, the location of the Accessibility page in Settings has been changed; Accessibility will no longer be under General, but will appear on the left column of the screen as Accessibility (making it easier to locate quickly).

The video below demonstrates the two Read All gestures and teaching hints.

2-Finger Single Tap: Pause or Continue Speech

One of the biggest issues with VoiceOver is that VoiceOver is “chatty” – VoiceOver does not always know when to be quiet! the 2-finger single tap gesture will pause or continue VoiceOver speech. Some students like to call this the “shut-up” gesture. Trying to model good behavior when working with students, I tend to call this the “Viper” gesture, as the motion can be exaggerated to resemble a viper (snake). With 2-fingers extended, apart, and slightly curved, pretend to quickly strike out in the air as if you were a viper striking. Add a little “sssss” or even “shhhh” sound! Students love this gesture and making the viper movement will help them associate the movement with the ‘be quiet’ gesture!

Initially practice the gesture in the air before asking the student to create the gesture on the iPad. If the student needs to practice the physical gesture, go to the VoiceOver Practice Screen. If the student is ready to apply the gesture, go back to the Home screen. Use the 2-finger swipe, the Read All gesture. Half way through announcing the items on the screen, pause VoiceOver using the 2-finger single tap. Start VoiceOver again from that location using either the 2-finger swipe down or the 2-finger single tap again. Ask the student to listen for a specific app which is located on the screen. Use the Read All from the beginning gesture and pause on the desired app. Make this into a game! For a bigger challenge (and to help increase the student’s listening speed) increase VoiceOver’s speech rate. Is your student fast enough to stop on the desired app? If he missed the desired app, what should he use to move back to the desired app? (Left swipe)

FYI: The 2-finger single tap will quickly become your favorite gesture!

2-Finger Double Tap: Start or stop the current action

The 2-finger double tap is similar to the 2-finger single in that it does pause and start ‘sound’. The 2-finger double tap will pause and start music, videos, answer/hang up a phone call, etc. depending on the situation. Note: The 2-finger single tap start and stops VoiceOver announcements.

Note: If you have music on your iOS device and are running VoiceOver, EVERY TIME you do a 2-finger double tap, the music will start or stop playing – even when you are not in a music app! So, be prepared – if your student’s music blares, use a 2-finger double tap to silence it!

The 2-finger double tap is also called the Magic Tap by app developers. This is the only gesture that can be programed to perform a different action within a specific app. Example: When using an iPhone with VoiceOver running and a phone call comes in, a 2-finger double tap will automatically answer the call. To hang up, use a 2-finger double tap again.

The video below demonstrates the 2-finger single tap and 2-finger double tap gestures and teaching hints.

2-Finger Rotor: Select next/previous rotor setting

Student rotor lesson

Initially, start by teaching the physical rotor gesture; this gesture can be challenging for some students, so start with the physical activities, then practice making the gesture using the VoiceOver Practice screen before applying the rotor to perform a specific task. Details about what the rotor does makes more sense when you can actually apply this gesture. 

Physically, the rotor gesture is a 2-finger twist clockwise (moves to the next item in the rotor menu) or counter clockwise (moves to the previous item in the rotor menu). 

Bottle cap activity

To practice the general “twist” motion used in the rotor gesture, twist the cap to loosen the cap on a water or soda bottle. (Twist to the right/clock wise is equivalant to moving to the next rotor option.) Now, twist the bottle cap to the left, to tighten the cap on the bottle. (Twist to the left/counter clockwise is equivalant to moving to the previous rotor option.) 

For some students, having a physical model of the rotor is also helpful. Here is a post about a 3D printed rotor (complete with 3D printer files) and another post about how to create a simple tactile rotor.

3D printed rotor with turnable dial and 8 raised lines, and braille

Now ask the student to practice creating the rotor gesture in the VoiceOver Practice screen. There are various ways to make the physical gesture:

If your student continues to bring the fingers in making a pinch gesture, trying place the bottle cap between the thumb and the index finger at the joint; encourage the student to lightly pinch his thumb and index finger together to hold the bottle cap in place then make a twist motion. The bottle cap keeps the fingers from pinching together.

Note: While the majority of students quickly master this gesture, there are a few students, especially students with fine motor control issues who find the rotor to be very challenging, even after lots of practice. For these students, pair the iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard and press up + right arrow to activate the rotor clockwise (up + left arrow activates the rotor counter clockwise). Pair the iPad with a refreshable braille display and use the 5 + 6 + space to activate the rotor clockwise or 2 + 3 + space to activate the rotor counter clockwise.

Rotor background for educators

The rotor is a virtual menu that is always available when VoiceOver is on; however, it is only visually seen on the screen immediately after making the rotor gesture. Visually, the rotor is circular and looks like a dial. As you create the rotor gesture, the dial moves in a circle pointing to various options. The option which is highlighted appears in print at the top of the rotor and VoiceOver announces the item. Make the rotor gesture again, and the rotor moves to the next item. The rotor is designed to provide instant access to a menu of options/tasks. (Example: The rotor is used to provide on-the-fly access to options such as the VoiceOver speaking rate. From any location/app, make the rotor gesture multiple times stopping on the Speaking rate option,then swipe up to increase or swipe down to decrease VoiceOver’s speaking rate.) The menu choices will change according to the app you are currently in. I like to tell my students that Apple is smarter than I am – the iPad anticipates what options I will need at any specific time. Some rotor items will only appear at appropriate times. (Example: The Table rotor option will only appear if I am currently reading an Internet article or in a document that has tables. The Table option gives me the ability to move vertically within the table using the up/down arrows.) To keep the rotor from having too many options, I can select which rotor features to appear in my rotor menu, when applicable.

Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Rotor (select the desired options)

(Be sure Characters and Words are selected as options in the rotor for the next activity.)

Apply the rotor gesture

Once the student is successful with making the physical rotor gesture (or command if using a paired device), then go to the Home screen. Make the rotor gesture multiple times, stopping on Speaking Rate. Once on Speaking Rate, increase the VoiceOver speaking rate to 100% by swiping up multiple times. Now use the Read All command to listen to all the apps on the Home screen. The rotor will visually appear immediately after the gesture but then visually disappears again so that it does not visually interfere with items on the screen. However, the rotor is always there. To slow down the Speaking Rate, use the rotor gesture multiple times stopping on Speaking Rate. Swipe down multiple times, stopping on the desired speaking rate.

Now, navigate to the calendar app. Use the rotor to select Characters. Now, swipe down to read the information character-by-character. Navigating by character is a critical skill when a student wants to learn how a word is spelled – especially someone’s name, as there may be many ways to spell a name! –  learn the spelling of an email address, or edit a misspelled word in a document.

The video below demonstrates the 2-finger rotor gesture and teaching hints.

2-finger Scrub: Escape the current context

The 2-finger Scrub is a more advanced gesture and may not be introduced to students who are ready for only the basic gestures. However, the 2-finger scrub is an efficient gesture – it is basically the “back” gesture. While most apps are set up with the a button in the top left that takes you Back one screen, for students who are visually impaired, navigating to that button and activating it takes time. This Scrub gesture can be performed anywhere on the screen and performs the same action. 

To make the 2-finger Scrub gesture, place the relaxed index finger and middle finger on the screen, with fingers slightly apart and slightly curved. Quickly move the two fingers in a print ‘Z’ formation (left to right, left to right while moving slightly down the page). For students who are not familiar with the print Z, simply say move the fingers rapidly left to right, left to right multiple times. This gesture can be practiced on the VoiceOver Practice screen.

To apply the gesture, open the Settings app on an iPad. Go to the rotor options:

Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > scroll down to Rotor

Now, when the VoiceOver focus is on Rotor, use the 2-finger Scrub gesture. This will move the VoiceOver focus to the previous screen (Accessibility screen; VoiceOver focus is on the first item of the screen, “VoiceOver”). Scrub again will move back one more screen to the General screen; VoiceOver focus will be on the first item of the screen, “About”. If you try the scrub gesture again, you will hear the earcon (sound) “thunk”. (Learn more about Earcons here.) This sound informs you that you are at the end and cannot go Back another page.

If an app developer created their pop-up menus correctly, you can use the 2-finger scrub to “back” out of a pop-up menu. Note: Not all pop-up menus have been made to be compatible with the scrub gesture.

Review, Review, Review

Review before you teach a new gesture (so that the student remembers the initial gestures). Review again after teaching a new gesture (so that student remembers each gesture and the action performed by each gesture). Review again to build muscle memory!

Review the 1-finger and 2-finger gestures with Synchronized Swimming using the VoiceOver Practice screen and then apply these gestures to the Home screen.

The next post will cover 3-finger gestures: Teaching VoiceOver Gestures: 3-Finger Tricks and Tips.


By Diane Brauner

Ish book cover with an illustration of a child running with a paintbrush and text: Peter H Reynolds

“Ish” book: Drawing, estimating, and digital table activities

Image of the graphed y = sin(x) equation

Understanding Desmos: Sonification lessons

A group of people riding a city bus

The importance of connections