Handwriting on iOS: Can it speed up your typing?

Woman holding an iPhone

“They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but what about the… keyboard?”

We hear from many vision impaired people that typing on an iPhone can be a slow and frustrating process, especially when you’re trying to take notes in a lecture, or in a meeting at work. But what if there was a way you could speed up the process? And will it work for everyone?

Alex Mann, RSBC’s Assistive Tech Officer, reviews a possible solution:

The iOS Handwriting Feature

In today’s society where every device seems to have a physical or onscreen keyboard, handwriting seems to be an old school idea. I mean, why would you write when you can type much faster? This stands true for many people, especially those who have a vision impairment.

The majority of vision impaired people, especially those who were born blind will not have much experience with handwriting; but what about those who have recently lost their sight and prefer to handwrite?

Recently I was talking with RSBC’s Chief Executive Dr Tom Pey, about access technology and he told me how since losing his sight, he finds it hard to type in meetings, and how it would be simpler if he could handwrite. Remembering the handwriting option in iOS I promised to investigate the feature further.

I found out that the handwriting feature can unlock your iPhone by allowing you to draw out each number of your pin. It also let’s you input text by handwriting as you would on paper.

How can you enable Handwriting?

If you want to give it a try, follow these steps:

  • Turn Voice Over on
  • Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Router, and ensure handwriting is selected.
  • Next find a place to write like Notes or Messages
  • Make sure you are in the edit box
  • To turn the virtual router put 2 fingers on the screen and turn them around as if turning an imaginary wheel until you hear handwriting. Once in this mode you cannot perform your normal VoiceOver gestures, but you can start using handwriting anywhere on the screen

As soon as you finish writing out each letter, VoiceOver should announce it, if it doesn’t understand the stroke it will say so.

Handwriting gestures

    • To perform a space swipe 2 fingers to the right
    • To perform  a new line swipe 3 fingers to the right
    • To delete your last character swipe 2 fingers to the left
    • To navigate between punctuation, numbers, upper and lowercases, swipe up/down with 3 fingers

Size doesn’t matter, you can handwrite a huge H that uses the whole screen, or you can save time by writing a minuscule version, it will be smart enough to know what is being inputted.

One thing to note, when you’re in lower case mode, writing an uppercase won’t work, I tried this with H and h, and vice versa.

To exit the handwriting mode, just use 2 fingers again to turn the virtual router. You’ll now be able to type normally. You can also use handwriting on the home screen with all the apps, switch to the handwriting via the router and type the first letter of the app, you can then select between the apps by flicking 2 fingers up and down and finally double tapping with 1 finger on the app you want to open.

This works on devices running iOS7 and higher, so most of your iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches will have this handwriting input.

Want to write faster?

You can use a pen/ stylus to simulate handwriting more accurately. It is also proven that those who use a stylus over their finger can handwrite accurately  faster. Apple does sell the Apple Pencil for £99, but for the purpose of handwriting, a £1 stylus from Amazon will do the job.

The major issue I found with using a stylus over your finger was that it was impossible to perform the handwriting gestures mentioned above. For example, how do I perform a 2 finger swipe right to do a space when I’m holding a pen?

I reached out to Apple Accessibility, identifying these concerns and solutions to them, and they told me that my suggestion will be sent off for consideration, so fingers crossed!

As someone who has stopped handwriting for 20 years, I don’t think this will be practical for me, but if you recently lost your sight and are used to hand writing a lot, this might be a good solution for you.

Get to grips with Assistive Tech on our Employability programme

By joining RSBC’s free Employability programme, you can get to grips with the latest accessible tech for the workplace. Alex will train you how to use the latest software, like the KNFB reader. It will read out loud printed text, so that when you’re handed out notes in a meeting, you can get the info as quickly as everyone else in the room, and use your iOS device to record your own notes.

You can learn all these tech tips and more to make you at ease in the workplace with our Employability programme, open to all vision impaired 18-25 year old Londoners. To get your foot on the career ladder, sign up below and our Employability team will call you to arrange your induction.

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