Figure 1 Close up of an iPad home screen with the black Voice Over cursor focused on the maps icon.
Whether you're a seasoned pro or just getting started at using iOS VoiceOver, you have at some point undoubtedly found your self lost on your screen and asking, "Where am I?"; "What is happening on my screen?". It might be fair to say that becoming good at getting found when you're lost is half the battle in using any screen reader, iOS VoiceOver included.
Below is a collection of strategies and tips that might help you to find your way should you become lost somewhere deep inside the land of iOS. No one option will work consistently but having them in your back pocket might just get you out of a jam. I've attempted to roughly order these starting with tips that will allow you to keep VoiceOver focus at or near the item at hand. The tips progress towards ones that involve restarts or applying different approaches to navigating troublesome areas.
Flick once right (or left) and then the reverse direction to hear the current item spoken again. Listen carefully. Is the item a link, a heading, a switch, static text? Does a button say "dimmed"? Is there a VoiceOver hint available for the item? Outside of the content of the item, information in the announcement might provide useful context for orientation.
Listen closely for general iOS and VoiceOver specific sound effects and learn to understand what they all mean. iOS and VoiceOver includes many different sound effects that provide context as to what is happening on screen.
Flick once or twice left and/or once or twice right to find out what is nearby the item currently in focus. The items neighboring the one currently in focus might give clues to what is happening on screen.
Perform a 3 Fingers single tap to have VoiceOver speak the focus orientation or page number. If focus happens to be on a status bar item at the very top of the screen, a three-finger single tap will tell you this as well.
Pop up messages sometimes hijack your screen. Flick left or right, explore whole screen or flick up with two fingers to trigger reading from top of screen. If a pop up message takes over the screen, the amount of information available to you will suddenly become quite limited. You may hear just a few related items or, depending on the type of popup, a few items plus the iOS keyboard at the bottom of the screen.
If the VoiceOver announcement includes the term "status bar item", know that voice over focus will stay in the status bar area unless you refocus it by touching outside the status bar area or by using a two finger scrub gesture.
4 Finger single tap near top: move to first element on the screen (usually top-left corner element).
4 Finger single tap near bottom: move to last element on the screen (usually bottom-right corner element).
Close and restart voice over. Sometimes VoiceOver will get a bit dopy and drop some or all of its expected behaviors and this can be quite disorientating. Restarting VoiceOver usually restores full functionality.
Tap the clock at top and single finger double tap to scroll a long document or list to the top.
If you are well and truly lost, refocus all the way to the top of screen and flick all the way right until you've heard every item and option on screen then return to your most likely candidate.
Use the Item chooser by performing a 2 finger triple tap and type in the name of what you are hoping to find on your screen.
Look for a back button at the top right of the screen or active panel.
Activate app switcher to find out which app is active.
Use app switcher to close an app that might have become troublesome and then restart the app.
Reboot the device.
If an orientation problem persists after multiple attempts at the same task, slow down and flick all the way through each screen involved in the task before committing with a double tap on any item. Although time consuming, this can be a particularly useful approach if the task is one you anticipate doing frequently.
Either in the rotor or in settings, turn on tips if they are turned off, then attempt your task again, listening closely for tips you may not know or have forgotten.
Ask a sighted person what is on screen or use another device with OCR to try and read the screen. This may be a last resort option for some but, particularly if VoiceOver is non-responsive, this might be the only option left.