Atechability Number 13: Let’s Play The Keyboard, Touchscreen Edition

Do you find yourself struggling using the onscreen keyboard on these new touchscreen devices? No need to fear! Read on and you will be typing like a pro on these pieces of glass!


Technology has evolved over the years for sure! We went from having a physical computer keyboard, to having a solid sheet of glass where you can perform many tasks. In this article, we will be showing you how to use the new on-screen keyboards that are a lot more common on today’s devices. No need to panic, because there are many different modes to choose from on some devices, and one mode will be right for you, depending on what you are comfortable doing. Since these modes appear on almost all screen readers, we shall discuss how to switch typing modes, followed by a description of each one. Remember, these keyboard modes are only available when a screen reader is active.


We shall start with one of the most commonly used operating systems. Both of the major screen readers have support for inputting text using the touchscreen keyboard, and you can customize what mode they can use.

JAWS For Windows

This process is somewhat complicated to set up, but it can be done. The first thing that needs to be done is change the typing mode to the preferred option. To do this, Press “Insert+6” to go to the JAWS Settings Center. From here, Press “Control+Shift+D” to modify the default configuration. This basically means any setting you change, will be applied to the whole computer in regards to JAWS’s behavior, rather than one specific application. In the search box that appears, type “Touch” and press Enter. On the results that pop up, locate “Touch typing Mode” and select between “Standard” and “Touch typing” by pressing “Space” to cycle between the two modes. Once finished, you can press “Enter” to save the setting, or you can press “Tab” until you hear “Okay.” and press Enter here to save the setting. Press “Alt+F4” to exit Settings Center, and if asked, say “Yes” to save any changes.

But Where’s The Keyboard?

No need to worry! The keyboard is there! We just need to tell JAWS you’re ready to type. To do this, from a place you can write text, swipe “down” and immediately back “Up” with four fingers on the screen. Essentially you are doing a four finger eraser motion down then back up quickly. If you do this successfully, you will hear, “Opened touch keyboard,” along with a sound that goes up in pitch to indicate you are ready to go. Use this same gesture to hide the keyboard when finished. You will hear, “Closed touch keyboard,” with a lowering pitch sound.


In NVDA, this process is a bit more straightforward. To change the typing mode, go to the NVDA menu by pressing “NVDA+N,” depending on what the “NVDA” key is. Most of the time it will be the “Insert” Key. Press “P” for Preferences,” and it should take you into that menu. Press “Enter” on “Settings,” or you can press “S” to activate that option. On the list that appears, use the “Up” and “Down” arrows to locate “Touch Interaction.” In here, there is only one option we need. Press “Tab” until you hear “Touch typing mode” and either check the box if you’re comfortable using that, or leave it alone if you prefer standard typing. Once finished, tab to the “Okay” button. Now, when you are in a place you can type, All you need to do is locate the “Keyboard” button on the bottom of the screen with one finger, and “double Tap” it to bring up the keyboard. When finished, touch anywhere at the top of the screen where you can move away from the place you typed into, or you can find that same “Keyboard” button at the bottom of the screen and “Double Tap” it. Also, some tablets will have this touch keyboard on the screen at all times.


This process applies to both iOS and iPad OS devices. From the main VoiceOver settings, locate “typing mode.” In here, you can choose between “Standard, Touch, and Direct Touch typing.” Locate the item you wish to use and “double Tap” to select it. The setting will take affect once you activate the option you choose. On iOS, to show the keyboard, just “double Tap” the edit field you wish to type into. For example, if you are in the messages app, and you find the “Message” text field, “Double Tap” to show the keyboard. You will then hear, “Texf field. Is Editing.” You can now begin typing!

Slide To Type

This mode can be added to the VoiceOver rotor by locating it under the “Rotor” settings. Once enabled, you can use the rotor and enable the feature on any text field.

Typing Modes

Now that we figured out how to change typing modes in the major operating systems with screen readers, let’s go over what each mode does in more detail!

Standard Typing

In this mode, when moving your finger around the screen, you will hear the letters being read out as your finger lands on them. Remember, the keyboard is at the bottom half of any screen. When you find the letter you are looking for, simply “Double Tap” that letter, and it inserts it into the current text input field. For instance, if you wish to type in “Hi,” find the letter “H,” and “double Tap” exactly where that “H” is. Now, move your finger up slightly and “Move right” until you find the letter “I.” Lift your finger off of the I, and “Double Tap” that same place. It can be slow and tedious, but the more you practice, the easier it will be.

Touch Typing

NOTE: this typing mode is the only one available on Android’s Talkback screen reader. This mode is similar in regards to sliding your finger around the keyboard to find a letter. However, when you find the letter and lift your finger, the letter is automatically inserted. There is no need to “double Tap” each letter to insert it. This is recommended once standard typing is mastered.

Slide To Type (iOS Only)

This feature is quite interesting! when you enable this feature, you can slide your finger everywhere. As you slide your finger, you will first need to find the first letter you wish to type. Once you find it, hold your finger for about a second on the letter to insert it as a starting point. From here, as you slide your finger around, VoiceOver tries to guess what you’re entering in regards to words. Sliding does not have to be accurate. When finished typing the word, simply lift your finger off, and either add a “Space” or type another word the same way. iOS will automatically insert the last word you put together via slide.

Direct Touch Typing (iOS Only)

Okay, now you’re talking! You think you can master this mode? This mode requires very good spacial recognition skills. You’re probably asking yourself, “Why?” Well, in the sighted world, when someone types on the touch keyboard, letters are automatically inserted. No need to do any additional tapping. Well, VoiceOver can do the exact same thing with this mode. It is HIGHLY recommended you commit the entire keyboard to memory prior to doing this. Once you put your finger on any letter, it will insert it right then and there! If you practice enough, eventually you will be typing like a pro!


As you can see, there are many different types of keyboard modes you can choose from. Typing on the screen can be an adjustment, but once you practice it enough, it will become second nature. Of course, if you are not able to do this in the end, you can use an external keyboard connected via bluetooth on mobile devices, or a regular computer keyboard on Windows. If you have any questions on typing in these modes, let us know! Happy touch screen typing!