Assistive Touch – HANDY tips for just about anyone!

Assistive touch is an accessibility feature of the iPad which aims to enable people with physical impairments who may find traditional gestures and commands difficult, the ability to perform these using alternative simplified movements. This can include people who have limited mobility in their hands and fingers or people who use assistive devices such as a stylus or head pointer.

With Assistive Touch, users can tap the onscreen controls with just one finger or a compatible pointer or stylus, and replicate gestures such as a pinch and swipe, or commands such as adjusting the volume and locking the screen orientation. Users can also create and name custom gestures by recording the individualised movement to perform specific movements. This means that users are able to accomplish many more tasks independently with the limited movements that they have.

It can be found under the Settings > General > Accessibility section of the iPad. Once turned ON, a small white dot will appear on your screen. This can be moved and docked anywhere on the screen.

When you select the white dot you get four options.

  • You can select “Home” which acts like the home button and takes you to the home screen – also an alternative if your physical home button breaks.
  • You can select “Device” which performs actions related to the device such as volume up/down, rotate screen, lock rotation and shake, which “shakes” the device without actually physically doing it. This is great for people who find manipulating the small switches on the side of the device difficult or if the device is mounted on a wheelchair and the buttons are inaccessible.
  • You can select “Gestures” which gives you the option of two, three, four or five finger gestures.  Once chosen, the same number of blue dots appears on the screen. You can then perform the multi-touch gestures using one finger or an assistive device such as a stylus. The device actually reads the gesture as a multi-finger gesture, even though only one finger is touching the screen. For example, if I want to swipe across to the previous app I had opened I would usually have to use a four-finger swipe. With assistive touch though, if I was using a head pointer for example, I could perform the same action with the head pointer only.
  • You can select “Favourites” which will give you access to all of the custom gestures that you have programmed. For example, if you are wanting to perform the five finger pinch gesture which returns you to the home screen, you can record this gesture, name it and then perform it by selecting one button. Some apps will also require very specific gestures, and custom gestures can be recorded and selected to perform these actions.

The assistive touch feature came out about a year ago with the iOS 5 operating system. iOS 6 is due out in a few weeks, and with this, it is rumoured that there will be additional functionality to this feature, allowing voice over to work when in assistive touch mode. For more information about other rumoured features of iOS 6, see “So what’s next for iOS? So what?!”.

Assistive touch makes navigating and using iOS devices much easier for some of the children and adults we support with physical disabilities and limited mobility. Just another example of Apple’s commitment to making their devices accessible for all.

This entry was posted in Accessibility and Access Apps and Mobile Learning and tagged with
Bookmark the permalink

About Katie Lyon

Katie is a speech pathologist and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) consultant who has been working with young children and adults with complex communication needs for the past 13 years. She has had worked in various roles including Coordinator of the Non-electronic Communication Aid Scheme and Regional Communication Service in Victoria as part of the state-wide Communication Access Network. She has a keen interest in supporting families, teachers, direct support workers and therapists to access information about AAC and assistive technology through education and training. She currently works part-time with Spectronics and part-time with the Communication Resource Centre at Scope in Victoria.

25 Responses to Assistive Touch – HANDY tips for just about anyone!

  1. Raini says:

    I was trying to figure out how to use the assistive touch because my power button does not work i accidentaly clicked on the hand with 2 fingers. My phone is now to the normal lock screen but it has the two blue circles in the middle and the white circle in the bottom right hand corner. I cannot unlock or use my phone. What do I do?

    • Katie Lyon says:

      You should be able to hit the white circle and get the menu of gestures up again? From here the blue circles should disappear? If you are having trouble sliding the device power on then in future you could record a custom gesture to slide to unlock. Let me know how you go!

  2. Shankar Angrish says:

    Dear Katy,

    I need to know how I can set up assistive touch to switch on my iPhone. Right now I have to press the small button on the top.

    Thank you in anticipation,


    • Katie Lyon says:

      Hi Shankar. Can you press the home button (square inside the circle on the front face of the device) to turn the screen on? This will wake the device from sleep mode. Then you can record a custom gesture to “slide to power on” and perform this gesture using assistive touch. Let me know how you go!

  3. Jayson says:

    Hi Katie. I have same problem with Raini, locked my phone with 2 fingers, on the screen is the normal slide unlock but with Assistive Touch Pinch and I can’t unlock it now.

    • Katie Lyon says:

      Hey there Jayson,
      I’ve done a bit of searching and it seems that a hard reset will fix the issue. To do this, hold the sleep/wake button and home button down together for 10 seconds and then release. This will apparently turn the assistive touch off. Good luck!

  4. Siobhan says:

    I put my iPod into assistive touch and now I’m locked out of my iPod. It is at home screen and I can’t slide to unlock.the small white dot is not appearing. Help??!

    • Katie Lyon says:

      Hey Siobhan. A common error when playing with assistive touch. Try doing a hard reset by holding down the home button and the sleep wake button for a number of seconds until the apple logo appears. Apparently this will turn assistive touch off. Then you can go back into settings and make sure that your triple click home button includes the ability to turn off assistive touch next time you get stuck. Let me know how you go!

  5. Crystal Bailey says:

    I have an iphone 4 and the top lock button stopped working so I turned on assisted touch. I wish to print screen or screenshot something ans was wondering if this is possible with assisted touch? I don’t have any options under “device” that enables me to do this, they are only options for volume and shake etc.

    • Katie Lyon says:

      Hi Crystal,
      I have the option for taking a screenshot with my version of assistive touch. It is under device and then the more option. The only thing I can think of is do you have the latest operating system? In iOS 6 there were considerable improvements to assistive touch and this may have been one of them? Let me know how you go!

  6. Brooke Kriesel says:

    Dear Katie, I turned on assistive touch so I could use vine with out holding it the whole time. But then I accidentally went and locked my I phone and now there is no white button and no way to touch my screen to unlock it or turn it off. What do I do?

    • Katie Lyon says:

      Hi Brooke,
      I think a hard reset will fix it, or at least turn assistive touch off. To do this, hold the sleep/wake button and home button down together for 10 seconds until the apple logo appears and then release. Good luck!

  7. Mariah says:

    Dear Katie, I turned assistive touch on because my sleep/wake button wasn’t working and I didn’t have the money to get it fixed. But now I’m afraid if I hold down “lock screen” and then “slide to power off” I won’t be able to turn my iPod 4g back on. What do I do??

  8. Charlene Cullen says:

    Hi Mariah,
    If you need to power off to reset or get out of assistive touch then you can turn the device back on (without using the sleep/wake) button by plugging the iPod into the computer that you sync the device with. But it does sound like you might need to look at getting the sleep/wake button looked at :-)
    Good luck!

  9. Ruth says:

    Hi Katie,

    I was just wondering whether there is any way of creating a delay on the iPad screen so that a child has to press and hold an icon in order to activate it (to avoid accidental pressing). Any ideas gratefully received.

    Many Thanks

    • Charlene Cullen says:

      Hi Ruth,
      I’m answering on Katie’s behalf as a colleague on the Spectronics Consultancy team.
      Currently there is no feature in the operating system of the iPad (Apple would need to create this option) to have a hold time on selecting apps. It could be worthwhile to chat to an Occupational Therapist and see if there are some options depending on the reasons behind accidental touch. Plastic keyguards may help or using alternative access such as a switch. But if there are no other physical fine motor complications and it’s purely accidental touch then behavioural instruction such as “look carefully”, “wait before your choose an app” etc could be helpful.
      Kind regards,

  10. Breanna says:

    Hi so I had to get assistive touch because my home button is broken , how do I delete all the apps that i used before? The ones you had to double tap in order to delete them? My iPod is really slow and died faster because they are all running. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>