Post date: 
Friday, 15 April 2016

If you are considering getting an iPad for a child with vision impairment, or already have one, do you know how to make the most of all of the accessibility features? Sarah Holton, from RNIB's Children and young people team, reports.


Why choose an iPad?

Laptops have been a useful tool for people with vision impairment (VI) for some time. But what do iPads offer that other electronic devices don’t?
  • Consistent accessibility is built into every iPad, so there isn’t the same requirement to purchase additional software or hardware.
  • Accessible educational apps are included and available from the App Store.
  • The high resolution display is suitable for magnification.
  • An iPad is relatively lightweight, easy to carry and hold.
  • The battery life compares well to laptops, eight hours watching video, 16 hours web browsing or 30 hours listening to audio.

Which iPad to get?

Apple sells six iPad models. Each offers a choice of colour, memory and cellular connectivity (the way that you access the internet). Approximately 60 configurations of these aspects are available.
Accessibility features are the same on all iPads. 

Choosing size

The iPad screen is measured diagonally in inches: Mini 7.9, Air 9.7 and Pro 9.7 or 12.9 (comparable with a paperback, hardback or magazine). Bigger is not always better for students with VI who may have a narrow field of view or rely on the edge of the screen for shore-lining. 

Choosing storage

The capacity of an iPad ranges from 16GB to 128HB. Subtract 5GB for system files. The memory is not user expandable, meaning you can’t buy more at a later stage, so buy as much memory as budget allows. Documents and photos require less memory than audio and video.
Cloud storage services (where memory is stored on the internet rather than the device itself), like Dropbox, iCloud and OneDrive, work well with iPads and mean content can be stored remotely providing an internet connection is regularly available.
New iPad models released in 2015 and 2016 (Air 2, Mini 4 and Pro) have anti-reflective coating, which helps make the screen easier to see under bright light. Higher resolution cameras should improve photo quality and performance of text and object-recognition apps. 
Prices range from £219 to £899 (we recommend checking for the latest pricing as this is subject to change). Education discounts can be available. And don’t forget to budget for accessories such as a screen protector, case, stand, keyboard and braille display.

Using iPad accessibility 

General tips

  • Lock the screen rotation to avoid confusion about item position. (Settings > General > Use Side Switch).
  • Turn off notifications to avoid unwanted interruptions. (Settings > Notifications).
  • Safari Reader hides clutter on web pages to reduce sensory overload. (Reader button left of Safari address bar).
  • iOS dictionary develops language skills by providing UK English definitions of unfamiliar words in documents, messages and web pages. (Use VoiceOver rotor to select word and define).
  • The camera can double as a basic video magnifier. (Pinch to Zoom in viewfinder).
  • Siri and Dictation enable voice control to speed up input. (Require internet connection).
  • Accessibility shortcut: Triple clicking the Home button toggles VoiceOver screen reader and Zoom magnifier etc. (Settings > General > Accessibility Shortcut).
  • Automatic updates can improve or break accessibility. (Settings > iTunes and App Store > Updates).

VoiceOver screen reader 

VoiceOver makes all iPads accessible for students with VI. (Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver). 

Essential VoiceOver gestures 

  • Explore by touch using one finger. This discovers the location of items onscreen.
  • Step through items by flicking left or right with one finger.
  • Read by: character, word, heading by twisting with two fingers, then flick up or down with one finger.
  • Scroll to the next or previous page by swiping left or right with three fingers.
  • Activate the last thing you heard by double tapping anywhere with one finger.
  • Read to the end of a document by flicking down anywhere with two fingers.
  • Silence/resume speech by tapping anywhere with two fingers. 
  • The VoiceOver practice area describes gestures and key-presses.

Typing with VoiceOver

  • Standard, Direct and Touch typing modes change how the onscreen keyboard reacts. Determine which setting is most appropriate for your learner based on confidence and sight level.
  • Braille onscreen allows 6-dot entry to reinforce braille skills. 
  • Tactile screen protectors help beginners with onscreen keyboard orientation.
  • Speech recognition and Siri assist with input.
  • Bluetooth keyboards and braille displays control VoiceOver with physical buttons.

Zoom magnifier

Pinch to Zoom on web pages and photos may be sufficient for some partially-sighted students. This is only available when VoiceOver switched off.
Zoom magnifies with or without VoiceOver, ideal for fluctuating sight. (Settings > General > Accessibility > Zoom).

Essential Zoom gestures

  • Zoom in and out by double tapping three fingers. 
  • Pan around the screen by dragging three fingers. 
  • Change Zoom level by double tapping and holding three fingers. 
  • Other visual adjustments: Reduce Motion, Invert Colours and Bold Text. 
This advice is taken from a workshop delivered by Dave Williams, Independent Access Consultant, at the 2016 VIEW Conference. Dave is a blind parent, braillist and strong advocate for accessibility. For more information visit or email [email protected] 

Further information

Insight Online: archive