Making the most of iPads

Post date: 
Tuesday, 17 May 2016
App icons

Sarah Holton, from RNIB's Children and young people team, reports on useful iPad apps to engage young people with sight loss.


  • iBooks are the easiest way to get school textbooks on an iPad via the in-app purchase.
  • Kindle has the largest collection of e-books. If you buy an e-book from the Amazon site, your book will appear in the Kindle app.


  • Audio books are available from Amazon for a monthly subscription starting from £7.99.
  • OverDrive allows you to borrow text and audio titles from libraries including RNIB. 
  • Voice Dream Reader is the most accessible reading app. Word and line highlighting is synchronised with speech and it remembers your place on the page. You can choose from dozens of voices. It will speak when the device is locked. It also has Bookshare and Dropbox support. (£7.99)
Reading from hardcopy print
  • KNFB Reader is the most accurate, fast and user-friendly access to hardcopy text using the built-in camera. It contains a Field of View report for accuracy. (£79.99) 
  • Prismo scans from the camera, photos or PDF. Voice guidance assists positioning the camera, the voiceover reader allows you to adjust the speaking rate and it highlights words as being spoken. There is also extensive export options and it works with older iOS devices. (£7.99)
  • Say Text is a free app. It beeps when the whole document is in view and takes a photo when focussed. Once processed, swipe right to listen.

Scanning text from a mobile device requires patience and practice. Stands to hold the device in the correct position over a page include Standscan and Giraffe Reader. These are suitable for spot reading.

Object recognition 
  • Camera and Photo apps built-in to iOS on Apple devices describe the number and position of faces. They report focus quality and if people are blinking or smiling.
  • A compass (which also acts as a spirit-level) is built-in to iPhones. It can gauge direction and angles of surfaces. This can be used to perform basic orientation, DIY or crafts.
  • ColorID or AIPolyVision can be used for matching, dressing and learning which colours go together and colour association.
  • Light Detector reports how much light is being received by a built-in camera. (£1.49) 
  • TapTapSee uses algorithm (the calculations or problem-solving steps used by computers) and crowdsourcing to recognise objects.
  • Be My Eyes video-connects blind users with (unknown) sighted helpers. Supervise young people's usage.
  • Maps is built-in to iOS. It announces headings and directions.

It's important to remind young people to only share their location with trusted contacts.

  • BlindSquare announces nearby points of interest and junctions. Control with physical buttons on earphones or speakers. (Bone conduction headphones recommended) (£22.99) 
  • RNIB Navigator provides simple turn by turn directions. It announces when you are approaching a turn and can describe direction as a clock face. (Subscription from £6 per month)
  • TravelLine GB announces bus times, nearest stop and route planning options.

GPS accuracy varies substantially. Good mobility skills and support from a habilitation specialist are essential.

  • Podcasts: Directory of programs including age-appropriate educational content. 
  • YouTube: Popular video sharing site.
  • BBC iPlayer: Information and entertainment including some audio description facilities. 
  • iTunes U: Free educational content from colleges and universities.
  • TED: Short talks from experts about ideas worth spreading.
  • Facebook: Feel included with sighted friends. Users must be aged 13 or above.
  • Twitter: Real-time, text-based topical conversation. Works well for screen readers.
  • FaceTime and Skype: Live audio or video communication via the internet. 

Young people must know how to stay safe online before using social media. 

Other app features 
  • Productivity: Notes, Pages and Word.
  • Planning: Clock, Calendar, Reminders and Weather.
  • File Sharing: iCloud, Airdrop, Dropbox and email attachments.
  • Games: Chess Wise, Dice World and Audio Archery.

If you find a third-party app to be inaccessible, you can request a refund at [email protected].

Additional disabilities
  • Motor difficulties: Switch Control and Assisted Touch. 
  • Deaf: Hearing aid support, Flash A Alerts and Mono Audio. 
  • Attention Deficit: Speak Screen and Guided Access (which locks the screen in a particular app)

All of these features can be accessed in Settings > General > Accessibility.

So, is an iPad worthwhile? What are the pros and cons?
iPads are a versatile companion for young people with sight loss. It is important to choose the appropriate screen size, accessories, apps and receive training to get the best from the iPad. Additional accessibility features for many disabilities come as standard.
Some young people find iPads to be a steeper learning curve than specialised assistive technology, such as a Braille Notetaker. Some braille back-translation quirks and no speech pronunciation exceptions dictionary may be problematic for some young people. Access to STEM subjects depends on the content publisher.
Out-of-the-box accessibility improves with each iteration of the iOS operating system demonstrating Apple’s on-going commitment to blind and partially sighted customers.
This is the second piece of a two-part series following from a workshop given by Dave Williams at the 2016 VIEW conference. Dave is an Independent Access Consultant and also a blind parent, braillist and strong advocate for accessibility. For more information please visit or email [email protected]

Further information

  • Making the most of iPads: Part One - if you are considering getting an iPad for a child with a vision impairment, or already have one, make sure you know how to make the most of all of the accessibility features.
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