The Accessibility Features of the iPad
The Accessibility Features of the iPad

Categories: Technology

By Guest Blogger Amanda Johansson, Testfreaks.com

Today, computers have infiltrated almost all aspects of modern life, and they serve as great tools in those activities. On the heels of desktops and laptops are electronic tablets, and they are now being accepted en masse in our everyday lives. In fact, the most popular tablet to date, the iPad, has been sold by millions to people across all walks of life.

But to someone with special needs, using a tablet might be difficult. Luckily, like most modern computers, the iPad has accessibility features built into the device, and such features may prove to be handy for a wide variety of users. Exactly what are these accessibility features? Let’s take a look.

VoiceOver

Image of the iPad's VoiceOver menu
VoiceOver is perhaps one of the biggest accessibility features on the iPad. VoiceOver allows users to access the device by giving verbal descriptions of where they tap the screen or the keyboard. This feature is helpful for users who are blind or have low-vision, as well as those with dyslexia and other conditions.

VoiceOver is actually comprised of several components. Gestures allow users to do certain tasks with different finger combinations and swipe directions. The gestures on the iPad are designed to be forgiving in their execution while remaining easy to master. The iPad provides a practice area where users can test their gestures to ensure they are being done correctly.

In addition, VoiceOver can auto-read Web pages as you browse them. This feature provides a Web page summary, informing users of the page size, any headers, links, tables and more. VoiceOver also allows users to navigate tables on Web pages by prompting them with the table’s row and column as it reads the selected cell contents.

Web Rotor

Image of the iPad's Web Rotor tool menu.
The Web Rotor is a virtual dial that can be used to navigate Web pages in various ways. To use the Web Rotor, users simply create a virtual knob with a pinch on the screen. Then they can “turn” the knob to make the desired selection. The Web Rotor menu allows users to fine tune interface interactions.

Language Rotor

The Language Rotor function allows users to quickly select alternate languages for VoiceOver through another virtual dial control. The supported rotor language can be pre-selected for ease of use.

VoiceOver with a Braille Reader

Image of a Braille reader.
VoiceOver will also work with a Bluetooth connected Braille reader. A Braille reader is a device that allows trained users to read textual components through its Braille output. Devices vary as to their input methods; however, on typical Braille readers, you can find inputs such as “wiz wheels,” scrollers, router keys and simple buttons.

Once the iPad is connected to a Braille reader via Bluetooth, it will automatically adjust to suit each model’s characteristics. This feature allows users to immediately start using the device’s navigation keys without having to adjust the configuration first. Of course, users can reassign reader keys by selecting a VoiceOver command and holding the desired keys. VoiceOver will play a tone as it programs the reader and signal completion with a chime.

Typing Feedback

Image of the iPad's Typing Feedback menu.
Typing support is also built into VoiceOver; the iPad incorporates this feature in a similar fashion as a Mac computer. However, the iPad has separate settings for software, (on-screen) keyboards and hardware Bluetooth keyboards. This capability lets you set the typing feedback to work differently depending on how you are using your iPad, which could come in handy when you switch to a different location.

There is a difference between “character” and “word” in the Typing Feedback menu. If users choose “character,” the VoiceOver will say the letter when it is touched. If users select the “word” option from the menu, the VoiceOver will use the phonetic alphabet (i.e. “tango” for “t” and “India” for “i”). Of course, users can select both options as well.

Home Key Feature

The Home Key on the iPad serves as another accessibility feature. The button can be set to toggle VoiceOver, toggle White on Black or “Ask” when triple clicked. The VoiceOver toggle is simple enough to understand – basically it activates and de-activates the VoiceOver functionality.

Image of the iPad's White on Black (also known as high contrast) feature.
The White on Black accessibility feature turns the screen into reverse (or high-contrast) colors. This function serves to make the screen easier to read in situations where its contrast may interfere with readability or usability. It might also be good to mention that turning this feature on can make it very convenient to adjust the screen for easy nighttime reading.

Zoom

Image of the iPad's Zoom menu.
Zoom makes it easy to enlarge portions of the screen as needed to make it legible. While most iPad users are familiar with pinching the screen while browsing to increase the screen size – the accessibility zoom feature is different, because it works with any screen element.

Once you turn it on, three fingers easily control zoom. Double tapping with three fingers toggles zoom, and dragging with three fingers moves you around the screen. Combining these gestures enables users to have fine control over the amount of zoom.

Large Text

With the Large Text feature, you can override the default font settings in the “Mail” and “Notes” sections without affecting other areas. You can adjust the setting from 20 to a screen-grabbing 56 point font, allowing most users, who have low vision, to read their e-mails without reaching for their reading glasses.

Speak Auto-text

Image of the iPad's Speak Auto-text feature on the Accessibility Menu.
Speak Auto-text announces auto-corrections and auto-capitalizations as you type on the iPad. This capability informs you that your typing has been corrected, and it is one feature that all users may find convenient if they are often caught by surprise by any forced “corrections.”

With the release of tablets like the iPad, computers help many users in various settings. And with built-in accessibility options, such tablets may find a ready home with users of all ages and abilities. In my opinion, these features might make the iPad one of the most user friendly computer systems to date.

Amanda Johansson works at Testfreaks.com, a product review site. She loves gadgets and enjoys writing about them.

20 Responses to The Accessibility Features of the iPad

  1. George G. says:

    Good article. Just one point: the Braille devices mentioned are generally referred to as Braille displays, not Braille readers.

  2. Daryl says:

    I just discovered that Apple is now preventing iPad 2 users from downgrading from 4.3.5 to 4.3.3. Obviously, Apple is trying to prevent people from jailbreaking their iPad 2. The one thing Apple is forgetting; without the ability to downgrade the device to 4.3.3 so a user can choose to jailbreak (perfectly legal to do so) the user cannot use Facetime over 3G connection. The user is limited to only using Facetime over WiFi. This is very limiting because it prevents a Deaf or Hard of Hearing user from making a phone call to other Facetime users and in some cases to a hearing person through video relay.
    Historically, a user was able to control the version of iOS installed on the device. Apple is now acting with impunity and all out monopolistic actions that are having detrimental effects on Deaf users.

  3. Andrew says:

    Hi. Thank you very much for the article.

  4. Elaibe W. says:

    I have wet macular degeneration and am trying to prepare for the worst case scenario. Got an IPAD in November and have found it to be so very user friendly. What I need to know is… information about a dictation program that will type out email as one dictates it.
    Do you have special people in your Apple stores to teach these programs (aside from the “sixteen-year olds” at the “genius” bar)? So important to be able to be familiar with all the helpful features BEFORE one is further incapacitated.
    Thank you so much for producing this site.

  5. Disability.Blog Team says:

    Fern, you may want to contact your local chapter of the ALS Association (find contact information by visiting http://www.alsa.org/community/chapters.cfm?CFID=7906811&CFTOKEN=62fc8d5f435607f6-E36B9C8F-188B-2E62-80C98D7CBDE2883D) or your state Assistive Technology Loan Project (you can find this by searching the Internet or selecting your state from the “Information by State” drop-down menu on the left-hand side of any page on Disability.gov, and then choose “Technology” from the Subject list) to see if there is financing available to help you pay for an iPad.
    Best,
    The Disability.Blog Team

  6. Fern C. says:

    I have ALS and I think it’s utterly ridiculous that Medicare/Medicaid will pay for a big cumbersome, and often useless, augmentative-communication device, that costs $7,000-$10,000 [and up], but not pay $499-$800 for an iPad. It’s another example of insurance and government waste and of course corporate influence. I have been relentlessly saving for an iPad for months. But for someone who is poverty-stricken with a chronic and degenerative neurological disease, timeliness is so important. Every day that I have to go without the iPad is a day with less quality of life for me.

  7. LjR says:

    Did you see my film where folks talked about the iPad re accessibility? The blind community seems to have grown particularly fond of the iPad per interview I did in my film.
    Also, while I’m here – I’m seeing some nice innovation for stylus’s that are particularly usable by folks who need something they can place in the mouth. Some good progress being made there.
    As one who has arthritis, I’ve found the iPad terrific. The tolerance for error is much greater and the key pad easier to deal with because of its size.
    I think folks don’t realize the range in prices on the iPad – I think they start at $200.
    Lastly, I love how easy it is to enlarge stuff to see it better. It’s a lot easier than having to select a command to zoom.

  8. Maria R. says:

    I would like to have one, but I am on a fixed income. How can I get one?

  9. Rolling Ambition says:

    I am investigating an iPad. I am concerned that, with my limited finger dexterity, I will not be able to use gestures to navigate. Any ideas?

  10. Zach says:

    Great article.

  11. Chas B. says:

    Thank you very much for this detailed overview. There’s obviously a lot more than I discovered for myself noodling on an iPad at the Apple Store.
    I’m not happy with the zoom feature myself. I find dragging three fingers awkward and the text doesn’t reflow, so if a paragraph is too wide to fit in the window you wind up scrolling back and forth on every line.
    I can’t imagine why I would only want to do large text only for Mail and Notes. I really would want to do large text, with reflow, for everything. It really ought to be supported in every app.
    But realistically, the ergonomics are such that if the iPad itself is high enough to view the screen comfortably then it’s too high to use my hands comfortably and vice versa if it’s low. I had already rejected laptops for that reason, and iPads make it worse.
    The shortcomings are sufficiently big that I wouldn’t want an iPad unless the zoom/large text issues were solved and I could get an outboard keyboard.
    I’ll still to my desktop for now, thanks.

  12. Becky C. says:

    Thank you for this informative article about the iPad. I am suffering with a chronic pain situation, and even a small laptop hits me at the knees and is terribly painful. I was considering the iPad because of the lightness of it, and was wondering more about it. Thanks bunches! Now I just have to scratch up the dough and get one so I can get a job working at home from my iPad! :)

    • Jessica says:

      When I first started heairng about ipads being used in elementary schools, I was a little shocked. After reading this, maybe I’m just jealous that these kids get to play with ipads and I don’t. It’s similar to cell phones, minus the education; I didn’t have a cell phone until my senior year in high school, but now kids have it in 4th grade. I get that it’s a lifeline, and even though the generations before us did fine without them, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our technology at a younger age. So while I really dislike seeing young kids with cellphones, again, maybe I’m just jealous that I didn’t have one at that age.A pple products are known for what? Innovation, and user interface. It’s no mystery that it’s so simple a very young boy or girl can use it. Think of how much smarter and adapted to the surrounding world the next generations will be at an earlier age. Basically, that means greater human accomplishments, more often. How can anyone be against that? As far as Apple creating life-long customers, you can’t really say they aren’t. If Apple continues being who they are, then it’ll be great to see where they stand in the global marketplace in 20-50 years. So good for them!

  13. Donna M. says:

    Note the recent study that also mentions iPad is preferred over texts- important especially for SWD attending college:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2376165,00.asp
    Students at the University of Notre Dame who ditched their textbooks in favor of an iPad to use as an e-reader for seven weeks said they learned more and enjoyed the class more.
    Forty project management students, mostly undergraduates, were given the devices on loan as part of a yearlong study called the eReader project. While other schools have similar initiatives, Notre Dame is the first to publish early results.

  14. Donna M. says:

    Note the recent study that also mentions iPad is preferred over texts- important especially for SWD attending college:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2376165,00.asp
    Students at the University of Notre Dame who ditched their textbooks in favor of an iPad to use as an e-reader for seven weeks said they learned more and enjoyed the class more.
    Forty project management students, mostly undergraduates, were given the devices on loan as part of a yearlong study called the eReader project. While other schools have similar initiatives, Notre Dame is the first to publish early results.

  15. Donna M. says:

    Note the recent study that also mentions iPad is preferred over texts- important especially for SWD attending college:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2376165,00.asp
    Students at the University of Notre Dame who ditched their textbooks in favor of an iPad to use as an e-reader for seven weeks said they learned more and enjoyed the class more.
    Forty project management students, mostly undergraduates, were given the devices on loan as part of a yearlong study called the eReader project. While other schools have similar initiatives, Notre Dame is the first to publish early results.

    • Cynaid says:

      That’s nothing. I went to a drive through ATM and it had braille on it for all the blind drivers that wanted to withdraw money from the bank in their car. With the sentence: These instructions are provided in braille for our seeing impaired customers. The only possible reason for that message is to make me think my bank cares about the disabled.

  16. Donna M. says:

    Note the recent study that also mentions iPad is preferred over texts- important especially for SWD attending college:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2376165,00.asp
    Students at the University of Notre Dame who ditched their textbooks in favor of an iPad to use as an e-reader for seven weeks said they learned more and enjoyed the class more.
    Forty project management students, mostly undergraduates, were given the devices on loan as part of a yearlong study called the eReader project. While other schools have similar initiatives, Notre Dame is the first to publish early results.

  17. Donna M. says:

    Note the recent study that also mentions iPad is preferred over texts- important especially for SWD attending college:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2376165,00.asp
    Students at the University of Notre Dame who ditched their textbooks in favor of an iPad to use as an e-reader for seven weeks said they learned more and enjoyed the class more.
    Forty project management students, mostly undergraduates, were given the devices on loan as part of a yearlong study called the eReader project. While other schools have similar initiatives, Notre Dame is the first to publish early results.

  18. Debra D. says:

    Yes, I would love to own one if they were not so pricey. But I think they would be great for navigation as well, reading, etc. and much lighter than a laptop. I have been checking IPads out for some time hoping they would come down a little. Thank you for including me in your blog. Hopefully I can own one in the future if they come down a little in price, because I think they are beautiful.