For such a small piece of equipment, the iPad packs a lot of punch when it comes to providing accessibility features, writes Jacqui Kirkman.
While there is still a need for custom-built equipment, many people with special accessibility needs are finding that an iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch or similar devices by other manufacturers can perform the same functions for a much lower price and sometimes in a way that makes them stand out less.
Of course, everyone has different needs and whether an iPad is going to suit depends on what the individual is trying to achieve. Here are five commonly used features which are inbuilt into an iPad, which means once you have the device, there’s no extra cost. They just need to be set up.
Speech to text
This is useful for people who have difficulty writing or typing. It could be because of a physical impairment or a print disability. Enabling dictation allows the user to speak what they want to say in any app where text can be typed.
Text to speech
Enabling Speak Screen and Speak Selection will allow text on the screen to be read aloud, which can be useful for people with a print disability such as low vision or dyslexia. The text could be in emails, websites or apps.
This accessibility feature is designed to assist those whose vision impairment is severe enough that they cannot navigate around the device visually. When Voice Over is activated, anything the user touches on the screen is read aloud and the user then selects the app, function or command they want.
Siri can act as a personal assistant, sending emails and texts, making phone or FaceTime calls, opening apps, setting reminders, doing just about anything you want her to do just by saying, “Hey Siri….”. This can be extremely liberating for people who can’t see or move well enough to do those things manually, giving them increased independence in managing their everyday lives and reducing social isolation.
Executive function support
A number of apps are useful in providing reminders and personal organisation support. Reminders and Notifications are built in and there are many third party apps in this category, for example IFTTT and Forgetful.
The iPad can be switch controlled using a variety of Bluetooth switches and interfaces, and in conjunction with a communication app is used by some as a speech generating device. FaceTime and third party apps such as Skype are commonly used by deaf and hearing impaired people to communicate using Auslan. The iPad can also provide subtitles and captions, Audio Descriptions, and can be paired with hearing aids and refreshable braille displays. There are a variety of different settings for changing the touch and the display to better personalise it for an individual’s needs. It can be also mounted on a wheelchair or a bed and encased in waterproof and/or impact resistant cases.
It’s an adaptable and versatile device and a welcome new member in the assistive technology family.
Jacqui Kirkman is a Brisbane-based education and accessibility consultant. She is presenting at the ATSA Independent Living Expo in Brisbane on 24 May.
This article appears in the Autumn edition of Community Care Review magazine.