The iPad and other Apple devices that use the new iOS9 operating system (like the iPod Touch and iPhone) received another round of updates in accessibility after the major changes implemented in iOS8. There continue to be some really big changes with the advancement of iOS9 for blind users, however users with low vision have commented that little has changed. One major change has been in the layout of the Accessibility Settings menu and how to customize the available options. So, if you haven't updated your devices yet, now's the time to do it so you may take advantage of the newest features and apps available!
iOS8 built upon many accessibility features with an improved zoom function, a much easier to access text-to-talk feature, a system-wide virtual six-dot Braille keyboard and much more! Now, iOS9 gives you increased customization for your unique needs on your iPad. It's now more accessible than ever!
In this article I'll outline some of my favorite features and link to other articles where you can read about particular features in more detail. Every person has different needs, many of which can be tailored for your child to give her the greatest access possible. Find which features make the most sense for your child so you can create an iPad designed specifically for her!
(Although I'll be writing specifically about the iPad in this article, virtually everything I write here is also true for the iPhone and iPod Touch.)
To read more on Apple's commitment to accessibility, visit Apple's pages on Accessibility or Vision.
A note on commands: In this article I will use the > to denote a set of commands you'll need to use to access features in your iPad. For example, Settings > General > Accessibility means that you would tap the Settings app on your homescreen, then tap Generalfrom the list of options on the left, then scroll down until you find Accessibility.
Topics covered in this article:
Simplify the iPad for Hands with Less Motor Control
One of the great things about the iPad is that it can help develop fine motor skills. How? Well, if lightly tapping the screen creates a desired response (like a cow mooing in Peekaboo Barn), then your child will do their best to learn how to control their fingers and get that cow to moo!
However, some kids need assistance in getting to that point, and for them the iPad may seem like a frustrating device that is constantly turning off, changing apps or stalling for no good reason.
The problem is that the iPad comes preset with all sorts of fancy features that allow you to switch between apps or toggle things on and off simply by performing special hand swipes on the screen or by rotating the iPad itself. And these hand swipes or rotations can be performed unintentionally by a child who is just trying to get a cow to moo!
First, go into Settings > General > Gestures and turn these off. Now a tap is a tap and won't activate anything else.
While in General Settings, you can also set your Side Switch to Lock Rotation if you do not want to use it as the Mute switch. Now, when you slide the switch along the right-hand side of the iPad down, the screen will be locked in either a horizontal or vertical scape and won't move around. If you would rather keep this setting for the Mute sound control, you may also access the Lock Rotation setting in the Control Center at any time by swiping up from the bottom of the screen and tapping the Lock Rotation button (looks like a padlock circled with an arrow) in the menu.
Next, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch and turn Assistive Touch on. Now your child can use all their fingers or just one finger to do complicated moves on the screen. More on this below.
Finally, go to Settings > Notifications and turn notifications off for all of the apps or customize which apps do or do not allow notifications by going through each app and turning Allow Notifications on or off to your preference. Yes if you turn them all to off, this means you won't be receiving a notification when someone mentions you on Twitter or your friend comments on your Facebook status, but it also means your child won't be interrupted by these notifications when they are concentrating on an app and learning new skills.
Now your iPad is ready for some fun stuff!
AssistiveTouch itself has not changed tremendously from iOS8 but the basics have been expanded upon through two additional settings found in the Interaction submenu of Accessibility: Switch Control and Touch Accommodations. For example, now in Touch Accommodations you can turn off Shake to Undo. AssistiveTouch is still one of my favorite features. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch and turn AssistiveTouch on. You'll see a small square show up in the lower right hand corner of your screen which will remain there wherever you go on the iPad (you can move it into different corners, but it won't disappear). Tap this square to bring up the AssistiveTouch menu (as seen on the right).
The AssistiveTouch menu allows you to do some simple actions all from one place with a single tap, like rotate the screen or "shake" the iPad (a necessary movement for some apps). This menu has also been updated in iOS9 to include quick links to the Notification Center and Control Center. It also gives you access to the Gestures menu which allows you to tell the iPad to read two, three, four or five fingers on the screen no matter how many fingers you actually have on the screen. Why would you want to do this? Well, what if you have an app that requires your child to do a two-finger swipe, but they don't have the fine motor control to do this? You can set your Gestures to two fingers and now no matter how many fingers your child has on the iPad (one or all five, which is usually the case with my son), the iPad will read it as a two-finger swipe. How cool is that? You can now customize it even further by going to Customize Top Level Menu... to add additional icons from a special menu for tasks relating to Volume, Screen Rotation, Siri and many more.
You can also create custom gestures by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch > Create New Gesture. The screen allows you to do any movement you want and will record it, from pinching, sliding and swiping to circles, taps, or whatever you can think of. If you're working with an app that requires a very specific gesture, you can do that here and record it. Once it's been recorded, you simply name your gesture and it will now appear in your AssistiveTouch menu under Favorites. Choose the gesture, touch the screen and little blue finger points will flawlessly reenact the gesture you recorded.
To see AssistiveTouch in action along with a tutorial on how to make your own custom gestures, check out this video:
For more information about iPad features for users with motor disabilities, check out Apple's article on Physical and Motor Skills.