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Switch Access on the IPad

by Craig Mill

on Wed Mar 14, 2012

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iPad Accessibility Options

iPads have a range of built-in Accessibility options such as text-to-speech (VoiceOver) and screen magnification (Zoom) which are particularly useful for learners with a visual difficulty. For example VoiceOver will read information on the iPad's screen including icons, settings and text-based apps such as email, word processing and web pages. These options will allow a pupil who is blind or has a visual impairment to independently access, use and enjoy an iPad in the same way as a sighted user. 

Capacitive touchscreen

However for those pupils who have fine motor difficulties the iPad’s touch screen can be difficult or impossible to use. The iPad has a capacitive touchscreen and requires finger and hand gestures such as ‘Pinching’, ‘Swiping’ and ‘Tapping’ to move between and open and close Apps. Increasingly there are Apps which support fine motor skills and contain 'tap' and 'hold' or 'delay' settings but these only work from within the App. This means that a pupil with a motor difficulty can use certain Apps with these features but would be unable to access other areas of the screen independently. Companies such as BeyondAdaptive offer keyguards which can be placed over the screen but as there are so many varied touch and tap positions between Apps, this option is impracticable and expensive. 

Another option is to connect a USB keyboard (with a keyguard) to an iPad using a USB Camera Connection Kit but again this would only allow access to text input based Apps such as Notes or Pages.

Switch Access

Switch access is another option but developments in this area are still in the early stages. Currently the conventional way of setting up a switch to an iPad is by pairing a Bluetooth device using the Bluetooth option in the Settings menu (Settings General Bluetooth).

Bluetooth examples include RJ Cooper's Bluetooth Super-Switch; the Switchbox by Therapy-Box and AbleNet’s Blue2 Bluetooth Switch. Another option is the ‘it-iClick - iPad Switch Interface’ by Inclusive Technology which plugs directly into the iPad but still requires to be ‘paired’ before it can be used. Pairing devices is not an exact science particularly if there are other Bluetooth devices active in a small area. Setting up Bluetooth switch access can be challenging and time consuming. 

Unfortunately not all Apps are switch accessible and the range of options between switch enabled Apps vary from a range of comprehensive settings such as Step-scan, Row/column, Auditory scanning to very basic settings such as ‘Turn Scan On/Off. Jane Farrall’s Blog provides an excellent guide to ‘How do I use a switch with an iPad’ and a comprehensive list of switch accessible Apps (in PDF format).

However a more recent development is the exciting work by Komodo OpenLab and the Inclusive Design Research Centre who have developed a full switch access solution to iOS devices  and claim that it is the first-ever single-switch solution providing access to the entire iDevice, not just a few apps!

The following video provides a preview of the switch access system in action.

Tags: switch access, ipad, accessibility

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