I am lucky enough to live my life without any disabilities. I count my blessings everyday for this. My daughter was born with a mild hearing loss; she wears hearing aids to help with the issue. I know that she will need some accommodations and extra features in the future to allow her to access the content to the same extent as others.
I personally use an iPhone, and my school provides 15 iPads available for student use in each classroom. I did not realize how much effort Apple puts into making their devices accessible when I bought my iPhone, but I have since learned a great deal about the extra consideration that goes into the functionality of their products. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, spoke about how his company emphasizes helping all members of society by stating, “people with disabilities often find themselves in a struggle to have their human dignity acknowledged. They frequently are left in the shadows of technological advancements that are a source of empowerment and attainment for others. But Apple’s engineers push back against this unacceptable reality, they go to extraordinary lengths to make our products accessible to people with various disabilities from blindness and deafness to various muscular disorders” (Ritchie, 2014). I am so happy to live in a time when people and companies such as Apple care about helping everyone and proud to work in a school system that purchased Apple iPads to allow access to all of our students.
I have compiled the list of features that can help students with special needs from my own knowledege of the products and from the Apple webpage about Accessibility. While I realize that it is a promotional webpage to sell their product, I have tried many of the features or seen the special education staff in my building using these options, so I feel confident in the possibilities they offer.
The following features on iPad and iPhone will be helpful to people who are blind or have vision disabilities:
- VoiceOver is a screenreader that will read the content of the screen as well as the battery level, what app your finger is hovering on, and who is calling. It features adjustable speaking rates and many different languages. VoiceOver also allows direct braille entry without a physical keyboard and braille displays.
- Zoom allows the user to magnify the screen up to 1,500% as a full screen or a picture in picture option.
- Display accommodations gives the options to invert the colors, use grayscale to enhance visibility, or use color filters to support varying forms or color blindness.
- Speak Screen will read the text on the screen with adjustments for dialect and speaking rate. I have seen the teacher in my school who works with English Language Learners use this feature so that they can hear and read the words at the same time as they increase fluency in their new language. This would be very helpful for students who cannot read the words on the screen but still need to know what is happening in the story or article.
- Magnifier uses the camera in the iPhone or iPad as a magnifying glass to increase the size of anything you point it at. This can be especially helpful for people who need to read labels in a grocery store or menus at a restaurant that are not available in large print. The special education teacher in my school uses this feature with a student in her room who has very limited eyesight due to a form of macular degeneration but still needs to read from the textbook or workbook.
The following features on iPad and iPhone will be helpful to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have other auditory disabilities:
- Face Time is a form of video messaging that is very functional for sign language communication.
- iMessage is a text messaging system that allows for almost instant communication by reading/typing instead of listening.
- Mono Audio lets the user play both audio channels in both ears through a headset instead of the distinct left-channel and right-channel tracks. The user can adjust the volume in each ear independently if the hearing loss is not symmetrical. This will be useful for my daughter as she grows up and may need to listen to audio or video as part of a class lesson, but her left ear can pick up some frequencies better than her right ear.
- Visible Alerts can be used of, or in addition to, a tone or vibration. When an event or notification occurs, the iPhone will have a light flash to alert the user or can display a certain picture.
- Made for iPhone Hearing Aids are hearing aids that connect to the iPhone through Bluetooth so that the user can adjust volume levels, check battery levels, and switch environmental presents for moving outdoors or into a noisy restaurant where the iPhone is the only remote needed. The hearing aids can also be supported with the Live Listen feature that will use the microphone in the iPhone or iPad to pick up what a speaker is saying more clearly and stream directly to the hearing aids. Right now, my daughter’s hearing aids can only be adjusted by her audiologist. It would be very convenient for her (or me as a parent right now while she is still young) to adjust her hearing aids as needed. A student with a hearing impairment in my class last year disliked going to the cafeteria for lunch because it was too noisy. I think that she might have enjoyed it more if she could have adjusted the volume for that setting which was very different from the classroom.
The following features on iPad and iPhone will be helpful to people who have physical or motor difficulties:
- Switch Control allows someone who cannot physically interact with technology to use various devices to control the computer. Some examples are a joystick, a head switch, sensory plate or a trackball mouse.
- AssisstiveTouch allows the user to change gestures such as pinching or customize gestures such as tapping, shaking, or rotating to control the device.
- Touch Accommodations allow the user to adjust how the touch screen responds. This can allow the user to put a finger on the screen and then move to the desired location without performing other actions based on how long the screen was touched.
- Dictation allows the user to talk instead of typing. This can be very useful for students who have trouble with their fine motor skills and cannot line their finger up appropriately to tap on the small keyboard keys.
The following features on iPad and iPhone will be helpful to people who have a learning disability:
- Text-to-Speech feature will read a highlighted section of text to the user. This is currently used with many students in my school who have an IEP or 504 plan and need passages or test questions read aloud to them as part of their accommodations. The teacher or instructional assistant is not always able to read every question to every student when some want to work ahead and some work slowly, so the computer does some of the reading for us.
- Safari Reader displays websites without ads, buttons, or navigation bars. By taking away the visual clutter, students are better able to focus on the article or passage, especially if the student already has challenges with focus such as ADHD.
- Predictive Text can suggest word options based on previous words and the starting letters of the current word. This helps many students with spelling difficulty and vocabulary limitations.
Apple (2016). Accessibility. Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/accessibility/
Ritchie, R. (2014, July 9). Apple and accessibility: Pushing back against unacceptable realities [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.imore.com/apple-and-accessibility-pushing-back-against-unacceptable-realities