As promised in the last post, we’re going to dive into the built-in accessibility features – after all, these are what allow me to really be able to use the iPad. After a few weeks of learning about my new iPad, I was able to answer the question of whether or not a visually impaired person, like me, could use this device. I sure can.
When you turn the iPad on for the first time, the Accessibility options are not on. So what do you do? You can turn the iPad Accessibility options on directly through your iPad or through iTunes on your computer – this way you can do it at home with the help of tools you are already familiar with.
The three major components of iPad Accessibility that can be useful for people with low vision are:
- White on Black
- Zoom magnification
- VoiceOver screen reading
The White on Black feature reverses all of the colors on the screen. I use this feature because it’s easier on my eyes to see white text on a black background. Even with the better contrast offered by White on Black, I still cannot read the unmagnified text, but it does make the onscreen keyboard letters easier to see. For those of you familiar with ZoomText, the iPad’s White on Black feature is similar to ZoomText’s Reverse Video color enhancement.
The Zoom feature offers full screen magnification in levels up to five times magnification. Zoom magnifies everything on the screen, which means you will not be able to see your entire screen at the same time. The quality of the magnified text is a bit blurry – kind of like using Windows Magnifier. Zoom works fairly well, but would be an inefficient way to use the iPad all the time, especially at high magnification. The screen does not track to a focus area; for example, when a pop up window came up on my screen, the screen didn’t automatically move to it so I didn’t know it was there. And instead of navigating with the mouse, you use your fingers on the iPad’s touch screen to navigate. I would suggest using VoiceOver screen reader on the iPad as the standard mode of operation, and use Zoom as you need it.
With VoiceOver, the iPad will speak while you navigate the screen and will read the text on the screen when you ask it to. For example, it will read the icons on the home screen, read your Inbox, mail messages, attachments, and web pages. It works quite well and I enjoy using it. Sometimes you have to repeat finger gestures, but overall, VoiceOver is pretty reliable.
The first thing you should know if you’re considering the iPad for its built-in accessibility features is that the VoiceOver and Zoom features cannot be used at the same time. I found this very disappointing at first, but it really isn’t efficient or realistic to use Zoom all the time on this device. With certain gesture options, you can quickly change from Zoom to VoiceOver, and vice versa.
The Apple iPad is in fact “cool”. The big bonus is that it’s a tool to make my life a little more normal as a visually impaired person. It’s designed well – it often does things the way you want or better than you expect.
It’s not just one feature or App that puts it over the top for me.
It’s a combination of being able to catch up on local news while lying on the living room floor (like other people!). It’s sharing my slide shows at the spur of the moment. It’s watching a movie on an airplane. It’s having an updated calendar with me at all times. It’s attending a meeting from a coffee shop instead of a hot stuffy room where I can’t see the slide show presentation anyways.
So far, the Apple iPad has not been a life changing tool for me, but I would definitely describe it as a game changer. It makes what I can already do easier, more compact, more portable, and certainly more fun.
Stay tuned later this week for a video post that will show you exactly how to use each of the accessibility features!