The iPad’s features make it the ideal mobile device for those with special educational needs, but as Roger Bates explains to make the most of it you may need to accessoriseAlthough small portable technology had been available for some time, it was only with the arrival of the iPod Touch in 2007 that it became apparent that this type of device would become widely adopted. The locked down system may not have appealed to many diehard computer enthusiasts, but the simplicity, reliability and consistency of the interface proved attractive to all users and offered a great deal for those with access difficulties. Over time the accessibility options have improved as a result of user feedback and a recognition that many of these options are of general benefit.
The popularity and portability of the Apple devices soon led to the development of carrying cases, protective covers and mounting accessories for those who could not bear to be parted from their devices. In fact the beautiful slim design made it almost essential to have some kind of holder as it could otherwise so easily be dropped. With the number of iPad holders and mounting accessories running into thousands, including many designed to help those who need additional support with access issues, making a choice can take some time.
Factors to consider
In order to choose suitable iPad accessories we need to consider how the user interacts with their iPad, where and when they need to use it and the type of application they will benefit from using. It is also advisable to check that the accessory you choose is suitable for the particular model of iPad you wish to use it with.
- If access is principally by touch does the user touch it gently or do they press firmly on the screen?
- Do they need help with holding their device?
- Do they need to use it while walking/standing?
- Is it liable to be dropped or get other rough treatment?
- Will you want to move it from one mounting situation to another, such as from a wheelchair to a table?
- Is it mainly to be used with an external keyboard or switches?
- Do they need to be close to the screen to see the display?
- Are they wanting to carry and use any accessories such as loudspeakers?
- Are they concerned about style and appearance?
- Can it stay in the case or do they wish to be able to take it out easily?
- Do they want easy access to connectors, cameras and the ear phone socket?
- Is extra sound volume needed?
Before choosing an iPad case it’s important to look carefully at the prospective user, to assess their abilities to access it and to experiment with the benefits of positioning, angle, seating and so on. Finding a good mounting position and the right case to provide the best operating environment can allow the user to make the best use of their iPad.
The motivation provided by many iPad apps and the child’s wish to use what he sees everybody else use can have a huge impact on access. Don’t be afraid first of all to experiment using different apps and holding the iPad in different places to find out what is the best position for the user and for the device. If they are able to hold the iPad and use it themselves they will be able to find their own best position, thus helping in the choice of holder.
Categories of iPad cases
There are many different holders and cases designed to offer a range of features and degrees of protection and portability. These include:
- Basic protection and ease of carrying/holding, often designed to appeal to children by being made in different colours. Many are fitted with either a detachable or built-in stand and carrying handle.
- Rugged cases offering increased protection, often including moisture or waterproofing as well as improved screenprotection. A good option especially if the iPad is required for out-door use.
- Cases with integrated keyboards (Bluetooth) can be a good way of providing an easily portable writing system for anyone who has difficulty using the on-screen keyboard.
- Some cases provide sound amplification, using acoustic principles that can usefully boost the volume without demanding additional battery power.
Specialised cases have been developed aimed mainly at users of AAC applications. These include additional amplification to make them audible in everyday situations and facilities for attachment to adaptable mounting solutions.
Holders and frames
The popular ‘soft’ holders Big Grips frames and Kensington SafeGrip make access much easier for users who may find it hard to hold their device without that hand also touching the screen area, thus preventing the screen responding to their other hand. The soft holders also offer good protection to the iPad if it is dropped, allow controls and cameras to be used, are easily removed when not needed and can be cleaned if required.
They are made from a light material adding little extra weight, which may make all the difference for some users who may find heavier cases too much to manage. The Kensington SafeGrip has a built-in handle which doubles as a two-position, angled stand. The stands available for the Big Grips can hold the device at a good angle for viewing but would not withstand a strong press on the screen. A carrying case with shoulder strap, the Hipster, for the Big Grips makes for easy carrying as well as providing space for other bits and pieces.
Both these holders have proved very useful as general purpose classroom accessories giving simple low cost protection to iPads in day-to-day use.
There is a wide selection of carrying cases offering a range of features from the inexpensive TTS iPad case with a useful hand-strap, great for access on the move, up to extra strong rugged cases. As well as offering extra protection for outdoor use these cases are designed to protect the iPad when they are dropped, a real benefit for users with mobility and motor difficulties.
Portability and durability are of particular importance for users of communication applications. The GoNow cases offer this as well as the benefit of improved audio without requiring extra amplification. The additional accessories of case and carry strap may be useful for transportation and availability when required. Weatherproof cases often use covers to protect the ports and earphone sockets, which may prove hard to open if required.
Two cases that meet the requirement for much greater sound output in a single unit, principally for communication use, are the iAdapter and the Connect for iPad. These both contain an additional amplifier (provided with its own charger) and speakers, as well as fittings for mounting systems. They are offered as an attractive alternative to traditional purpose-built communication devices by offering both communication and access to iPad apps.
While all iPads can be accessed by the various Bluetooth switch-control systems the Connect offers the additional feature of inputs to take standard wired switches, meaning there is one less device to keep charged.
Cases with keyboards
There are very many cases incorporating a Bluetooth keyboard, either fixed or as an easy-to-carry package. Importantly most of these involve a way of positioning the screen to create an ergonomic system. There are two that are worth singling out as they both incorporate additional features that may provide better access for some users. The Grip Case Scribe is in two pieces with the keyboard fitting onto the case and acting as a screen protector for carrying.
It also has an acoustic chamber to help increase the sound volume – useful for users who need audio feedback. The ChesterKeys and case is an all-in-one system that is available with two keyboard options with either colour-coded keys or black keys with a bold font for better visibility. Both options include extra keys that give direct access to some basic iPad functions.
The size and lightness of the iPad makes it easy for many users to get it in a good position to suit their needs, whether they are using it with touch, switches or an external keyboard. There is however a danger that many children will use their iPads flat on a table or on their knees, which often results in them adopting a poor posture. Many cases do have some form of stand and if this is not available or suitable the iSlope or iRizer stands can provide a sloping platform that encourages a better posture.
When more flexibility in positioning is needed a mounting system may be required. These usually take the form of a holder for the iPad that can be attached to an adjustable arm and fixing system. Depending on where and when the iPad is needed, the mounting can be fixed to a desk or table edge, part of wheelchair, etc. For greatest flexibility the Bamboo system is available in a range of options or a bespoke wheelchair set-up can be designed from photographs to meet an individual situation.
The strength and rigidity of the mounting arm system required can depend on how the iPad is used; those who operate their iPad with a firm direct screen touch will need a rigid system that can maintain its position. Users who operate their iPad with switches, an external keyboard or with a light touch may find the flexible mounts such as the Flexzi 3 or Gooseneck arm sufficient.
While it is important to check than your device is compatible with the accessory you wish to use, the Ram X-Grip arms and holder system has introduced a new level of choice and flexibility by offering a series of spring-loaded holders that can accommodate different devices within each size range. This could be a big
advantage as it can cater for changes in the size of the iPad or to allow you to fit another tablet.
The flexibility and convenience of the iPad, which can now provide excellent accessibility options combined with an extensive range of apps for all ages and abilities, make it a powerful tool to help people communicate, access information and interact with their environment. Combined with the right accessories it can open up so many opportunities.