Joan Tanenhaus explores some of the features and adaptations for Apple and Android tablets that make them accessible to those with special educational needs

When Steve Jobs and Apple announced the iPad in January 2010 none of us imagined the impact that this device would have on the computing world, on special educational needs (SEN) or upon the world of technology in general. As of September 2014, there were over 1.3 million apps in the App Store with over 75 billion (yes, that’s thousand million) downloads. With so many of those being educational apps, the iPad can be said to also have changed the way children learn and communicate.


Switch control with scanning
Then, in September 2013, when Apple announced iOS 7, it once again greatly impacted how the iPad could be used by those with special needs. This new system and its subsequent upgrades have many new and exciting features, but the most impressive for those for SEN was the inclusion of switch control with scanning.

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

This feature enabled single-switch use with row-column scanning and dual-switch step scanning. It also created guided access, which locks in one app and prevents the use of the home button to exit the app, an important educational feature. In November 2014, it was announced that Android’s new Lollipop would have switch access. There are many video tutorials online that will help you connect your switch and set up switch control in Apple devices. Here are a few links to start with:

Switch Control in iOS 7
iOS 7 Switch Control – An Introduction
iOS 7 Switch Control – Set Up A Single Switch with Auto Scanning
iOS 7 Switch Control – Set Up Dual Switches with Step Scanning

For excellent print resources:
How can I set up Switch Control for one switch scanning using an external switch?
iOS 7 Switch Control: The Missing User Guide

In addition, there are many apps that have switch access built into them by the developers. Some of these include:
Ablenet
AssistiveWare
Attainment
Computerade
Creative Communicating
Inclusive TLC
Inclusive Technology Ltd
Judy Lynn
LifeTool Solutions
Marblesoft
RJCooper
TapSpeak
Therapy Box


Switch interfaces
Of course, in order to use a switch with the iPad you will need a switch interface. Here are a few that are available:

New Blue2 Switch (Ablenet)

Blue2 Switch

Blue2 Switch

The NEW Blue2 Bluetooth switch interface provides single or dual-switch access to all idevices (iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone) running iOS7 or later, as well as to Apple desktop or laptop computers running OS X Mavericks, and all switch accessible apps or software on iOS, OSX, Windows and Android. A nice feature of the New Blue2 Switch is the inclusion of wall adapters for all different outlets – two round pins (Europe & Asia), two flat angled blades (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, China), two flat parallel blades (North and South America, Japan) and three prong rectangular blades (Africa, Hong Kong, Great Britain, Ireland). Adapter plugs allow plugs to fit into international outlets – they do not convert electricity. The new Blue2 contains two switch activation surfaces that are easy to press – or connect your individual switch/switches via two switch jacks so that any and all switches can be used to control the interface. You can also use it with switch-adapted apps, as mentioned above. If you are using an iOS device with Blue2, activating the keyboard toggle button, located on the side of the interface, will bring up the on-screen keyboard.

APPlicator Switch Interface (Inclusive TLC)

Applicator Switch Interface

Applicator Switch Interface

This Bluetooth switch interface provides access to both apps and music, with up to four switches. Switch sockets default to the most frequently used settings (space, enter, 1, 3) but you can also re-program them into 24 mouse/keyboard commands (ie, up arrow, down arrow, play/pause, volume up, down, mute, and others). It can also be set to Timed Play – 10 seconds – which can be used for cause & effect. You can use a switch and the APPlicator to take pictures with the iPad, and the APPlicator will also let you bring up the on-screen keyboard manually at any time. The APPlicator works with iPad, IPad mini, iPod (3rd & 4th generations) and the iPhone (iOS 5.0 and later).

J-Pad Joystick Interface (Pretorian)

J-Pad Joystick Interface

J-Pad Joystick Interface

This Bluetooth interface lets you use the joystick control along with left and right buttons to do manual scanning on your iPad. You can access apps, music, iBooks, the camera, on-screen keyboard, home button, and more, with one or two switches. Other speech interfaces are available from RJCooper, TeclaTherapy Box and Pretorian. iPad users with physical disabilities may still require additional help and/or adaptive equipment to take advantage of touch access.


Assistive touch
This is a feature found in the Accessibility options. Its main goal is to help those with physical disabilities who need help in using the regular gestures and commands. It allows them to do these (ie, pinching, zooming, etc.) with alternative touch requirements. For additional information visit the Apple support page here.


Adaptive equipment
An amazing collection of adaptive equipment created and produced by Ivo Beckers from the Netherlands is available from Shapedad/Etsy. Ivo designed and makes these assistive devices for iPads and other capacitive devices. Thanks, Ivo for the time and effort you have taken to help those with SEN. With fulfilment locations in Europe and the US, fast and economical shipping is available. If you want to know more about Ivo, you can find information here.

Steady Stylus

Steady Stylus

Steady Stylus

This T-shaped stylus is excellent with those who have difficulties holding a regular stylus but who are able to firmly grasp with their hand. It is available in two sizes: regular and junior. The junior is geared towards younger children and uses Chewy Tubes as it core and a grip made from transparent rubber wrapped around a wooden stick. The pointer is made from aluminium with a conductive fabric sock plug as the tip.

 

Strap Stylus

Strap Stylus

Strap Stylus

This consists of a longer stylus that is placed between the index finger and the thumb with a strong Velcro strap that holds it in place. It does not need to be grasped or held, but it moves in sync with the hand.

 

 

 

Flex Stylus

Flex Stylus

Flex Stylus

This stylus can be held with the knuckles. It is made of a flexible metal strip that can then be bent to the exact angle that works. The metal is covered with a braided cotton sleeve and a silicon tube for extra grip.

 

 

 

Mouthstick Stylus

Mouth Stick Stylus

Mouth Stick Stylus

This stylus contains three parts: the mouthpiece, the stick and a conductive plug (tip). The mouthpiece is made from a durable food-safe plastic and comes with a set of silicone caps for a snap-fit connection with the stick. The stick is 12” (30 cm) long and made from anodised aluminium. And the conductive plug uses the same conductive fabric stylus sock concept as all ShapeDad’s other capacitive styli. There are two versions: a regular fixed 12” version and a Pro version that telescopes from 9” to 17” in length.

 

Head Pointer & Stylus (including 12” tube pointer + 13” flex pointer)

Head Pointer

Head Pointer

This fully adjustable head-mount helmet fits hat sizes 6.5 through 7.8 and includes a stainless steel mounting plate with pointer of choice (four alternatives include a 12” and 14” tube pointer and a 13” and 15” flex pointer). Ready to use in a minute; adjust the headband, mount the pointer and go!

 

 

Swiss Stylus

Swiss Stylus

Swiss Stylus

The Swiss Stylus addresses many (special) kinds of gripping needs. It is a strong brass strip covered with transparent tubing and creates a natural extension of your finger or hand. You can hold and control it in many ways.

 

 

Balltop Stylus

Balltop Stylus

Balltop Stylus

This ball-shaped stylus has a solid birch wooden ball grip and strong aluminium pointer covered with a highly conductive fabric tip. No drag or pressure required. It works for people who have difficulties holding an object like a pen, but who are able to firmly grasp something with their hand. The grip diameter is 45 mm, the stick length (including the tip) is 95 mm and the tip diameter is 9 mm.


Also worth considering

Table Top Suction Mount (available from Inclusive Technology)

Table Top Suction Mount

Table Top Suction Mount

This RAM mount system provides a strong, stable and moveable mount for tablets on any flat surface, such as desk, lap-tray or table. There is a twist-lock suction cup at the bottom that attaches the mount securely to any flat surface (glass, table top, desk, etc.) and it can easily be removed and re-installed to another area, as needed. This makes it an excellent choice if you are using your tablet in different locations with different users throughout the day and need to have it securely placed each time. It suctions and releases in seconds. The rubber-ball-and-socket system allows you to adjust for different positions and viewing angles. The tablet can be placed in either portrait or landscape orientation and provides access to all controls and jacks. The holder is available in a wide range of sizes and types (Android, iPad Air, iPad Mini, etc.) and can easily be changed. If you prefer to attach this mount permanently, change the base to the one with pre-drilled holes that can be screwed into the table top’s flat surface. You can also get a dial combination lock which provides safety against theft. Ram Mounts has a large collection of mounts for your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android and mounting systems for table edges, round bars, beds, wheelchairs, etc.

BubCap Pro for iPad (available from RJCooper)

BubCap Pro for iPad

BubCap Pro for iPad

This is a cover that fits over the Home button of the iPad. It is a small aluminium tab that adheres to the Home button and keeps it from being pressed by the student. It prevents students from exiting out of apps that they are working on. RJ has adapted the commercially available product to make it easier for the professional to use to exit.

 

 

The Hand Glider (available from The Hand Glider)

The Hand Glider

The Hand Glider

This accessory will help those who have difficulty pointing and selecting because they accidentally input to the tablet with the palm or side of their hand. This is a specially made two-finger glove that covers parts of the wrist and palm, pinky and ring finger and keeps them from being detected by the tablet. It lets the user rest their hand on the tablet. It comes in three sizes and can be used on both the right and left hand.

This article is a brief overview and not meant to be an exclusive list of adaptive equipment. There are keyboards, styluses, protective cases and covers, projection devices, etc. If you need something special, it’s probably out there, so keep looking or ask one of the above companies for help. If all else fails I can be reached at DISKoveries@aol.com.

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About Contributors

Joan Tanenhaus, MA, CCC, speech-language pathologist/assistive technology specialist, is Founder and Executive Director of Technology for Language and Learning, Inc., a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing the use of computers and technology with children and adults with special needs. (e-mail: ForTLL@aol.com)

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