Accessibility on the iPad in Schools

My friend Matt Gemmell recently posted an in-depth article on the accessibility features of iOS devices. It's worth a read, although educationalists reading this blog may wish to skip the deep discussion of UIAccessibilityContainer.

I wanted to highlight this issue, though, because it's a question I often don't get when talking to teachers and educational administrators about the iPad, and I'm not sure why. I suspect it's probably that assistive technology for blind and deaf pupils and their teachers is considered a bit of a specialism.

It might seem, at first glance, that a featureless sheet of glass would be the worst possible interaction surface for a blind user - the exact opposite of a braille screen reader. It's worth reading the section entitled "How VoiceOver works" in Matt's article for a quick overview of the deep support for screen-reading in iOS.

The point I want to make is this: in iOS, assistive technologies are built in. You don't need to buy anything extra. There's not "an app for that" - it's in every device.

Secondly, the assistive technologies in iOS go beyond reading the screen. There are also features to allow zooming the display up (to incredible degrees of magnification), large text and white-on-black inverted display colours.

We don't currently have any pupils at Cedars with serious vision problems but I was recently reflecting on another kind of "accessibility".

The iPad Band

I particularly enjoy the novel uses of iPad that we never expected to crop up. A good example of this is the iPad Band. One of our primary teachers who's heaviliy involved in music in the school came across a number of great instrument simulators for the iPad. We deployed a few of these ("Percussive", "Drums!" and "Holiday Bells") ahead of our nativity play rehearsals and set the kids to practicing.

The results were fun. Everyone's had the experience of diving into a crate of percussion instruments and hoping you won't be left with the pair of Indian Bells with one bell missing. With the iPad, everyone has a range of fully-working virtual instruments.

Here's some video from a rehearsal:

Why am I telling you this in a post that started with iOS accessibility for the blind? Well, there's a broader kind of "accessibility" and it involves using technology to open up areas of the curriculum to children who would often either be excluded or exclude themselves.

Music is one of those areas where some children seem to believe themselves "not musical", whether they don't have a musical tradition in their family or they find the physical coordination of playing an instrument difficult. We are trying to use the iPad to open up music to as many pupils as possible.