Supporting neuro-diverse learners with iPad’s accessibility features

Technology can assist those with a range of challenges to access and enhance learning. So what can iPad offer to neuro-diverse learners and, in particular, those with dyslexia?

To introduce myself, I am currently working as an Apple Education Trainer for Jigsaw24, who are the leading Apple Solutions Expert for Education in the UK. Previously, I have worked as a musician and educator, principally in the further education space. Jigsaw24 have been lucky enough to work alongside Dyslexia Action as well as the British Dyslexia Association, Patoss and Helen Arkell on the recent DfE supported training tour, where our five minute taster session presenting some of the ideas discussed in this article have been met with excitement and enthusiasm.

For some time now, technology has provided us with many wonderful – and usually bespoke – solutions for a range of challenges to learning that our students face in their classrooms. These clever pieces of kit often target one specific need and can be relatively expensive, not particularly portable, and require extensive training. Typically, learners will exhibit a range of challenges and behaviours – they are ‘neuro-diverse’. Providing technological solutions to support each behaviour could very quickly become unmanageable and cost-prohibitive, unless the technology can address both a range of challenges and, perhaps crucially, also support the learning of each student on a more general level.

Unfortunately targeted solutions can also create a stigma for the user or be seen as a label. This is not ideal in any situation, but in a classroom, which is already a highly sensitive melting pot of behaviours and emotions, the effect can be detrimental where the aim is to improve rather than detract from learning.

Stigma-free technology

So wouldn’t it be great if there was a stigma-free device for learning that included a wide range of tools that would support both learning in a general sense and challenges identified under the neuro-diversity umbrella? A device that all learners were using and which was able to support both those who have identified challenges and those who do not? Then the stigma created by technological technological solutions may start to disappear. iPad is that device.

iPad is fast becoming ubiquitous in schools, but that doesn’t mean simply by buying iPad that you will improve learning. In my role as an Apple Education Trainer, it has become my mission to increase awareness of the opportunities these tools give us, both to support those with identified challenges, and learning in the classroom in a more general sense.

It is not unusual for me to visit a school where iPad is being used just for browsing the internet, with no awareness of the possibilities they present and the support they can provide. At one recent event we asked the question: ‘How many of you have iPad in your school?’ 180 hands went up. Then we asked: ‘How many of your schools are using these devices effectively?’ 180 hands went down.

So I would like to give you a small range of examples that show how iPad can support a classroom where learning can be reimagined, and students with a range of needs can work alongside their peers with no fear of stigma. My intention is to catch your interest, and encourage you to find out more – details at the end of the article!

Help with reading

Computers traditionally display text as small fine black shapes against a bright white background. Ironically designed as an enhancement of the printed book, this format presents challenges on a number of levels. iPad contains a simple function in the Settings app called Invert Colours (tap General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations). This will literally swap white for black, which for some immediately makes reading more comfortable, reduces visual stress, and makes print more legible.

Invert Colours

Invert Colours

An intervention for those with forms of dyslexia and/or Irlen Syndrome has been to provide colour overlays for printed materials and computer screens. The latest version of the operating system that runs on iPad (iOS 10) now includes a feature that allows you to customise a colour overlay for the whole device. Again in the Settings app (tap General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations) simply choose your colour tint and hue, and visual stress can be immediately reduced. This overlay will then feature in any app that you use on the iPad.

Colour FiltersImage 02B

Help for the visually impaired

Screen readers are a proven technology and very helpful for some. iPad contains several ways for users to make their device talk to them, from the ‘light touch’ to a complete voiceover feature for the visually impaired. Enabling Speak Selection (in the Settings app, tap General > Accessibility > Speech) allows the user to select specific text when required and have it spoken to them in a range of voices. Speak Screen (also found in Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech) on the other hand, enables the screen reader function which is activated by simple gesture (swipe down with two fingers from the very top of your screen, once the function has been enabled in Settings.)

This has many uses – aside from the obvious screen reader functions which will support those with visual challenges, this enables all learners to review their own work and check it where simply reading the words is not enough. Speak Screen works everywhere on iPad once enabled. Combined with the Reader function in the Safari web browser app (which removes all the clutter from a webpage leaving the simple text), gives easier access to online materials for those for whom graphics and text layout create a barrier.

Screen Reader

Help with focusing

Guided Access (Settings app, tap General > Accessibility > Guided Access) is a feature some say was originally added to iPhone to help tired parents on long-haul flights, but it is also a great feature for assisting learners who are easily distracted by the possibilities that a device like iPad offers. Enabling Guided Access allows you to lock the iPad into a single app. This means the user can stay on task, and remain in a safe environment while your busy back is turned supporting another student.

And while Guided Access is ideal in a one-to-one intervention scenario, Apple’s recent release of the Classroom app means that teachers and those working with groups can focus activity on a set of devices with simple commands from the teacher’s device.

Guided Access

The accessibility features listed above work most effectively where each student has their own device, so features can be personalised to every situation. In many schools this is simply not an option from a cost point of view, which is where the Shared iPad feature comes in. Each shared device will remember the individual settings chosen by or for each user, and recall those settings when the user logs in (a simple matter of tapping your own image on the Home screen).

Apple Classroom

Accessibility apps

Most apps haven’t been designed with accessibility in mind, but many of the most popular classroom apps offer learners a choice of ways to create content and capture evidence, combined with their ease of use – something that’s essential for the teacher or assistant who is not necessarily technologically minded!

Book Creator lets you add photos and type – but any word processor can do that. Where Book Creator scores is the ability to quickly and simply add rich media content (sound recordings and video recordings, for example) at the press of a button. Learners challenged by text can easily record rich ideas without barriers. This also lends itself really well to the notion of providing instruction, recorded by teacher or student. Its page-based layout supports the clear structuring of information, and it is very easy for teachers or students to create a book comprising rich media as a way of sharing instructions or ideas.

And it helps that Book Creator is designed by developers with a keen eye on the education space. A clear example is the inclusion of the Open Dyslexic Font in the font choices.

Book Creator

These examples are but a small selection of what is possible, both with built-in features and apps. iPad is continuing the great tradition of Mac in offering an inclusive approach to technology which was started back in 1984 by Steve Jobs, a man who himself didn’t allow dyslexia to be a barrier to success.

Meeting Learners’ Needs events

If you’d like to know more about iPad and its accessibility features, and get hands-on with these ideas and many more, why not enrol on one of our upcoming half day Meeting Learners’ Needs courses? Suitable for both primary and secondary teachers, they’re a great chance to find out more about how you can use iPad to make an impact with a wide range of learners. Venue and date details as follows:

– 28th February 2017, London. 9am-12pm or 1pm-4pm. £75 per delegate.

– 1st March 2017, Nottingham. 9am-12pm or 1pm-4pm. £75 per delegate.

For more information about iPad, and to book yourself onto our courses, call us on 03332 409 290 or email For all the latest technology in education news, reviews and articles, follow @Jigsaw24Edu on Twitter or ‘Like’ our Jigsaw24 Education Facebook page.


Call us: 03332 409 306

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