Increasing accessibility with iPad in the classroom

Increasing accessibility with iPad in the classroom

iPad has become the technology of choice in UK classrooms, providing tools to support learning but also addressing the diverse range of challenges some learners face – without introducing the stigma that other technologies can often create in the classroom.

Check out our video to find out how iPad provides a toolkit to support learning for all students, regardless of their unique abilities.


If you want to know more about iPad in education, give us a call on 03332 409 290 or email For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Edu on Twitter, or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.


Supporting neuro-diverse learners with iPad’s accessibility features

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.


Helping students with complex learning difficulties communicate at Great Oaks School

Helping students with complex learning difficulties communicate at Great Oaks School

After working with Creative Partnerships and the Department of Electronic Computer Science at Southampton University on a range of new technology trials, Great Oaks School joined Jigsaw24’s e7 Project to see if iPad mini would be able to help students with a range of learning and communication difficulties access the curriculum. The results? Increased engagement and communication, plus one or two surprises…

Download this case study as a PDF

Great Oaks School initially started using iPad as a communication device for SLD (Severe Learning Difficulties) students. Working with Erica Smith from Creative Partnerships and E.A Draffan from the University of Southampton, they attempted to find a digital alternative to their existing PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) and to set up their own social networking system, which eventually became the Go!Platform.

“To make a new symbol for the PECS really is an onerous task,” explained Creative co-ordinator Roger Hardy, “because you have to go to the internet, you need to purchase a license to be able to use the symbols, get the symbol up, print it out, chop that out and velcro it both sides to create a set of new resources. That’s a lot of work for our support staff, so we were originally looking to see if there were ready-made apps on iPad that we could use to replace that.”

Despite some initial frustrations with the apps on offer – many used a different PECS symbol set to Great Oaks’, were “too American”, “gimmicky” or “made the massive assumption that SLD students would be able to navigate away from a page and come back” – Great Oaks’ team were impressed with the potential of iPad, and the volume of resources available through the App Store. They began looking into other potential uses for the device.

Joining the e7 Project

“I was looking on the Internet for organisations that were doing development work with schools and iPad, and Jigsaw24 came up,” said Roger. “Originally, we were told that because of the size of the school we didn’t really qualify. Then I got a call back saying that they were thinking about working with special schools and schools of different sizes and they were happy with what I’d put in writing already and thought it might be worth developing.”

After consulting with their e7 representative, Andy Cain, the Great Oaks team decided to opt for iPad mini during their trial, as these devices were not only easier for children to hold, but included a built-in camera that could be used as part of the school’s many cross-curricular creative projects, and would allow staff to take pictures of real items around school to use as PECS symbols.

Getting staff trained on iPad (and winning over parents)

A few of the teachers at Great Oaks already used iPad as their main device, so were receptive to twilight training sessions run by Erica Smith and creative trainer Ricky Tart. Other staff members were then encouraged to pass on what they’d learned to other users. But “the best way that we’ve found to get people’s skills up is to do projects,” Roger explained. “Working with creative people like Ricky Tart on film-making, animation and poetry projects has really helped to cement the learning that has taken place.

“A lot of our training has happened by one of us seeing what everyone else is doing and saying, ‘ooh, I’d like to do that,’ so we’ve trained each other up. It’s becoming more integrated in the school that we just use iPad. We’re making short films as part of our Arts Week, and we’re going to do that almost completely on the iPad. These films will be entered into several national competitions and really develop the skills of both pupils and staff. We might even use the minute-long preview template in iMovie for making the films. But obviously that is a great way to do training, and it lends itself not only to all the technical elements of making a documentary, but also uploading and editing it.”

Using iPad for project work has also helped the school win over parents who were unsure about the scheme. Using a combination of their e7 iPad mini deployment and the school’s social media site, Go!Platform, students were able to create and upload content for their parents to view before the day was over, so they could catch up with what their children were doing during the day.

“When we had the e7 iPad deployment we were encouraging the kids to film all the time,” said Roger. “I’ve got a three part film of a boy in my class making a clay rhino, and he’s not got great speech and language but you could see him developing as he went along, because he’d seen YouTube videos and he understood the format. It’s the unexpected stuff that’s been really amazing.”

Introducing students to iPad and launching the e7 Project

“When we did the first pilot project, using iPad as a communication tool, I was terrified,” admitted Roger. “One of the very first students looked at it – she’s not a verbal communicator and we thought she’d really like it, but she picked it up and just flung it across the room. But it survived and it’s fine. We’re still using that iPad!”

With the iPad crash-tested, Roger and the rest of the staff set about using sensory apps to acclimatise students with very high support needs to the new devices, and “by time we started the e7 Project with the iPad mini it was completely different. The kids could literally not wait because they’ve already seen iPad devices around the school. Andy from Jigsaw24 came down and we had all the tablets stacked up in a pile with a spotlight on them in the hall, and all the parents came in and [the pupils] couldn’t believe that they were actually taking these things away with them.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing, but Roger and the team found that the sense of ownership generated by a 1:1 scheme like the e7 Project meant that pupils took far better care of their devices than expected. “Of the 40 we had, none were broken. An iPad trolley that moves around and you log in and log out, that’s not really anything to do with you [as a pupil]. But having an iPad that’s yours and that you take home and do all your work on, compose your own music on, that was a huge development. We had one case where [one of our pupils with behavioural difficulties] was losing her temper, she knew she was about to trash the room and she asked someone to hold her iPad mini for her.

Improving speech and communication with iPad and game-based learning

While Great Oaks are still searching for their ideal PECS app (current favourite Widgit Go is still being developed for iOS) they’ve had some major success with MLD students, which Roger puts down to the more interactive, role-based nature of learning through apps and games. “There’s one particular child in my class who’s really weak on speech and language, ” he explained. “He loved [playing Minecraft on the iPad], joined in with everyone else, and as a matter of course if you see a group of children playing Minecraft together, they don’t stop talking and listening. Our speech therapist could not believe how much his speech and language had improved over that one term. And I had to say, to be honest this is solely down to Minecraft, because he wants to be a peer. We are developing a Minecraft after school club in the autumn of 2013.

“If you have a lot of learning difficulties and you’re used to not being able to keep up with everyone, and then suddenly when you immerse yourself in a game, you can become somebody who looks like everybody else, behaves like everybody else in the game. That alter ego is a brand new person. And I think that enabled him or encouraged him to work in that role, because there he was on an equal footing with the others and he had the cognitive capacity to do all the tasks in the game, so the only thing that was holding him back was his own lack of confidence. And now he doesn’t stop talking – he’s alive with it! He talks all the time about getting the iPad mini back.”

The future of Great Oaks’ iPad deployment

After three years of testing out various devices, Great Oaks have now purchased enough iPad devices for all Key Stage 4 pupils. All teaching staff have now been issued with an iPad mini as well. They’re also looking to revamp their Wi-Fi network in order to better support the 70 devices they do have, and are hoping that they’ll be able to access a broader range of apps and features when they leave their local authority and take control of their own IT setup later in the year. And would they recommend the e7 scheme? “I have! I’ve been recommending it to people I know at other schools and have been saying please get in touch with Jigsaw24, because I think maybe they might not be aware the e7 Project exists or think that they won’t qualify, but everyone should ask!”

Download this case study as a PDF

If you want to know more about the e7 Project or iPad in SEN, give the team a call on 03332 409 333 or email For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Edu on Twitter.