The vast majority of mobile platforms come with built in accessibility features that provide choices for users to make them easier to interact with.
There are many ways to personalise mobile devices, changing the appearance of the screen makes it easier for people to view information. The size of text can be increased, colour of text and background can be changed, and the content on the screen can be magnified.
Most people are used to being notified of messages and mail with an auditory prompt, however visual cues provide other ways of receiving notifications which can be useful for someone who has hearing loss, it is also a useful feature for people who do not want to be constantly disturbed by interruptions from a bleeping or pinging phone.
Another helpful feature for people who can't hear is the capacity to change their settings so that any video viewed on their mobile device will automatically show captions (assuming they have been included by the author of the video).
Built in reading tools can be helpful for people who struggle with text. For example people with dyslexia, those who have literacy issues or English as a second/alternative language may benefit from having individual blocks of text or whole pages read back to them.
These text to speech/screen readers options have been of significant help to people with vision loss, and have been hailed as one of the most significant built in accessibility features that have emerged as part of the explosion of the mobile market.
Voice commands can help people navigate and activate different features on their devices. Speech recognition can be an excellent writing support tool where people can dictate text messages, documents or emails instead of typing.
Calendars, clocks, alarms etc. can be useful productivity tools offering prompts and reminders to help assist with organisational skills.
Some operating systems help students focus on particular pages at a time to avoid distractions from learning. Students with mobility difficulties have the capacity to adapt the way they interface with tablet devices by altering the gestures they use.
Whilst the range of options vary depending on the operating system, they all offer a suite of features that can make a real difference for disabled and non-disabled people and provide a range of ways to adapt the interface to suit our individual differences.
There are many apps that offer different ways to make content more accessible, multi-sensory and often more fun for learners. Some of the case studies below demonstrate how apps have helped provide information in alternative formats and in sequenced stages to meet learner’s needs.
Treloar College - iPads for independent learning
Mobile technologies in particular the iPad have changed the way their students engage with their learning. One device can give a student a voice - through communication apps, and the independence to control their learning, their environment and their leisure.
Using the iPad in teaching and learning has led to a decrease in the amount of one-to-one support required for certain activities, empowering the student to take control of their learning, so that they become active rather than passive learners. This particularly applies to those learners who are switch users, enabling them to engage in a range of lessons, from English to media, maths to computer programming.
Speak selection enables students to listen to text or questions independently; using the camera and video enables a teacher to create visual instructions. The amount of one-to-one support to research materials from books and journals is decreasing as students become independent researchers.
Mobile technologies are opening up a whole new world for both their teachers and learners.
City of Glasgow college - using an iPad for participation and literacy development
The City of Glasgow college uses mobile technology to support a student who lost both of his hands as a teenager. Elaine Argue, assistive technologist says:
"The use of the iPad's in-built features and apps have been a valuable and great benefit to Hemin's learning experience. Previously Hemin could not participate in written exercises the class were completing. Now using the iPad and apps he can complete work and email it back to the lecturers and receive feedback making it a more inclusive learning environment.
Hemin's reading has also improved using the iPad as the speech function meant that he could listen to the information being read and follow it onscreen to improve his reading skills.
His confidence grew from using the iPad and he began to look for solutions for himself and ask for different apps to be added."
One of his lecturers has reported that the use of the iPad has made a big difference to his participation in class and to his literacy development.
Beaumont College - using iPads to support living skills
Many students at Beaumont benefit from sequenced instructions to support activities. Living skills sessions, which contain a lot of cookery, have been transformed by using the Pictello app.
Photos for each stage can be uploaded to the app and viewed at each stage. In addition any text to describe that stage can be read out by the app which supports non-readers.
Students can use the recipes created in the app to work independently. Previously many students required support when using paper based recipes. Any iPads used in the session are in protective cases which protect them from spills, but also can be wiped clean for hygiene reasons.
The cookery room has a large screen with an Apple TV attached meaning the tutor can wirelessly connect an iPad and display content to the whole group. This enables the tutor to run through the recipe at the start of the session to check the group’s understanding.
Importantly the recipe is viewed in exactly the same format as the students will later use it.
Beaumont College - using iPads in a gardening session
One tutor at Beaumont made use of the Photos app on the iPad (which comes as standard) during a gardening session. Photos of gardening tools and implements were taken so that students without speech could request a particular tool. Also the tutor could show a photo of the tool to the student so they could select the correct tool for a task.
The immediacy and simplicity of the iPad as a device and the camera and Photos app lent itself to this session. The gardening session is generally outside and students move between areas so a fixed workstation wouldn't be an option.
It could be argued that the same objectives could be achieved with a digital camera, but the size of the picture on the iPad enabled students with visual impairments or learning difficulties to engage with it.
Beaumont College - using an iPad to facilitate communication in dance
A student at Beaumont was studying dance, but when choreographing with a partner struggled to make himself heard over the music. This was due to the low volume of his speech.
He started to use an iPad mini which could be safely carried on his lap, whilst in his wheelchair. This had the Grid Player app installed on it.
Grid Player is a communication app on which a grid of text and symbols can be created. When tapped, these are spoken out and these instructions were much more audible. In some sessions a Bluetooth speaker was connected to the iPad to give greater volume.
This set-up immediately enabled equality of access in the session. The student could now express himself in the same way as the other students. He also decreased his reliance on staff members to repeat his speech or intervene when he couldn't be heard.