AT Tip of the Week: Guided Access to Support AAC use on the iPad

Image of dog with Guided Access meme

Edited 8/30/20

The iPad is a consumer electronic.  It has indeed been a game changer in the field of assistive technology, but was not designed with AT in mind.  Over time, Apple has added features that allow us to customize, or restrict, certain features in order to make the product a better fit for people with disabilities and educators.

One of the important, early changes was the addition of Guided Access.  This allows us to lock the device into the use of a particular app, essentially disabling or passcoding the home button. Guided Access can be a great support for individuals learning to use the iPad for communication.

For some (not all) AAC learners, Guided Access can help ensure that the iPad is seen as a vehicle for communication (and not for playing Angry Birds, or surfing the web).  Why is this important? For one thing, if we try to both communicate and play on the same device, we might just prefer to play (it’s easier). As well, if we try to do multiple functions on one device, we can’t talk about those things while we are doing them.  Split screen on the iPad does not work with AAC at this point, and would it even be advisable? If you did use split screen, the location of all your icons would change. That would work against any automaticity an AAC user had developed for the static location of their icons.

So, how do we use Guided Access?  First, we need to enable it it settings.

Settings  → Accessibility → scroll to the bottom of the screen


Accessibility setting on iPad

Guided Access in iPad Settings

Tap guided access and toggle on to enable.  You will need to set a passcode. Make it something that your student or consumer is not going to guess. If you are using an iPad Pro, you will be able to use Face ID. You will also want to enable Accessibility Shortcut at the bottom of the same screen. This will allow a triple click of the home button to turn Guided Access on and off (on the iPad Pro, you will triple click the on/off button).

Next, open the app that you wish your student to use, in this case, their AAC app.  Triple click the home button and and tap options at the bottom left. You can now enable Touch at the bottom (center).  Note that it says, at the bottom of the screen that you can circle areas that you would like to disable.

Guided Access options

In the above photo, you see the TouchChat HD with WordPower app.  On the orange bar, you will find small buttons for “vocab” and “Menu”. Draw circles around these. This will prevent the learner from getting out of their vocabulary set or rearranging the icons on the screen.  

Once you have circled any necessary buttons, go to the top right and press start or resume to fully enable Guided Access.  You will see that it is no longer possible to hit the home button (or top button) to exit the program. To exit, you will need to triple click the appropriate button and enter your passcode.

A few caveats:  the iPad will come out of Guided Access if the battery dies: Keep your device charged!  Also, make sure that you are not the only one with access to the passcode. And not every consumer will need to be locked into their communication app.  There are older users of AAC who may also need to access the internet (or other apps) and can handle switching back and forth. It depends on the individual’s needs.

Yes, there are settings within individual apps to restrict and passcode editing, but Guided Access gives you a down and dirty way to ensure that someone has continuous access to their communication, and doesn’t rearrange the layout or delete their vocabulary set.  

Other thoughts: if you have multiple iPads in your location, do something to customize the appearance of the AAC user’s case, so that they identify that iPad as their voice.  This doesn’t have to mean you buy a whole new case for the device. You can get some cool duct tape. Choose a theme or color that your AAC user likes! There are lots of choices.

Image of duct tape patterns

Guided Access is one tool that can help us ensure that an AAC user has access to their voice at all times.  Leave a comment, or contact AACCommunity for information on other iPad settings that can be used to support AAC learning.  Live in Pennsylvania? Borrow an iPad from the AT Lending Library to Try Before you Buy! Click the link below.

AT Lending Library: iPads

Image of Yoda with Guided Access meme

Kathryn Helland

Kathryn is a certified speech-language pathologist and works with children and adults with complex communication needs. She has been with the TechOWL team since 2015 and is currently working on her doctorate. She would like to examine how to best support AAC users in higher education.

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