AT Tip of the Week: Restrictions and Privacy on the iPad

Image of a cool sloth

Guided access is a great tool to keep someone in an app.  For AAC learners, this may be an important part of teaching them to regard the iPad as their voice. A few years ago, however, I had a student using an iPad with Proloquo2Go.  When she would go home, a very savvy sibling would find a way OUT of Guided Access and peruse “questionable” content on the internet. And iPads come out of guided access when the battery runs down.

What else can we do to keep an AAC learner in their app?  You can, in fact, enable restrictions on the iPad to prevent access to the internet & certain apps, and to prevent the addition and deletion of apps.  This may come in handy for a number of reasons.

Image of restrictions settings on the iPad

How often does a well meaning person ask the speech therapist, “Could we add some apps for academics and reinforcement onto Johnny’s iPad?” You could then say,  “I’m sorry. The iPad is restricted with a passcode, so we can’t add other apps.” Of course, we should also explain why having other apps on the iPad may not be best practice.

So, how do we enable these restriction?  We go to Settings:

Settings → General → Restrictions → Enable Restrictions →Set Passcode

Image of passcode settings on iPad Restrictions

My advice would be to use a passcode other than 0000, or 1234.  Don’t make it an easy guess. Once the passcode is set, you can choose to Allow or Restrict different functions, such as the camera, the Safari web browser, the addition and deletion of apps.

Image of restrictions for adding and deleting apps on iPad.

This is where privacy also becomes a consideration. You could, if allowed, disable Location Services.  In the age of social media scandals and data scraping, this is something to ponder. Can we still track the iPad if it is lost? Location Services will be temporarily restored if you use the Find My Ipad app to enable Lost Mode.  

It is also possible to go into location services and simply disable location sharing for individual apps, including the camera. It is good to be aware of how much of our information is out there.  We can also set user ratings for music and movies to prevent access to explicit content.

What about iCloud storage?  This has the potential to backup sensitive information to a remote server farm.  What if a student takes a photo in the locker room? Here, too, you can select which apps have permission to send data to the cloud.

Image of iCloud settings on iPad

Additional thoughts.  If the iPad is owned by the student’s family, we need to ask before putting restrictions in place (if they are needed).  We can explain how dedicating the iPad to communication will be of benefit to this particular student.

You may have a school district iPad that already has a passcode set by the IT department.  In such a case, they are probably not sharing that passcode with you! You may need to have a conversation with the district about the potential benefits to the student (and to the district!) of adding restrictions.

Lastly, as always, this is a case by case decision.  Older students may need access to the internet to learn how to send emails and texts.  This is an important life skill that can pave the way towards employment and self advocacy.  

All of this is not about denying AAC users the chance to play games, listen to music, to surf the web.  All kids do this. It is about ensuring that they have a dedicated voice and the consistent ability to communicate.  Another iPad, or the classroom computer, can be used for breaks and online learning games. Consider allowing your student to decorate their iPad case, maybe with some cool duct tape.  Help them to see the AAC iPad as truly theirs.

Image of cool duct tape

One last student story: I once had a kid on my caseload who would plug his iPad into iTunes and reset the device to factory specs.  He would then download dozens of versions of Angry Birds (we kept his vocabulary set well backed up!). Just another reminder that being nonverbal doesn’t mean someone isn’t wicked smart!


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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