AT Tip of the Week: Touch Accessibility on the iPad

Image of Raccoon saying, Let me assist you tapping that icon" with hands outstretched

A few months ago, I posted about using the iPad for on the fly Text To Speech.  This allows you to use Vision accommodations to read text on the screen of the device.  To activate Speak Screen requires that you swipe down with two fingers from the top of the iPad screen.  This requires the fine motor coordination to be able to extend two fingers and touch the very edge of the screen in a smooth motion.

Not everyone can do this.  I often take many of the types of touch needed to interact with the iPad for granted.  For instance, Accessibility Shortcuts requires a speedy triple tap of the home button.  What about iPad access for those who don’t need switches, but don’t necessarily have the coordination for rapidly sequenced interactions with the screen/home button?  The folks at Apple have included Assistive Touch and Touch Accommodations under their Accessibility settings.

Image of Assistive Touch Settings on iPad

Using Assistive Touch, you can set a series of Custom Actions for interacting with the screen.  I have mine set so that a single tap opens up a menu, a double tap activates Siri, and a long press turns on Speak Screen.  In the photo below, you can see some of the options in the Assistive Touch menu. With a tap, you can see your notifications, access the Control Center, or take a Screenshot.  

Image of Assistive Touch menu on iPad screen

Once enabled, Assistive Touch places a small button on the screen of the iPad.  This button can be positioned in a predictable location, such as the corner of the screen.  You get to decide the level of opacity of the button, i.e., how well you can see it so that it doesn’t interfere with the content on your device.  

Assistive Touch makes it so that a single tap can open up a lot of features on the iPad, thus making it easier for those with limited manual dexterity, or perhaps someone using a capacitive head pointer.

I can also use this with my Notes app for easier Text To Speech.  Using my long press, I can activate Speak Screen without having to swipe those two fingers down from the top.  I simply write my message in Notes, Long Press my Assistive Touch button, and the message is spoken aloud.

Image of Speak Screen menu on iPad

Depending upon my needs, I can also create custom gestures that I can use to activate menu items.

Image of creating a custom gesture on iPad screen

But what about for those who have tremors, or athetosis?  Some may have difficulty with a tap or Long Press of a particular spot on the screen. Apple has also created Touch Accommodations. These are different from Assistive Touch.  Using Touch Accommodations, you can set the iPad to ignore repeat button hits, or decide how long you need to touch the screen before an icon activates.

Image of Touch Accommodations on iPad settings

You can also turn on Tap Assistance.  This allows you to decide whether the screen will activate on the initial or final touch location. Choosing final location means that you can place your finger anywhere on the screen, and then move it to the target icon or app. This essentially allows you to stabilize your hand on the screen and move to the location you want.  Pretty cool! You can even set a Hold Duration so that an icon doesn’t activate until you touch it for a certain length of time.

AssistiveTouch and Touch Accommodations may make it possible for more people to interact with the iPad, without having to employ the use of switches and scanning patterns.  

Image of iPhone screen with Reachability enabled.

The iPhone has even more possibilities.  You can turn on Reachability to bring items closer to the bottom of the screen.  This requires a double tap (not press) of the home button. You can also explore 3D Touch.  This can even be used to call SOS. Need to contact emergency services? You could use 3D Touch instead of having to press the side button five times.

Let us know how you use Assistive Touch or Touch Accommodations. And you can try these features by borrowing an iPad from the AT Lending Library.  Be in touch!

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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