Apple has made a commitment to making their products as user friendly as possible for everyone, including people who have disabilities. VoiceOver continues to get better with each release of the operating system, and so do the other accessibility features. Prior to iOS 7, switches could be paired with an iOS device, but they would only work with apps that had been specifically designed to work with switches. Now, there are multiple ways for someone with motor impairments to use a switch. They can use head movements, make the screen a switch, or use an external Bluetooth switch.
For those who don’t know what a switch is, think of it as a button that can either move a cursor on a computer screen or activate items that the cursor is over. Depending on the cognitive level and physical limitations of the person, multiple switches can be used to do different tasks. As an adaptive technology instructor and future teacher of the visually impaired, knowing how to use switches will be important for my students to gain access to things that many of us do with a keyboard or mouse.
One of the reasons I’m so excited about the switch access for iOS devices is because I have a client with progressive MS who cannot navigate on the screen using gestures. Prior to the workshop on iPad accessibility that I went to last month, I was worried that someone who needed VoiceOver would not be able to use a switch. What I learned is that VoiceOver cannot be turned on when switch access is being used, but the user can have the option of having the screen read to them as an alternative to VoiceOver. This means that not only has Apple included switch access, but they’ve taken into account that there are people who have motor impairments and vision impairments that would make reading the screen impossible.
To read about using switches with your iOS device, check out this blog post from Jane Farrall: http://www.janefarrall.com/blog/2013/09/29/how-do-i-use-a-switch-with-an-ipad-ios-7-overview