iPads, accessibility and disability

Apple and its innovative range of consumer electronics, computers and software such as the iPhone, MacBook and iTunes, to name […]

Apple and its innovative range of consumer electronics, computers and software such as the iPhone, MacBook and iTunes, to name but a few, has seen an explosion in popularity and sales over the past five years. Best known for their attention to detail and intuitive user interfaces, but how does this translate into accessibility and user experience? Here our friend Rich Watts (AKA @rich_w) and self-proclaimed friendly geek looks at how the common or garden iPad (shown in the picture above) is being used by people living with disabilities to support them to live as independently as possible…


Experience and evidence would suggest that when great leaps forward are made – in the form of transport, education or the internet, for example – disabled people often don’t have equal chance to benefit from the progress the leaps represent.

Insofar as generalisations across all impairment groups can be made (for example, for people with learning disabilities, hearing impairments or visual impairments), I’m inclined to think that iPads and apps* are, unfortunately, in much the same category of great leaps forward.

This article, though, suggests at least some room for optimism, even if it is from Mashable.

It suggests there are four main ways in which touch devices such as iPads are “changing the lives of disabled people”:

  • As a communicator – touch devices are making text-to-speech or touch-to-speech technology more affordable
  • As a therapeutic device – touch devices are both motivating and enabling disabled young people to develop or use their motor skills
  • As an educational tool – touch devices can act as very useful supplements to (or replacements for) traditional education tools
  • As a behaviour monitor – touch devices can quantify behavioural progress, either through recording notes / videos etc. and/or charting graphs. Similarly, apps can remind people to take medication.

There is undeniably a medical model focus in these benefits: they tend to focus on what “deficits” someone’s impairment represents and how these can be addressed. This is rather than highlighting, for example, how technology can be used to overcome the barriers that society puts up for disabled people (a great example of this is the Hills are Evil app, which enables people to identify inclines, raised kerbs and impassable streets).

Nevertheless, it’s good to see tech so widely known and appreciated as an iPad being seen in the context of what good it can provide for disabled people too.


Kindly written by Rich Watts.


Thanks for sharing this with the Enabled by Design community Rich, it’s much appreciated! : )

I know I’ve certainly been considering getting myself an iPad recently and was interested to read about Apple’s Universal Access features for the iPad. I have MS and think that a lightweight iPad would be ideal for me to take notes while out and about, although I was concerned whether the touchscreen and screen size would work for me. I have numbness/weakness in my hands, my dexterity isn’t particularly good and my eyesight has also been affected, but I’m hoping that a capacitive stylus and accessibility features such as VoiceOver and Zoom will help. Will keep you posted on how I get on…

Do you have an iPad? Or are you thinking of getting one? Are you able to use the iPad or do/would you find it fiddly or impossible to use? Do you think its accessibility could be improved or have you found ways of making it work better for you? And last but not least, what do you use your iPad for and have you found any particularly useful apps? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Team EbD x