Before I joined Senior Planet as a technology trainer last summer, I taught adults at the college and university level. My students typed notes on their laptops effortlessly. But when I started teaching iPad Basics at our Palo Alto location, I soon saw that using the iPad were difficult for our students, most of whom are in their eighties, for two main reasons:
Visual acuity: Some of my students had trouble seeing options on the camera and email apps because the words and icons appear too small and faint for them to see clearly.
Manual dexterity: Several students had trouble using finger motions to swipe and tap the screen or press the “Home” button. As a result, they often opened the wrong app and ended up on an unexpected screen. Sometimes they pushed the “Home” button too long and were startled by Siri.
I started looking for ways our students could have an easier time with iPads. Here’s what I found:
Visual Acuity Help
- Apple Help has several basic features to help visual acuity, like text enlargement and bold fonts. These are found in Settings under Accessibility, then under Display & Text Size.
- We cover these Apple Help features in Senior Planet’s iPad course, so I reached out to David Jaffe, a Stanford University instructor, to try to learn more. He directed me to Apple support; browsing the Apple site, you’ll find an entire iPad Vision section that describes a variety of display features that can amp up the contrast between text and background (on an iPad, these are found in Settings, then Display & Brightness, then Appearance). You can even enlarge a section of your screen or the entire screen with the Zoom feature (up to 1500 percent magnification).
Manual Dexterity Help
- For those with manual dexterity challenges, the iPad Vision page also describes the voice control option (on your iPad, go to Settings, then Accessibility), which can replace finger motions.
- You can also explore options like Assistive Touch to help you set up ‘virtual fingers” instead of multi-finger gestures or pushing buttons (on your iPad, go to Settings, then Accessibility, then Touch). Something similar is available via the Assistant Menu for those who use Android devices.
I also found resources at the Vista Tech Conference, held by Vista Center, a Silicon Valley nonprofit whose clients are blind or visually impaired. There, I learned that the newest version of the Apple software (iOS 13.3) now includes a greater number of features for the visually impaired, especially voice control and hand gestures (e.g., when we tap the screen three times with three fingers, we get the zoom feature). The conference confirmed what I had found online: the obvious accessibility tools on the iPad may be the most useful for our students, but there are new or more hidden features that are also helpful.
We Need More
Now teaching iPad Basics for the third time, here are the lessons I’ve learned as an instructor:
- talking about the iPad accessibility features sooner
- taking more time for everyone to practice finger motions
- taking time to adjust brightness levels and font and home-screen icon sizes.
But we are still left with a few issues. What do we do when the tools we have at hand don’t always work for us? How can we make items on a screen easier to see? For example, choosing a larger font size doesn’t change the lettering on the iPad screen itself, so the icons on the homepage remain small and faint, as do the icons on the camera and email apps. The zoom feature seems to help a bit, but for fingers that are not as agile as they used to be, it is hard to move around. What my students tell me is that they want to be able to see what is on their iPad and handle the buttons and icons more easily with the physical capabilities that they do have.
I continue to search for solutions to these issues and would love to hear how seniors who use mobile devices have tried to address them. We should also talk about advocacy, to demand iPad features that enhance the experience of older users. How about bigger, easier-to-press buttons? And larger, darker print on the screen and built-in apps on the iPad? We can also demand including more older adults in research and development teams and test groups at the major tech companies to make sure change happens. Shall we?
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Ilze Duarte is a technology trainer at Senior Planet Avenidas in Palo Alto.