Inspiring Stories

Making iPads More Age-Friendly

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.

Other Help

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?

Take the poll!

If you could wave a wand to make your iPad easier to use would you:

Ilze Duarte is a technology trainer at Senior Planet Avenidas in Palo Alto.


15 responses to “Making iPads More Age-Friendly

  1. I have an iPhone which I rely on for great numbers of things, an iPad which I love, and a laptop computer which I’m always on the verge of throwing out the window or beating with a stick until it bursts into flames. I guess I’m unusual. I wish I could take my iPad everywhere but it’s too big so I take my phone which I can’t see well. I can’t really type well on the iPad and I’m sick and tired of buying keyboards for it that don’t work, which is why I have that laptop which I also hate and despise. Nothing quite works for me but the iPad comes closest to electronic Heaven on earth.

  2. There should be a function to limit the number of icons on a screen and to control the size of the icon. I would love it if I could change my dad’s ipad to have 5 icons – all large size on one screen. That’s about all he uses.

  3. Thank you for this article.I wish Apple would pay attention to growing seniors population in North America .They are ignoring us .All we need is certain apps and useful digital technology embedded in our tablets/i pads easy to hold, easy to see use for arthritic fingers as we are not going to need too much complicated technology I am 74 and still enjoying my work ,don’t want to retire yet. Keeping brain active is like an apple a day keep retirement away .(my humble opinion)

  4. The seniors at my senior center and at Senior Planet NYC do need more personalized assistance in using the smart phone (which often arrives in the mail
    with no instructions!) and the I-Pad, as digital technology is so new to us. As a
    group, we can be frustrating to a tech savvy millennial, but to find someone who is
    sympathetic to our situation and has patience for us, we are extremely grateful.

  5. I love the iPad. The main problem with it and any other device, such as android and iPhone, etc. is that touching somewhere on the screen accidentally leads to an irrevocable (at least for me) action. I fear this is built in since I’m often zinged over to some app that wants to install or advertisement I didn’t want and have to close the screen and start all over. I use the iPad and iPhone quite a bit, but still find new ways to go on internet adventures inadvertently from any app I’m using, even mail, notes, and list! Don’t get me started on internet searches.

  6. We need education not just with IPad, but with all digital devices.
    I didn’t find classes that are useful for me. I’m with Android phone, and a laptop, desperately need an education, as things change faster then we can digest it.

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