While many people associate assistive technology with specialized devices that are expensive or hard to find, many mainstream technology devices have started supporting accessibility features and built-in assistive technology that can make specialty tools more financially and publicly accessible for all. Tablets are a great example of how mainstream technology can be used as assistive technology, as they provide access to a wealth of information and can provide users with access to life-changing applications for communication, vision, and so much more. Here are features to look for when buying a tablet for users with vision loss, as part of my ongoing Mainstream Technology and Low Vision post series.
Tablets are often unfairly viewed as being less powerful or versatile than computers or smartphones, or are essentially seen as being a large smartphone. Tablets are actually a profoundly important tool for people with low vision as they provide additional features that computers do not, such as adjustable display angles, increased portability, and touchscreen input that can be easier than using a traditional computer display and mouse. While a tablet may not be able to serve as a complete substitute for a computer for all users, tablets can provide information access and productivity applications for users, as well as increased access to other specialty assistive technology applications.
Users should find a tablet screen size that they can hold or rest at a comfortable viewing level, and that can be carried from one location to another, preferably with one hand. All of my tablets have featured a screen size of around 10-11 inches, as I like that I can hold the device in my lap comfortably or rest it on a nightstand or other small surface. Some users may prefer a larger screen size for more visual tasks, or a smaller screen that provides a more narrow field of view and increased portability.
Unlike computers that can support external storage, tablet users are generally limited to their device’s internal storage capacity. Large applications or copies of books can fill up storage space quickly and devices that have limited storage space often have a slower speed or may have difficulty with software updates. I recommend checking the current storage capacity of a computer or smartphone to determine how much storage someone will likely use. Because I use my tablet for storing textbooks, cookbooks, and other large files frequently, I chose a 256 GB tablet and have never had any issues with running low on space.
While a growing number of mobile applications are becoming platform agnostic, meaning that they are available across multiple operating systems, there are still some applications that are proprietary to one operating system. When choosing a tablet with low vision, ensure that any important applications are supported by the device’s operating system and that the device will be able to receive future software and security updates. This is especially important for devices that regularly access downloaded content on the internet.
For users that rely on assistive technology settings for device access such as screen readers, I recommend checking online accessibility forums for information on bugs before software updates to ensure the device remains usable. AppleVis is a popular outlet for blind and low vision users of Apple products that I use myself, though there are other forums on websites such as Twitter, Mastodon, and Reddit that also provide product update information.
Holding a tablet for long periods of time can get tiring, and using a case allows for users to adjust the viewing angle of a device as well as rest it comfortably on a variety of surfaces. The most popular type of tablet device case is a folio case that can be folded to adjust the viewing angle and covers the device screen when not in use. Most tablet cases are designed for specific device models and may provide support for other accessories such as styluses or keyboards.
Another factor to consider is how the device will be stored when it is not in use or while it is charging. Some popular options include putting it in a bedside pocket, resting it on a table or tablet stand, or setting up a dedicated charging station with other devices.
Accessories like keyboards, styluses, wireless earbuds, and switches can make tablets easier to use for long periods of time, though these accessories are often specific to one device brand or model. For Apple iPads, examples of peripheral accessories include the Magic keyboard, Apple Pencil, and AirPods.
Another area to consider is connecting the tablet to an external monitor or display for an increased display size. I like to connect my tablet to a Chromecast on my TV so that I can watch videos on a larger screen, or mirror the display of an application so that multiple people aren’t hovering over a small display.
I have several posts on my website about how to make tablets accessible for low vision that are linked below for more in-depth reading.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published august 2017.
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