Handheld magnifier on top of an iPad

How to make an iPad accessible for low vision

The ultimate guide to how to make iPad accessible for low vision and make iPad for seniors easier to read and use.

When I was in middle school, I had to write a paper about the brand-new iPad and whether I would use it or not. At the time I drafted the paper, I mentioned that it would be cool if there was a way to make iPad accessible for low vision but wasn’t sure if I would ever use the device myself. Over ten years later, I use my iPad every day for a variety of different tasks and love the rich array of accessibility features and options for how to make iPad accessible for low vision. Here are my favorite iPad and iOS accessibility features for low vision users, and how to enable them. All of these options can be found within the Settings application in the Accessibility section unless otherwise noted.

VoiceOver and spoken content

VoiceOver is Apple’s screen reader, which is used by people with vision loss and reads information out loud on a webpage or in an application. Screen readers like VoiceOver allow users to navigate their device using a keyboard or a series of gestures, and are typically “always on”- if someone has a screen reader enabled, it is reasonable to assume that the user would be unable to use their device if the screen reader were turned off.

There are a few different options for turning VoiceOver on and off, including:

For users that benefit from having text read loud but not necessarily all of the time, text-to-speech tools like Speak Selection/Spoken Content are a better option. Speak Selection and Speak Screen will read all text that is selected or on the screen, as well as any alt text or other elements of a page that would traditionally be read by VoiceOver. The voice settings for VoiceOver are the same as they are for Speak Text and Speak Screen, though users do not need to know any VoiceOver gestures to interact with content. Settings for Speak Selection can be customized independently from VoiceOver, though the settings for each feature are similar.

To enable Speak Text and Speak Screen in iOS, follow these instructions:

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Zoom is a digital magnifier tool that enlarges all on-screen content up to 15x, with options for a full screen view, lens view, and docked view. Users can triple tap with three fingers on the screen to turn Zoom on/off, as well as adjust the magnification level, viewing window, and add other color contrast filters.

There are a few different options for opening Zoom on iOS that all lead to the same program, though Zoom must be turned on in accessibility settings before using any of these shortcuts:

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Magnifier is a built-in application that allows users to turn their device’s camera into a video magnifier- this does not magnify on-screen text. Like most video magnifying devices, Magnifier allows users to customize contrast, color filters, magnification levels, and even freeze an image without saving it to the camera roll. This is different than Zoom, which is a screen magnifier that enlarges content on the device itself. I like to use Magnifier to enlarge documents that are in small print or for reading environmental text like flyers.

Before using magnifier for the first time

  1. Go to the Settings app and select the Accessibility menu
  2. Tap Magnifier, and then turn it on- it will be added as an Accessibility Shortcut

To activate magnifier

On an iPhone X and later, or iPad with Face ID

  1. Triple-click the Side button
  2. Drag the slider to adjust the magnification level
  3. To close Magnifier, swipe up from the bottom of the screen

On an iPhone 8 and earlier, and iPad models with a Home button

  1. Triple-click the Home button
  2. Drag the slider to adjust the magnification level
  3. To close Magnifier, press the Home button

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Display and text size

System-wide dark mode

Users can enable dark mode by default for applications and other device interfaces, which provides a darker background and lighter colored text. One of my friends who has glaucoma prefers to use dark mode over inverting their screen, while another friend prefers to turn on dark mode at night to avoid eye fatigue.

Bold text

Bold text creates larger weighted font that is easier to distinguish. This is especially helpful for people with dyslexia or other print disabilities that benefit from weighted text.

Larger text

Turn on large accessibility sizes and make text even larger! I have it on the largest available which is equivalent to about a size 36 font. This is the most critical setting for learning how to make iPad accessible for low vision.

Button shapes

The button shapes feature puts backgrounds on buttons, so they are high contrast and therefore easier to notice.  It can best be described as a subtle, shaded effect with easy to distinguish shapes.  The target area is also large, meaning the buttons are easier to press.

Increase contrast

I reduce transparency and darken colors to create a high contrast display, a feature that integrates well with the button shapes.  This is not overly noticeable to other people who use my iPad, and I have found it does not have much of an effect with color display in photos- all colors look good.

Invert colors

There are two options for inverting colors on iPad- Smart Invert and Classic Invert. Smart Invert reverses the colors of the display with the exception of images, media, and some apps that already use dark color styles, while Classic Invert reverses all of the colors on the display, no exceptions. If I need to invert something, my personal preference is to use Smart Invert so that way I can view images with their original colors.

Color filter

This allows for a tint to allow users with different forms of color blindness to access their devices, but I personally use it to add a background tint to reduce blue light. I have it on a mild intensity and full hue, and it acts similar to the blue light filter guard on my computer.

Reduce white point

Reducing white point makes whites on the screen less sharp and is extremely helpful for reducing glare. This can also make the dimmest display on the screen even dimmer when reduced to 75% or higher.

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Reduce motion

I get motion sickness and vertigo from fast moving animations, so I enable reduce motion and prefer cross-fade transitions to avoid the disorienting parallax effect.

Disable auto-play

Message effects and auto-play video previews are both disabled so I don’t have to deal with surprise strobe light effects.

Dim flashing lights

A newer accessibility feature, video content that depicts repeated flashing or strobing lights is automatically dimmed, which is super helpful for people with light sensitivity or who are prone to migraines, seizures, or other adverse medical effects from flashing lights.

Related links

Accessibility shortcut

On my personal iPad, I frequently use various settings like Zoom, Smart Invert, and Magnifier, but I don’t necessarily need to have them on all the time, and I don’t want to keep going back and forth to settings to turn them on and off. Which is why I love the Accessibility Shortcut feature so much, because it saves me a lot of time when activating settings. Users can add shortcuts for frequently used accessibility tools with the Accessibility Shortcut, which is activated by triple clicking the home button, or by triple clicking the side button for devices that don’t have a home button. Once the Accessibility Shortcut is activated, users can choose which setting they want to activate from a short list of settings.

To add settings to the accessibility shortcut

  1. Go to the Settings app and select the Accessibility menu.
  2. Locate the Accessibility Shortcut customization menu, which can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the screen
  3. Choose settings to add to the Accessibility Shortcut menu

Related links

Increase icon size

Did you know you can increase the size of icons on the home screen? This is configured outside of the accessibility menu, and can be found in the “Home Screen and Dock” menu of the Settings app. I have the “Bigger” view enabled and have discovered that it is much easier to locate apps this way.

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Configure individual application settings

Another feature in the Accessibility settings menu, users can configure per-app settings and customize accessibility features for individual apps, such as adjusting the font size, turning on Smart Invert, and improving how colors are displayed. This is helpful for applications that may have unexpected behavior with default accessibility settings, or for cases where the user has to automatically enable settings to be able to see the app.

Bonus – reading view

To enable Reading View in Safari, select the Reading View icon in the address bar, which looks like a lowercase and uppercase A. Long-press on the icon to customize the font size, font, and background color.

Related links

Summary of how to make iPad accessible for low vision

More resources on how to make iPad accessible for low vision

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Post updated July 2023; original post published June 2017.

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