Toddler sitting at a kitchen table with his finger on a glowing iPad screen.

Introducing Technology to Students with Visual Impairments: Toddler, Preschool and Kindergarten

How to help young blind children explore and play with technology like their sighted peers!

When do you start?


Everywhere you go, people are using technology to text, listen to music, watch a video, play a game, participate in social media, navigate, and so much more. While in a restaurant, look at the family at the table beside you – chances are the toddler/preschooler is watching a child’s video or playing a simple game on a hand-held device. Today’s children are native device users, independently navigating, selecting, and interacting with their favorite apps. Students who are visually impaired – including toddlers and preschoolers – should be as tech savvy as their peers!

What device?

Touch screens are so simple to navigate that by age two, most children are independently navigating a smartphone or tablet. Simply swipe and tap. When using VoiceOver – Apple’s built-in screen reader – just drag a finger or swipe to explore what is on the screen. Only a handful of gestures are required to navigate to and interact with preschool level apps. 

iOS devices and Android devices have native screen readers and other accessibility features. Apple has blazed the way for accessibility, iOS devices work well with refreshable braille displays and developers have created educational iOS apps that are designed specifically for students using VoiceOver. Android devices have made significant improvement with screen reader accessibility and are currently working on refreshable braille display compatibility.

Touch screen devices are all-in-one devices with the ability for students to simulataneously use magnification, low vision features and screen readers.

Approximately 72% of the top selling iOS apps are targeted to preschool and elementary aged children; toddlers/preschoolers are the most popular age group (58%). Unfortunately, some toddler/preschool apps are very visual and are not accessible with a screen reader. In addition to accessible mainstream apps, there are several quality iOS apps designed specifically for young users who are visually impaired that teach braille skills or VoiceOver gestures. This article mentions specific mainstream iOS apps; similar apps may be available on Android devices.

Where do you start?

When teaching toddlers and preschoolers, remember:

Posts about Toddler/Preschool Resources:

Starting Blind Toddlers and Preschoolers on an iPad

Cause and Effect apps: Peak-a-Boo Barn, Infant Zoo, Wheels on the Bus, Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree

Teaching VoiceOver Gestures with I Hear Ewe App: Activity

App that uses swipe and double tap, plus additional activities for 8 basic VoiceOver gestures

Blindfold Sound Search Apps

Auditory only matching games designed specifically for students who are visually impaired – geared for students who are familiar with basic gestures

Interactive Stories

A TVI shares how she used interactive stories to motivate a 4-year-old to practice her VoiceOver gestures and refreshable braille display commands.

Interactive Storybook App Ideas

A TVI shares how she uses interactive preschool books with students who have multiple disabilities.

Book Creator or a similar app to create your own interactive iBooks. You can download teacher-created Apple Books (formerly iBooks) from Paths to Technology’s  iBooks section.  The Alphabet Sound: iBook is one of my favorites!

4-year-old Layla’s introduction to the iPad, VoiceOver, Braille Display and Bluetooth Keyboard

4 year old Learning VoiceOver and Braille Video

Summary of fall semester intro to iPad gestures, braille display commands and learning to read/write with braille display

Getting Started on the iPad in Preschool

Specific activities on starting a preschooler on an iPad braille display

Layla’s Three Preschool Apps Video

TVI demonstrates basic tech activities using a braille display with three fun preschool apps

Interactive Stories

A TVI shares how she used interactive stories to motivate a 4-year-old to practice her VoiceOver gestures and refreshable braille display commands

Simple Tactile Representations of the iPad Features

Using concrete materials to teach virtual concepts – tactile representations of iPad screen layout and virtual rotor

More Braille Display Chords for the Young Student: Layla

Activities using these refreshable braille display chords: O, R, P, G, H and D Chords

Teacher Note: The Exploring Braille with Madilyn and Ruff iOS app is temporarily unavailable in the App Store. The developer anticipates that the app will be updated and back in the App Store in September 2017.

Apps that teach VO Gestures

Ballyland Magic App: Learn VoiceOver Gestures and iPad Accessibility

A series of games that teach students with visual impairments to learn and practice basic VoiceOver gestures

Ballyland Rotor: Learn the VoiceOver Rotor Commands

These games are designed to teach students with visual impairments how to use VoiceOver’s Rotor

VoiceOver Practice Screen is a designated help page on iOS devices that enables users to practice VoiceOver gestures. Simply make a gesture and VoiceOver will announce what gesture was made then what the gesture does. Example:  “Double tap, activates the selected item.” If a student is trying to create a double tap but is tapping too slow, VoiceOver will think that the gesture is a single tap. For beginner VoiceOver users – of all ages – there are two very common gesture mistakes: double tap (made too slowly and VoiceOver thinks it is a single tap) and swipe right (with a curved or downward movement and VoiceOver thinks it is a swipe down). Young students can use this VoiceOver practice page to learn how to create good gestures with the instant, nonjudgemental feedback. The VoiceOver Practice also provides opportunities for students to review, make repetitive gestures to develop muscle memory and listen to the VoiceOver verbal hints.

To activate VoiceOver Practice:

Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver (turn VoiceOver ON) > VoiceOver Practice (tap in the middle of the screen to activate VoiceOver Practice mode)

To close VoiceOver Practice, touch the Done button in the top right corner and double tap.

Collage for introducing tech

By Diane Brauner

Symbol representing a written document.

Creating Headings for a Screen Reader: Lesson Plan

Cartoon detective scratching his head and  bending over to look through a large magnifying glass to view a question mark.

Inference Activities Part 1: Hands on Activities

StellarTrek, a small handheld GPS device with 9 buttons.

StellarTrek: O&M Tool