Getting Started on the iPad with Low Vision

Excerpts from “Introduction to iPad Accessibility Features for Blind and Low Vision Students Manual”

(Excerpts from “Introduction to iPad Accessibility Features for Blind and Low Vision Students Manual” © 2014 SAS Institute Inc. Cary, NC USA written by Diane Brauner and Ed Summers.  Used with Permission.)*

The iPad has a variety of built-in low vision options enabling a user with low vision to select the combination of features that work best for his/her needs.  There are a number of low vision options available in the Settings app.  Every low vision user should know what low vision features are available and how/when to use these features.  Students should be assessed to help determine which features are beneficial.  Keep in mind, that students may use different low vision features for different tasks and may prefer different features in different lighting environments and/or at different times of the day.  Students with low vision often endure eye fatigue and debilitating headaches – especially when reading for periods of time – which may facilitate the need to modify the low vision features on the fly or change to using auditory materials.  Low vision students often struggle to read longer passages and are often very slow visual readers compared to their peers; using a screen reader is often significantly faster making screen readers most efficient tool for  “reading” text.

Getting Started with Low Vision Features on the iPad

  1. Low Vision Settings: In the Settings App, become familiar with and select the desired options.
  1. Magnification: Learn Zoom and Zoom Window
  2. Speech Options: Learn about Speak Screen and Speak Selection, select Speaking Rate
  3. Learn to use VoiceOver
  4. Learn to use Siri
  5. Learn to use Dictation
  6. Apps beneficial for low vision users: screen sharing, OCR, annotation

Low Vision Settings

In the Settings app, go to General > Accessibility to view the low vision options.

Font (Larger Text)

Starting in iOS 8, the iPad allows you to increase the text size from approximately 8-point font to 28-point font.  The tick mark just to the left of the middle A (on the slider) is approximately 12-point font.   Larger Accessibility Size must be turned on in order to change the font size.

Bold Text

Bold text will adapt according to the background color.  If the background color is light, the bold text will become darker.  If the background is dark, the text will be lighter.    Activating Bold Text will require rebooting the iPad.

Invert Colors

Invert colors is an accessibility feature that is especially beneficial for students who experience light sensitivity, glare issues and/or for some students with color blindness.  Invert colors changes the normal white background to a black background, which helps to reduce the glare.  Invert colors can be added to Accessibility Home (Triple-Click Home) so that users can easily turn invert colors on or off.


Some students with visual impairments – often students with color blindness – prefer to disable colors that make the display hard for them to see.  Grayscale converts the screen to shades of gray, black and white only.


Brightness enables students to easily change the brightness of the iPad’s screen.  Depending on the environmental light, students often benefit from adjusting the iPad’s background brightness – especially if a student has issues with glare.  Brightness can quickly be adjusted from the Control Center  (1-finger swipe up started off the bottom of the iPad screen) or from Settings > Display & Brightness (on the left one-third of the iPad).

Increase Contrast

Increase contrast is an option to improve visual contrast with some backgrounds.  Often students with visual impairments are not able to verbalize whether these accessibility features are beneficial.  For the majority of low vision students, Increase Contrast, Reduce Transparency, Darken Colors and Reduce White Point should be turned on.

Reduce Motion

Reduce Motion minimizes the animation and movement features which can cause motion sickness with some students.

On/Off Labels

On/Off Labels adds a “0” to the standard white or green labels; this is often beneficial for students with low vision or students who are colorblind.

Button Shapes

This option is designed to make buttons easier to distinguish from text.

Accessibility Shortcut (Triple-Click Home)

Accessibility Shortcut is a method of pressing the Home button three times quickly in order to quickly turn on/off various accessibility features.  Use Accessibility Shortcut in the Settings app to control which of the following options appear when Tripe-Click Home is used: VoiceOver, Invert Colors, Grayscale, Zoom, Switch Control and/or Assistive Touch.  To set the Accessibility Shortcut, go to Settings > General (scroll to bottom of the screen) > Accessibility Shortcut.

Magnification: learn Zoom/Zoom Window

Mainstream magnification allows you to tap or pinch to magnify within specific apps, such as Mail, Maps and web pages.  It does not allow you to magnify the Home screen, Calendar, Settings, etc.


Zoom is the traditional way to magnify the entire screen.

Zoom Window

iOS 8 introduced Zoom Window – the ability to magnify a section of the screen while maintaining the normal settings on the rest of the screen.  Zoom magnification range is 100 to 1,500%.  

For more information about the Zoom and Zoom Window features, go to the Paths to Technology blog post, Explanation of Zoom and Zoom Window Features on the iPad. Drew: Zoom Feature on the iPad Video is a post of an elementary student with low vision demonstrating Zoom on his iPad.

Speech Options

There are several ways to have text spoken aloud on the iPad.  VoiceOver is a screen reader that speaks all text, buttons, hints, apps on the Home screen, etc.  VoiceOver changes the standard gesture set.  Speak Screen is a command that reads the text starting from the top of the page.  Speak Selection will read the highlighted text.  To views the speech options, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech.

Speak Screen

Speak Screen uses a two-finger swipe down (started off the top of the screen) gesture to start reading the text from the top of the page.  Speak Screen does not work on all screens (Example:  Speak screen does not read the list of apps on the Home screen.)

Speak Selection

Highlighting a selection of text (touch and hold then select desired text) and selecting “Speak” in the popup bar will read that highlighted text aloud.

Speaking Rate

Speaking Rate enables the student to choose the speed of text read aloud.

Learn VoiceOver

VoiceOver, the iPad’s built-in screen reader, changes the gesture set in order to enable a student to touch the screen, hear what is under his/her fingertip and then interact with the item under his/her fingertip.  Paths to Technology has many posts about how to use VoiceOver; go to Getting Started with VoiceOver on the iPad to learn more.   Remember, students should be taught good listening skills.  Students should also be taught to systematically increase the VoiceOver speech rate – with work, students can learn to listen to VoiceOver running 100%.  Running VoiceOver at 100% is a powerful tool enabling the student with visual impairments to be faster and more efficient reader than his/her peers!

The average reading speed of students with low vision is significantly lower than the reading speed of sighted peers and is lower than the reading speed of braille users.  Many students with low vision have eye fatigue and severe headaches when attempting to read longer passages of text.  If a student is slower reading the material, if the student must lean over the iPad to read the text or if the student magnifies the text to the point that he/she has to scroll across the screen, it is strongly recommend that the student learn to access materials with a screen reader!

Learn to use Siri

Siri is a voice activated personal assistant for iOS devices.  Siri can answer verbal questions, open apps, do Internet queries and perform tasks.  With Siri, students can verbally send messages, schedule meetings, place calls, read emails and search the Internet for answers.  Siri must have an Internet connection in order to work.  Siri is often an efficient way for students to quickly navigate the iPad and perform educational tasks.

Learn to use Dictation

Dictation can be used within a text field – simply press the dictation to the left of the on-screen keyboard and speak.  The iPad will record your voice and turns the speech into text.  Tap the dictation button again to stop recording.  Note:  You must say punctuation (“period”, “question mark”, etc.) for the punctuation to appear in the written text.  Dictation is very beneficial for students who do not have efficient keyboarding skills or who have physical disabilities.  Dictation requires an Internet connection in order to work.

Apps beneficial for low vision users

There are many apps that are beneficial in the classroom for students with low vision.  Students with low vision will often quickly access materials by simply using the iPad’s camera to snap a picture and then Zoom the picture.

Screen Sharing Apps

Students can access materials being displayed on the whiteboard on their iPad through screen sharing apps.  Teachers open the screen sharing app on their device (teacher’s device is being displayed on the whiteboard) and give the student the passcode number.  The student then opens the screen sharing app on his/her iPad, types in the passcode and is able to view the materials on his/her iPad.  The student can zoom as needed and can take a screen shot that saves the image directly into the Photo app for future reference.  There are numerous screen sharing apps.  For more information, go to the Paths to Technology Join.Me a Screen Sharing iPad App post.

Annotation App

An annotation app enables a student to draw, color or type on top of a picture or PDF document.  A student can take a picture of materials on the board (or take a screen shot of the iPad which is using a screen sharing app), or take a picture of a print worksheet; the student then opens the image in the annotation app, completes the assignment and emails the finished assignment back to his/her teacher.  Students can use Zoom or Zoom Window as needed.   Annotation apps are also fun for young students who are doing coloring worksheets.  Many students with low vision have poor handwriting skills.  An annotation app, with it’s ability to type answer directly on the worksheet, is often a great tool for students with poor handwriting or who struggle to read their own handwriting. There are numerous annotation apps.  For more information, go to the Paths to Technology posts SAS Gloss App: an Annotation App and Smart Forms: an Annotation App


Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is technology that enables you to convert paper documents, PDF or images captured by a digital camera to text.  Many of these OCR scanners can then save this text in a Word or editable document.  Documents can be scanned using a stand-alone scanner/printer; teachers often created digital materials using a stand-alone scanner/printer.  OCR apps are apps that take a picture and convert the picture into an editable field; many students will use an iPad (or iPhone) to on-the-fly snap a picture of a document and convert that document into an editable digital document.  There are many OCR apps in all different price ranges.  For more information, go to the Paths to Technology posts Scanning a Print Document and Filling out a Form on the iPad, Portable Scanner: Last Minute Converting print to Word Document and Google Docs and OCR: Easily Translate Images into Text!


By Diane Brauner

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