Toddler interacting with an iPad.

Starting Blind Toddlers and Preschoolers on an iPad

How to get started on an iPad with a bright 16 month blind baby.

A parent recently asked if there are any iOS apps for her son who is 16 months old and totally blind – the answer is a resounding YES!

There are many preschool apps that are great for toddlers and preschoolers without vision.  I’d suggest starting with Cause and Effect type apps where the student touches the screen and hears a sound.  One of my favorites is Peek-A-Boo Barn (by Night & Day).   When introducing a new app, if possible, start from a concept that is familiar to your child.  The app sounds like it is knocking when the app is waiting for the student to touch the screen.  Tell your child that the barn is “knocking” as kids are often familiar with the concept of knocking.  Have the child practice knocking on a door or tablet top.  Then, teach that  “knocking” on the iPad is a one-finger tap.  Once the student taps (anywhere in the middle are of the iPad), the barn door opens and you hear an animal sound.  There is a little pause giving the child time to identify the animal; then, a child’s voice names the animal.  Touch anywhere in the middle of the screen and the barn door closes.  This app is repetitive so babies/preschoolers love it!  Each time the barn door opens, there is a new animal.

Infant Zoo is a very simple cause and effect app with cute sounds.  The student taps in the middle of the screen and hears a cute animal sound. This app has one item per page and is created specifically for infants.  If your child has some vision, this app uses red, black and white colors (first colors that babies see/respond to), has an uncluttered visual background and includes some movement to catch the baby’s attention.

I also like interactive books.  These books teach basic concepts such as turning the page.  Some apps use a tap on the right side of the iPad and others use a swipe to the left.  Some of the preschool interactive books are songs, such as Wheels on the Bus (by Duck, Duck Moose).  Encourage the student to listen to each page’s song then explore the screen to find any cause and effect sounds.  Example:  Tap on the image of the students riding the bus: the student holding the guitar will make guitar sounds and the student holding the cat will “meow” when tapped.  A few of the pages do not have associated sound clues; many students will quickly turn that page.  Kids will soon learn where things are on each page, even if they cannot see the images.  This teaches great spatial concepts at a very early age!  Another fun story/song is the Itsy Bitsy Spider (by Duck, Duck Moose).  This book has a lot of interactive pieces on each page.  I recommend starting with Wheels on the Bus as it not as complex and the touch targets are bigger.

A favorite interactive book is Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree (by OceanHouse Media) .  Have the book read to you. The app will stop after reading each page, allowing your child to tap and explore the screen.  Tap a spot on the screen to hear the words or interesting sound.  Not every item on the screen is a touch target, so all children will have to tap randomly to find the touch targets – it does not matter if the child has vision or not!

Search the Internet for infant or preschool apps – including interactive books – and see what might interest your child!

Keys for success:

Parent Hint: Most young children, with practice, can learn to perform all of the gestures, including a right or left swipe.  Best practice is to work with your child until he/she is able to perform the necessary gestures without any modifications.  However, there are a few young children that become frustrated when they are physically unable to master the right or left swipe.  One solution is to pair the iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard; the child can use the right and left arrows instead of a right and left swipe.  If your young child is struggling with the tap gesture, the iPad has built-in touch modification options.  Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Touch Accommodations and select the best option for your child’s needs.  To slow down the speed of a double tap, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Double-tap Timeout.

Always keep one step ahead of your child!  That means you, as the parent, will want to learn about VoiceOver, the iPad’s screen reader and you need to learn the VoiceOver commands/gestures.  As your child begins to learn the basic gestures through games, you can teach him/her to drag his finger around the home screen of the iPad and listen to the various app names on the screen.  You can teach the basic right/left swipe to move from app to app and the double tap to open the desired app.  Put all of your child’s apps on the first page of the iPad’s home screen – move everything else to the second page or beyond.  This will make it easier for your son/daughter to begin to learn to independently find and open his/her favorite apps!  

The best way to truly learn VoiceOver is to use your iPhone – running VoiceOver – for a full week.  Hint: Two-finger double tap will answer or hang-up a call when running VoiceOver.

For information about VoiceOver, read the Getting Started with VoiceOver on the iPad. Think ahead!  What will your son/daughter be doing on the iPad as a preschooler?  Check out the posts about Layla, a teach savvy 4 year old who happens to be blind:

Layla: 4 year Old Learning VoiceOver and Braille
Layla’s Three preschool Apps
Getting Started on the iPad in Preschool


As you begin the iPad adventure with your child, please consider sharing what works and does not work on Paths to Technology – there are many other parents who have the same questions that you do and/or parents who have a child who has learned to use the iPad that can be a resource to you!

photo credit: Hanalei: a real Digital Native on the iPad via photopin (license)


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