July 2013 Issue  Volume 14  Number 7

Book Reviews

iOS Success: Making the iPad Accessible: A Guide for Teachers and Parents, by Larry L. Lewis (National Braille Press)

While not quite as prevalent as the Apple iPhone, that sleek wonder tablet called the iPad is arguably a close second in popularity among iOS devices. Professionals and soccer moms use them for everything from watching films, tracking reports, and doing rapid online research, to handling e-mail, and playing games. The iPad is also attracting plenty of attention in educational settings. In some school districts around the country, an iPad is assigned to every student in elementary and secondary classrooms, and the trend is rapidly gaining momentum.

What does that trend mean for kids who are blind or visually impaired? Thanks to the built-in accessibility features of the iPhone and iPad, and the option of using these devices in conjunction with refreshable braille displays or Bluetooth QWERTY keyboards, students with vision loss have an equal shot at participation.

However, using the iPad with access tools involves an initially steep learning curve, not just for the kids themselves but also for the teachers and parents who need to guide them through the iPad adventure.

The latest offering in the growing treasure trove of handbooks for iOS users from National Braille Press (NBP) comes at the perfect time for those who need it. Just in time for back-to-school preparation, NBP has released iOS Success: Making the iPad Accessible: A Guide for Teachers and Parents, written by Larry L. Lewis.

A Tour of the Book

Making the iPad Accessible is clear and concise in its organization. While the structure of its chapters makes an easy business of locating the explanation of a particular task (say, setting up e-mail or making a note), the book is also short enough to be read from start to finish in a few hours. With book and iPad in hand, a teacher or parent has a self-guided tour through the process of taking the iPad out of the box, getting acquainted with its physical structure, powering it up, and turning on VoiceOver (the iOS screen reader) to get started.

The author guides the reader through making changes to key settings, rendering the iPad a friendlier environment to the VoiceOver or Zoom (the iOS screen magnifier) user, and provides exposure to most of the iPad's basic apps. The iPad offers two approaches to accessibility for students who are blind or low vision. VoiceOver reads everything on the screen and requires a variety of specific gestures or input commands to use. Zoom magnifies the screen for low vision students. While both are thoroughly discussed in the book, more attention is given to VoiceOver since the Zoom experience more closely replicates that of a typical user who is sighted.

For a parent or teacher who is sighted, using VoiceOver can be daunting at first, and this book eases the reader into the VoiceOver environment with encouragement and clarity. Readers will learn the basic VoiceOver gestures so that, whether they are blind or sighted, they can simulate the iPad experience that a student will have.

After establishing a basic comfort level with VoiceOver and its gestures, the book provides guidance through the use of real-life tasks, such as:

  • Searching and navigating the Internet
  • Setting up and using e-mail
  • Locating, downloading, and navigating books
  • Sending and receiving iMessages
  • Using word processing apps
  • Importing, creating, and sharing documents

For many of these tasks, simple exercises are provided that will enable both teacher and student to see the power of the iPad in action.

The book provides information for using the basic apps built into every iPad as well as for searching the App Store for additional apps that will be of particular benefit to students who are blind or visually impaired. Particular attention is paid to document types that will and won't work for a student who is blind as well as the most efficient methods for sharing documents between student and teacher. After all, it's one thing to tell a teacher or parent that you can, indeed, provide a student who is blind with a worksheet via the iPad and ask him or her to complete and return it using the same device, but a much better thing is to demonstrate how that is accomplished. For many busy parents and teachers, discerning precisely how to accomplish such tasks can be overwhelming. This book provides readers with the needed information and delivers it in clear enough language that even newcomers to iOS devices will be able to follow.

Using External Accessories

The author stresses the value in using either a wireless QWERTY keyboard or are freshable braille display with the iPad to increase speed and efficiency in school. Use of a refreshable braille display, in particular, is strongly recommended for students who are totally blind. Step-by-step instructions for pairing keyboards and braille displays are given, as are keystroke command lists for interacting with VoiceOver or Zoom. Using an Apple device with braille is not without its quirks, and those, too, are explained.

Speaking of Quirks

While the language in this book is, for the most part, clear and straightforward, it was sometimes difficult to follow. The use of pronouns is one matter that seemed unsettled. The authorial perspective of the book usually, but not always, takes first-person plural ("we") even though only one author is listed. In addition, the audience is sometimes addressed as "you" and other times as "we."

There were a few unfortunate copyediting oversights that made reading confusing at times. In a discussion of word processing, for instance, the book reads, "The first good are better for...", and there are inconsistencies with capitalization (e.g., "VoiceOver" versus "Voiceover").

One convention that might be particularly annoying to braille readers, but may go unnoticed by those reading the book in print or through listening, is the manner in which braille keyboard commands are presented. Keyboard commands from braille displays are typically a combination of the numbered keys, 1 through 6. The command to go to the Home screen on the iPad, for instance, is executed by pressing the Home button on the iPad itself or the space bar plus the letter H from the braille display. (The braille letter H is formed by pressing the keys for dots 1, 2, and 5 in combination.) The way this is generally indicated in educators' manuals or user guides for braille devices is to connect the names of keys with hyphens. That is, in the case of directing the reader to press the keys for H, an instruction will read "Press 1-2-5." In this book, the word "plus" is used instead of those hyphens. Thus, the same instruction reads, "Press 1 plus 2 plus 5." While this is admittedly a somewhat tedious point, I found it annoying as a braille reader. Instead of a few spaces, a keyboard command might take up nearly an entire line written in this way, and since keyboard commands are frequently and generously provided, the issue comes up a lot.

Who Should Read This Book?

Although the title indicates that this is a guide for parents and teachers, it's also well worth reading for any person who is blind or visually impaired and interested in using the iPad. Instructions often include specific VoiceOver gestures, such as when to double tap or swipe right, as well as visual indicators, such as the appearance of a particular icon or its location on the screen. Sometimes the location of a button or tab is given (upper right-hand corner of the screen, for example, or across the bottom), but even when this information is not included, the reader is given enough information to render the instruction completely usable.

Since the guide is available in so many formats, including large print, braille, or downloadable online or through CD in DAISY, MP3, eBraille, or Microsoft Word formats, anyone interested in learning or teaching the use of the iPad with blindness accessibility will find this book well worth its price.

One final note on approaching this book: My suggestion to any reader with even slight hesitation about using the iPad in the classroom is to begin by reading chapter 8. Though the chapers in this book are extremly well-organized, this final chapter, entitled "Let's Hear from the Experts," contains letters from two students, a teacher, and a parent of blind students. These letters, particularly the one written by the parent, are so alive and compelling, offering vivid images of the iPad in daily use, that reading this chapter first will inspire you to go immediately to the beginning of the book and begin double-tapping your way to success!

Ordering Information

Title: iOS Success: Making the iPad Accessible: A Guide for Teachers and Parents
Author: Larry L. Lewis
Format: Available in large print, braille, on CD as MP3, DAISY, Word, or eBraille, or downloadable in all of the same formats
Cost: Large print, $28; all other versions, $20.
To order, visit the National Braille Press website or call 800-548-7323

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