Kellie Mote finds sound practical tips for needs assessors and assistive technology practitioners in ‘Connecting to Learn: Educational and Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities’ by Marcia J. Scherer (American Psychological Association, 2003)
At the core of Connecting to Learn is the importance of matching the right assistive technology with the learner. It isn’t immediately clear from the title, but the focus here is on the needs of students who are d/Deaf, or visually impaired. Initial chapters are therefore dedicated to providing background information on the needs of students with sensory disabilities.
The book primarily focuses on strategies to use with the individual – little of the content is dedicated to broader strategies such as creating more inclusive learning environments. However, many of the tips will be of use to practitioners providing assistive technology support in an educational context.
It would be an understatement to say there has been a fair amount of fuss over the release of the Google Nexus 7 tablet.
As an Assistive Technologist my focus is always on the accessibility of devices and how they cater for users who may access them in a non-standard way.
The accessibility tools built into Apple’s iOS give it a clear lead over Android in this area. Android is catching up but if you are visually impaired or require assistance with selecting items on the screen iOS is likely to be the preferred choice.
The release of the Nexus 7 has brought into focus Android’s key accessibility advantage which is: Choice of Platform. For anyone with a physical disability size and weight can be the crucial influence on tablet choice. iOS is currently available on three platforms: iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad giving only two screen size choices (3.5 and 9.7 inches) and three weight choices (101g, 140g and approx 650g dependent on iPad model). The rumours about a new smaller iPad may give a further choice of screen size and weight.
A quick examination of the Android device comparison page on Wikipedia shows a wide range of device sizes and weights. The i’m Watch is the smallest, smartphones range from 2.8 inches and 105 grams to 5.3 inches and 178 grams, tablets are mostly 10.1 inches but there are many at 7 and 8 inches and a range of other sizes. There are also devices with built-in or detachable keyboards and touchpads for those who need/want their tablet to work like a laptop.
The fact that Android is available across multiple devices is often cited as one of its weaknesses. For those who are concerned with size and weight of a device it could be Android’s greatest strength.
The much heralded Retina Display on the new iPad may seem to be of advantage purely to those viewing films or editing photos. However when looking at the iPad’s accessibility this display is a major advantage. One of the functions in the iPad’s Accessibility Options is Zoom. This magnifies the entire screen and allows you to turn it on and off with a three finger double-tap. You can also change the level of zoom very easily without having to return to the settings.
While Zoom is a great feature, the further you zoom in, the more ‘grainy’ the images on screen become. I only have an iPad 2 and while I was hopeful that the retina display on the new iPad would improve this graininess, I had no proof. After a few futile attempts to get answers out of new iPad owners on Twitter I was forced to go to the Glasgow Apple Store to find out for myself. Armed with a camera I managed to avoid all the blue-shirted staff and change the settings on an iPad to see if my theory was correct.
The evidence is shown in the pictures above. On the left a zoomed in Maps icon on my iPad2. On the right, same icon, same level of zoom on a new iPad.
As you can see the zoomed image on the new iPad is much sharper and the text much easier to read. For someone with a visual impairment, this significant difference might make that extra £70 worth it.
Assistive Technologist, BRITE