Accessible and inclusive blended learning – Apple feature overview

Screenshot of Apple Speak feature

In the latest of our series of blog posts on accessibility in blended learning, we’re taking a dive into Apple’s features, looking at what’s on offer and how you might use them in class. 

Who needs these features? Just about everyone

First, some context. According to official UK government published data, 3.3% of pupils in England have EHCP; an additional 12.1% receive SEN support. That’s one in seven pupils, and this number is rising. The most common need for pupils with an EHCP is linked to autistic spectrum disorders (more than 29% of pupils) and the most common need for pupils accessing SEN support is speech, communication and language needs.

According to Mencap, more than 350,000 children aged 0-17 have learning disability, a definition that covers a smaller subset of children and is narrower than SEN. 

There are three potential groups when considering accessibility:

  • Pupils with a statement – a full provision plan of support, often called an EHCP. Most statements are provided to support pupils with autism (more than 29%). 
  • Pupils at school action/school action plus – school has identified an additional need and may have targeted support in place (teaching assistants, pupil on SEN register). Most pupils in this category have a language and communication need (more than 65%).
  • Both of the above groups account for 14% (1:7) of pupils with a diagnosed need.
  • Pupils with no diagnosis. This does not mean there is not a need. They may have an unrecognised need – either temporary, progressive or permanent. This is made up of 86% of pupils.

Some learners may have an undiagnosed need and they may also be unaware themselves. They will be reliant on adults around them to identify their need.

Some pupils/students will have developed coping/masking strategies for their need, perhaps because they are the first person aware of a change in circumstance and are not willing or not sure how this could be shared with anyone else. 

However, it is important to understand that most pupils/students will have some form of additional need at some stage in their education. It could be for a whole range of different reasons, such as changing vision as they grow, a temporary fracture or break or temporary medical intervention such as the fitting of grommets. 

In addition, many of the features that are labeled as ‘accessibility’ features are potentially useful to anyone – who doesn’t need more focus on the task in hand…? And, of course, these are skills that are useful for the modern workplace beyond academic skills.

Apple’s accessibility features – overview

Here’s a brief rundown of a selection of the features you’ll find on Apple devices. They do vary across device type and model and so this page is the essential guide you need for detailed support for different types of device. 

Features for vision:

  • VoiceOver – a screen reader that describes what’s happening on your device so you can navigate by listening and performing gestures.
  • Text size – system wide for partial sightedness, degenerative eye conditions, ease of use and putting distance between screen and eye
  • Zoom –  increases the size of information on the screen
  • Magnification – can be used to increase the size of information of physical objects. It offers benefits for accessing information in worksheets, text books, images and small objects.
  • Changing display – brightness, dark mode, reducing motion for visual comfort
  • Colour filters – changing overlay for visual comfort, reducing eye strain, supporting pupils with dyslexia or visual diagnosis

Features for hearing:

  • Live listen – fine tuning hearing aids or AirPods to hear more clearly during class, or using an iPad’s built-in mic to amplify a conversation 
  • Headphone accommodations – customise headphones ot hearing needs

Features for physical and motor skills:

  • Voice control – navigate a device using voice alone
  • Switch control – assistive technology with built-in features as well as functionality for switches, a joystick or other adaptive devices to control what’s on screen so you can interact with it without touching it

Features for focus:

  • Reader view – removes distracting content, improves tracking, offers multi-modal access to information. Change font, change size of text, change background colour – click on settings for advanced options. Reader view can be made persistent with every page automatically adapting to reader view if possible.
  • Guided access – can enable iPad to lock in single app, such as Notes, Keynote, Pages and disable parts of screen depending on app. If an app’s in locked guided access mode then the usual methods of exiting do not apply (swipe, double click home button, five digit pull)
  • Spoken content – Go from text to speech with Speak screen. Control speech playback with Speech controller. Or use Speak selection to have a specific range of text read to you. Then follow along as Highlight content highlights words or sentences as they’re spoken. 

Coming up

Thursday 20 May is Global Accessibility Awareness day and there’s a whole host of events to mark it, all listed on the Global Accessibility Awareness day website.

Among them is Apple’s virtual event at 4-5pm (BST) to explore the power of the accessibility features built into Apple technology. In this session Apple will demonstrate the key features on iPad and Mac which support each of the accessibility categories — vision, hearing, motor and cognitive. You will hear personal stories about how Apple technology has helped transform people’s lives, helping to inspire and bring equitable education to schools and classrooms — no matter where and how the learning happens. There will be a British Sign Language interpreter available as a guide throughout the virtual event.

Plus, Aspire 2Be is running a four-day accessibility festival from Monday 17 May with 12 online events focusing on the effective use of Apple technology for equity and inclusivity in education. A variety of events will identify theory, tools and tips around Apple accessibility tools to ensure inclusivity and positive outcomes for every learner.

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