Mobile Learning for All: Supporting Accessibility with the iPad


Luis Pérez

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    I dedicate this book to the person who, for the last twelve years, has been the inspiration for everything I have done in my life: my daughter Katherine.


    View Copyright Page

    List of Figures

    List of Codes


    Mobile Learning for All provides practical information for teachers and other educational professionals who want to learn how to use the iPad to meet the needs of all learners. Each chapter not only includes a discussion of the accessibility features built into the iPad and related apps, but also how these features support one or more guidelines of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a framework for designing flexible learning environments that take into account the diversity of the student population by building in features that allow a broad set of learners to access learning. UDL is based on the idea that all learners differ in the ways in which they perceive and comprehend the information presented to them, and it seeks to eliminate barriers to learning that can prevent some students from accomplishing their learning goals. For example, a student with a visual disability may require information to be presented in a different format from other learners (such as audio or braille), while a struggling reader may comprehend the information faster or more efficiently when it's presented through multiple modalities (text and audio) rather than through printed text alone. The idea that learning should be flexible and accommodate the needs of a variety of learners is a central tenet of UDL.

    Intended Audience

    While many of the iPad accessibility features discussed in this book were developed for people with disabilities, with some creativity many of them can be used to accommodate the needs of other diverse learners (such as English language learners and struggling readers) in the general education classroom. Thus, while the primary audience includes teachers, parents, and related service providers (occupational, speech, and physical therapists) who work with students with disabilities at all levels (K–20), the information in the book could prove helpful to general education teachers as well. The book could also be used in teacher preparation programs to ensure that preservice teachers learn about the range of accessibility features they can use with their students once they enter the teaching profession.

    Special Features

    To give the readers an opportunity to practice what they have learned, each chapter includes a series of activities designed to make educators more familiar with the accessibility features of their iPads. For example, in the chapter that focuses on learning and literacy, I have the reader enable the Speak Selection (text to speech) feature, then practice selecting text in a book in the iBooks app and listening to it read aloud by the built-in voice. Each chapter also includes a section dedicated to apps that complement the accessibility features discussed in that chapter. The word app is shorthand for application, and the term refers to the small, specialized programs that can be downloaded and installed on the iPad. These apps, which can be purchased or downloaded from Apple's App Store, often include additional features that extend what can be done with the iPad. For each app mentioned in the book, I have provided its price at the time of writing, but readers should understand that apps frequently go on sale or add features that lead developers to charge more for them.

    This book also represents an attempt to address the need for information about accessibility and mobile learning with a unique approach. In addition to the text, the book includes a series of QR codes. A QR code is a special type of barcode that is often used in print to provide a link to an online resource such as a web page or video. When the code is scanned with QR code reader app, the web page or video will open on the mobile device with the appropriate app for accessing that type of content (such as the Safari web browser for web pages or the YouTube app for videos hosted on that service). Using a free QR code reader app (such as the free QR Reader for iPhone, which also runs on the iPad), scan QR code P.1 to learn more about this technology (or go to

    QR Code P.1 Entry for QR Code on Wikipedia.

    Each QR code in the book can be scanned to open video tutorials and other online resources that can be updated as new accessibility features for the iPad are released or updated. I have also created a blog to provide updates on any developments related to iPad accessibility (such as new product announcements from Apple, feature upgrades, new apps, etc.). The blog is available at, and you can subscribe to receive updates as they become available. Along with the blog, I have created a Pinterest site where I have organized the many apps mentioned in the book into categories that are easy to browse and provide direct links for downloading the apps from the App Store. This Pinterest site is available at

    Through the blog, tutorial videos, and other online resources, the book is meant to be a living, dynamic resource that will keep up with the fast development of technology. The inclusion of links (in the form of QR codes) to videos and other resources is also in keeping with my commitment to present information in a way that meets the needs of students with diverse learning styles as well. Thus, each of the video tutorials includes closed captioning to ensure its accessibility to viewers who have hearing disabilities as well as to facilitate its use in different environments (such as in a noisy classroom or teachers' lounge). My experience as a web accessibility professional has allowed me to create the video tutorials in a way that itself contributes to the overall accessibility of this project.

    With Mobile Learning for All, you have everything you need to get started with building a toolkit for implementing UDL with the iPad in your classroom, including the following.

    • In-depth coverage of all of the built-in accessibility features of the iPad, including the latest features introduced with the iOS 6 update
    • Access to more than 20 closed captioned video tutorials with step-by-step directions you can review at any time, including from your iPad
    • Discussion of more than 150 apps that have been carefully curated by the author based on his experiences working with people with disabilities across a range of different settings (K–12 schools, higher education, research, and professional practice as an Apple Distinguished Educator)


    No person is an island. I consider myself lucky to have met many exceptional people over the years that have been willing to generously share their knowledge and expertise with me.

    I especially wish to thank the Apple Distinguished Educator community. I am humbled to be part of such a talented, knowledgeable, and passionate group of educators. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the support I have received from the members of our Inclusive Design Group: Greg Alchin, Phyllis Brodsky, Mark Coppin, Mark Dohn, Sarah Herrlinger, Madaleine Pagliese, Cherie Pickering, and Megan Wilson. I hope you find this book a valuable contribution toward the work we do to provide a more inclusive educational experience for all students.

    To the team at the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, I appreciate your support of my work over the years, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to grow in my knowledge of accessibility as I developed the content for the Tech Ease websites.

    A sincere thank you to all of my friends who have been there to provide support in both small and big ways over the many years I have been in school: Heather, BJ, Cara and Rob, Euna, Kris and Gillian, Shannon, and anyone I have forgotten to mention. I appreciate your friendship more than you know.

    Cindy, for making my life better in so many ways, thank you. And the biggest thanks of all to my mom, Lidia. Without the many sacrifices you made to bring me to this wonderful country, none of what I have been able to accomplish in my life would have been possible. I also want to acknowledge my dad, Luis Felipe. Although I have not seen you as much as I would have liked over the course of my life, you and my entire family in the Dominican Republic have always been close to my heart. The books you bought me as a child inspired a passion for learning that continues to this day.

    Finally, I want to thank two special gentlemen who were role models and influenced the course of my life in a significant way: our family friend Julio, who took my brother and me under his wing at a vulnerable time in our lives and showed us how we could be strong, successful Dominican men, and Rick Newton, my advisor at the Westtown School who pushed me to have high expectations for myself and modeled a life of learning dedicated to social justice and the common good.

    At Corwin, I wish to thank Debra Stollenwerk, Desirée Bartlett, Kim Greenberg, Veronica Hooper, Mayan White, and Codi Bowman for making the process of getting this book published such a valuable learning experience for me.

    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin wishes to acknowledge the following peer reviewers for their editorial insight and guidance.

    • Dr. Debi Gartland, Professor of Special Education
    • Towson University
    • Department of Special Education
    • Towson, MD
    • Dr. Carol S. Holzberg, Technology Coordinator
    • Greenfield Public Schools
    • Greenfield, MA
    • Cheryl S. Oakes, Resource Room Teacher
    • Wells High School
    • Wells, ME
    • Dr. J. David Smith, Professor Emeritus
    • University of North Carolina at Greensboro

    About the Author

    Luis Pérez, Phd earned his doctorate in special education from the University of South Florida. His research interests include technology professional development for teachers, assistive technology, universal design, web accessibility, and disability studies. He also received his M. Ed. in instructional technology from the University of South Florida, where he is on the staff of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology. At FCIT, Luis developed Tech Ease 4 All, a collection of assistive technology tutorials for parents, teachers, and other professionals who work with students who have special needs.

    Luis was selected to be an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2009, and he is a frequent presenter at regional, national, and international conferences on educational technology and accessibility, including the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, Closing the Gap, and the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN).

    Luis was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye condition that results in progressive vision loss, at the age of 29. Luis is considered legally blind due to the fact that he only has about 10 degrees of central vision left. As a person with a visual disability, Luis knows firsthand what a difference mobile technology can make in the lives of people with disabilities. Despite his limited eyesight, Luis is an avid photographer who relies on his iPhone and iPad as his primary means of capturing and editing images.

  • Conclusion

    As you can see from the many accessibility features and apps I have discussed in each chapter of this book, we have come a long way when it comes to accessibility on mobile devices such as the iPad. Not only does iOS provide many built-in supports for vision, hearing, and motor skills, but through the many apps available on the App Store creative solutions have also been developed for students with learning, communication, and social difficulties.

    I consider myself a good example of what accessible technologies can do for someone with a disability. Despite having a significant visual disability, I have been able to accomplish a number of goals I set for myself, including succesful completion of my doctorate. Without the many accessibility features Apple has created for people like me, I don't know that I would have been able to successfully pursue such a difficult goal. These technologies have played an important role in empowering me to accomplish my academic goals, and they have also enriched my life and brought me great joy by allowing me to pursue my passion to be an iPhoneographer (a photographer who uses an iPhone or an iPad for photography). I have written this book to help other educators provide the same opportunities for the students with disabilities in their classrooms. It is my hope that the step-by-step tutorials and other resources available through the QR codes provide you with the tools you need to implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and accessibility with iPads.

    However, even as the accessibility of Apple's mobile devices continues to improve, an important challenge remains: the accessibility of the content available for these devices. By designing content in a way that follows a few simple accessibility best practices, content such as electronic books can be designed in a way that allows the accessibility features of the iPad and other mobile devices to work as intended. Where appropriate, I have included some techniques for designing accessible content in this book. For example, the chapter on visual supports included a section on how to include accessibility descriptions for images so that the VoiceOver screen reader can describe those images to people with visual disabilities, and in the chapter on auditory supports, I discussed captioning as a way to provide access for those with hearing disabilities. It is my hope that in addition to exploring new accessibility features and apps as they become available, you will also consider keeping your design skills up to date with the latest accessibility techniques to make sure there is synergy between your mobile device's capabilities and your ability to design accessible content. Both aspects of universal design are crucial to ensuring students of all abilities have the access to the curriculum to which they are entitled. I hope you will join me in promoting the next wave of accessibility for mobile devices, when the accessibility features of those devices and the content educators create for them work in concert to make sure all learners have equitable access to the curriculum.

    Appendix A: Additional Resources

    Apple Accessibility

    This is Apple's official page for product accessibility information and news.


    This site includes app reviews and tutorials created by users who are blind or who have low vision. The app reviews often include information about VoiceOver compatibility.

    MacVisionaries This is a Google Group for Mac users with visual disabilities, including owners of mobile devices.

    This blog is by Eric Sailers, a speech language pathologist who frequently shares tips and resources for the use of mobile devices with students who have special needs.

    Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs

    This excellent blog is by Kate Ahern, an experienced educator who works with students with multiple disabilities.

    Teaching all Learners

    This is a blog by Patrick Black, a special education teacher from Mt. Prospect, IL.

    AT Tips

    This is a blog by Cathy Hoesterey focusing on “clean and simple technology tips for all.”

    inov8's There's a Special App for That

    Each post in this series from inov8 features a group of apps that address a specific need, from communication to literacy instruction and independent living skills.

    iPhone/iPad Apps for AAC from Spectronics

    This is a comprehensive and thorough list of apps for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

    Mobile Learning 4 Special Needs

    This is a Wiki where I post many of the accessibility tutorials you can access through the QR codes in this book, as well as information about new apps and accessories.

    Appendix B: VoiceOver Gestures

    Basic Navigation
    • Flick right or left to select the next or previous item.
    • Double-tap anywhere on the screen to activate the selected item (such as open an app).
    • Two-finger “scrub” (move two fingers back and forth three times quickly, as if making a “z”) to go back to the previous screen, dismiss an alert, or close a folder.
    • Three-finger flick left or right to go to next or previous screen.
    • Three-finger flick up or down to scroll down or up one screen.
    • Three-finger tap to provide additional information (such as the current page or screen, or the position within a list).
    • Three-finger flick down while any item in the status bar is selected to open the Notification Center. Use the two-finger scrub gesture to dismiss the Notification Center.
    • Four-finger tap to select the first/last item on the screen (this will depend on whether you tap on the top or bottom part of the screen).
    • Double-tap and hold for one second to use a standard gesture. For example, you can double-tap and hold on a slider, then without lifting your finger drag to change the values controlled by the slider. Standard gestures are also helpful for moving apps or folders.
    • Select the page indicator (the dots located between the Dock and the apps on the Home screen) and flick up to go to the next screen or down to go to the previous screen.

    Note: Any time VoiceOver announces that an item is adjustable, as with the page indicator, you can change the value of that item by flicking up or down with one finger while the item is selected.

    Device Functions

    In addition to the gestures you use for basic navigation of the touch-screen interface, a number of VoiceOver gestures control device functions:

    • Select the Unlock button and double-tap the screen with one finger to unlock your device.
    • Two-finger double-tap will answer or end a call on the iPhone; play and pause in the Music, Videos, YouTube, and Voice Memo apps; take a photo in the Camera app; start or pause a recording in the Voice Memos and Camera apps; and start and stop the stopwatch.
    • Three-finger double-tap to mute/unmute VoiceOver.
    • Three-finger triple-tap to turn the screen curtain on and off. If you still hear VoiceOver but don't see anything on the screen, the screen curtain has been turned on.
    • Triple-click the Home button to toggle VoiceOver off and on (this feature can be set up to toggle other accessibility settings such as Zoom and White on Black in the Settings app).
    • Tap any letter on the onscreen keyboard and perform the scrub gesture (iPad only) to split or merge the keyboard.
    iPad Multi-Touch Gestures

    On the iPad, VoiceOver can be used along with the four- and five-finger gestures introduced in iOS 5:

    • Four-finger flick left or right to switch apps.
    • Four-finger flick up from the bottom of the screen to open the app switcher. Flicking down with four fingers will close the app switcher.
    • Five-finger pinch to close the current app.

    Appendix C: Keyboard Shortcuts for Using VoiceOver with an Apple Wireless Keyboard

    VO Key Shortcuts

    VO stands for VoiceOver keys (holding down the Control and Option keys on the keyboard at the same time).

    • VO and Left/Right Arrow key: Navigate the items on the screen by moving the Voiceover cursor to the previous or next item, which can be an app or a folder (including ones in the Dock).
    • VO + Space Bar: Select the current item (same as double-tapping).
    • VO + “-“: Same as double-tap (for answering calls, starting playback or recording).
    • VO + H: Same as pressing the Home button. Using this shortcut from the Home Screen will take you to the Spotlight search screen. Pressing this shortcut twice in a row will bring up the app switcher to let you switch apps.
    • VO + M: Move the focus to the status bar at the top of the screen.
    • VO + S: Toggle the speech on/off.
    • VO + Shift + S: Toggle the screen curtain on/off.
    • VO + A: Read from the current item.
    • VO + B: Read from the top of the current page or screen.
    • Control by itself: Pause VoiceOver.
    • VO + Command + Left/Right Arrow key: Cycle through VoiceOver speech settings (Volume, Speech Rate, Typing Echo, Use Phonetics, and Use Pitch).
    • VO + Command + Up/Down Arrow key: Select a different value for the currently selected VoiceOver speech setting.
    • VO + K: Turn on the VoiceOver help.
    • VO + I: Open the Item Chooser.
    • Escape key by itself: Go back, cancel, or dismiss popup (same as the scrub gesture).
    • Command + Tab: Switch to next app (on iPad). Adding the Shift key will move switch to the previous app.
    • VO + F: Open the search. Type your search term and press Enter to search for the first match.
    • VO+ G: Move to the next search match. Add shift to move back to the previous search match.

    In addition to the VO keys, the QuickNav feature available on the Mac is also supported:

    • Left and Right Arrow keys at the same time: Activate/deactivate the QuickNav feature.
    • Right or Left Arrow key: Move to the next or previous item.
    • Up and Down Arrow keys at the same time: Select an item when QuickNav is turned on (this is the same as pressing VO-Space Bar).
    • Option and one of the arrow keys: Scroll to another screen.
    • Up and Right/Left Arrow keys: Turn the rotor clockwise or counterclockwise.
    • Up Arrow or Down Arrow key: Select the next or previous option for the currently selected rotor setting.
    • Control and the Up Arrow or Down Arrow key: Select the first or last item on the screen.
    Safari Single-Key Shortcuts
    • H: Next heading
    • 1 to 6: Next heading of that level (heading level 1, heading level 2, etc.)
    • L: Next link
    • S: Next text element
    • T: Next table
    • X: Next list
    • I: Next image
    • B: Next button
    • C: Next form element


    Apple, Inc. (2012, January 19). Apple reinvents textbooks with iBooks 2 for iPad [Press release]. Retrieved from
    Bonnington, C. (2012, January 20). iPad a solid education tool, study reports. Retrieved from
    Boyd, A. W. (2011, September 11). Adapting to the iPad, called education's ‘equalizer.’ USA Today. Retrieved from
    Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (n.d.). What is Universal Design for Learning? Retrieved from
    Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2011). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.
    Center for Universal Design. (2010). Ronald L. Mace. Retrieved from
    Disseldorp, B., & Chambers, D. (July, 2002). Selecting the right environment for students in a changing teaching environment: A case study. Paper presented at the meeting of the Australian Society for Educational Technology International, Melbourne, Australia.
    Donnelly, R., & Fitzmaurice, M. (n.d.). Collaborative project-based learning and problem-based learning in higher education: A consideration of tutor and student roles in learner-focused strategies. AISHE Readings. Retrieved from
    Edutopia (2011). PBL research summary: Studies validate project-based learning. Retrieved from
    Hecker, Burns, Elkind, Elkind, & Katz. (2002). Benefits of assistive reading software for students with attention disorders. Annals of Dyslexia, 52, 244–272.
    Johnson, L.F., Smith, R. S., Smythe, J. T., & Varon, R. K. (2009). Challenge-based learning: An approach for our time. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.
    Leong, C. K. (1995). Effects of on-line reading and simultaneous DECtalk auding in helping below-average and poor readers comprehend and summarize text. Learning Disability Quarterly, 18, 101–116.
    Montali, J., & Lewandowski, L. (1996). Bimodal reading: Benefits of a talking computer for average and less skilled readers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29, 271–279.
    Riconscente, M. (2011). Mobile learning game improves 5th graders’ fractions knowledge and attitudes. Los Angeles, CA: GameDesk Institute. Retrieved from
    U.S. Department of Education. (2010, June 29). Joint “Dear college” letter: Electronic book readers. Retrieved from
    Wehmeyer, M. L. (2002). Self-determination and the education of students with disabilities (Digest No. E632). Reston, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED470036)
    Wise, B.W., & Olson, R.K. (1994). Computer speech and the remediation of reading and spelling problems. Journal of Special Education Technology, 12, 207–220.

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website