Did you know that most smartphones, tablets and other devices have built-in technology that can help with learning and attention issues? The range of assistive technology features varies among brands. But iPhones, iPads, iPods, Android devices and Windows phones all have features that may make life easier for people with learning and attention issues.
Here’s how some of the more common built-in features can help your child.
Built-In Accessibility Features in iOS
iOS is the operating system for iPhones, iPads and iPods. Apple laptop and desktop computers use an operating system called OS X, which has many of the same built-in accessibility features as iOS.
- For reading difficulties: Speak Selection is text-to-speech software that lets your child specify which blocks of text she wants the phone to read aloud. She can also use Highlight Text so that each word is highlighted as it is spoken. This feature can help struggling readers follow along.
- Another built-in setting, VoiceOver, is designed for the visually impaired. It reads aloud everything that’s happening on the screen and can be helpful if your child’s reading issues make it hard for her to navigate her phone.
- Whether or not your child uses the read-aloud features, she may want to use Zoom to magnify what’s on the screen. She can also invert the colors to provide greater contrast.
- For writing issues: Speak Auto-Text can help if your child has difficulty with typing or spelling. Another voice recognition feature, Siri, can be used to dictate text messages and reminders that your child wants added to her calendar. (Keep in mind that the auto-correct technology and voice recognition aren’t perfect. Be on the lookout for mistakes, which can sometimes be very entertaining!)
- For motor skills issues: Some iOS features can be helpful for kids who have difficulty with fine motor skills. In addition to voice recognition, there’s a feature called AssistiveTouch that lets your child customize hand gestures (such as ones for zooming in and out) so they’re easier for her to use.
- For attention and sensory processing issues: If your child is easily distracted or has difficulty with sensory overload, Apple’s Safari Reader can remove all the ads and other clutter from the web browser. Stripping away these items can help your child focus on the content of the article. Safari Reader also works with Speak Selection, Highlight Text and VoiceOver.
- For organization issues: Using calendar reminders is one of the ways your child’s phone can help her get organized.
Did you know that your child may be eligible for free digital text-to-speech books? Learn more.
Built-in Accessibility Features in Android and Windows
Devices that are powered by Google’s Android operating system come with some accessibility features that are similar to those in iOS. The same is true for Microsoft’s Windows phones.
For example, both Android and Windows make it easy to magnify text and to adjust the screen contrast. Both offer text-to-speech options that can read aloud the words on your child’s device.
Both operating systems can also run an app called Mobile Accessibility. Some cell phone providers include the app with your plan—it’s a good idea to ask. If so, it may come pre-installed on your child’s device or you may be given a code to download it for free.
If your provider doesn't include it, you can purchase it from an app store. It can be costly, though, so knowing what the Mobile Accessibility app provides can help you decide if it's worth the investment. The app includes:
- Touch navigation: As your child moves her finger on the screen, the device reads aloud the text underneath her finger. It also provides sound and vibration feedback.
- Easy to input text: Your child can use speech recognition to “write.”
In addition, Android also has free features called TalkBack, SoundBack and KickBack. TalkBack tells you what key or function you pressed. KickBack vibrates upon touch, and SoundBack makes a sound when you perform an action.
More About Assistive Technology
Mobile devices aren’t the only everyday items that can be used as assistive technology. Some low-tech tools include egg timers and Post-it notes. Learn more about how to find the right assistive technology for your child.
See how dyslexia advocate Ben Foss uses his phone to “ear read.”