Built into every iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch is a set of special features that Apple has designed to make their mobile devices more accessible to people with special needs.  With every new iOS release, new features will be added. This post is a brief description of what these features are. If you need to know more, please refer to the references at the end.

To access these features, go to “Settings”, then “General”, then “Accessibility”.


For the visually impaired (people who are totally blind or with low vision)

Voiceover – Voiceover is what makes it possible for people who cannot see to use a touch screen based device such as an iPhone or iPad. When Voiceover is turned on, the whole operation of the device will become completely different. When you slide your finger on an icon, the device will speak out the title of that icon. And if this is what you want, you will double tap. There are new gestures to help the user navigate on a page or when writing a document. You can change the speaking rate or use different voices. It also supports the use of external braille devices. There are tons of other features under Voiceover, suffice to say that, with Voiceover, you can totally control an iPhone or iPad without looking at the screen.

Zoom – You can zoom the whole screen or just a portion of the screen (window mode).

Speech – This is an interesting feature. When turned on, you can ask the device to speak out what’s on the screen. Or you can select some text, say on a web site, and ask the device to speak the selected text. There is even a “karaoke” mode, where the word that is being spoken will be highlighted. And of course you can change the speaking rate. This feature should be very useful for people with different learning disabilities.

Others – You can invert the color, increase the contrast of the screen, turn the display to grey scale, use larger text, reduce the animation effect, etc. Note that some of the features, e.g. making the text larger is application dependent. That is, it is up to the application developer to decide whether they will implement this feature or not.


For the hearing impaired

Hearing Aids – There are hearing aids that are made to work specifically with Apple devices. With these hearing aids, you can use your iPhone to change the settings. You can even use the phone as a remote speaker. Imagine putting the phone on the teacher’s desk and use the microphone on the phone to stream the sound to your hearing aid via bluetooth.

Mono Audio – Turn stereo into mono mode so that people who may have hearing loss in one ear would not miss any important information.

Captioning – It supports closed captioning and subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH). You can also fine tune the size, color, position, opacity, etc of the caption.


For people with limited mobility

Switch Control – There are features that make it possible for people who can operate a single switch to interact with the iPhone or iPad. You can connect multiple switches to the device, or use the whole screen, or even use your head movement. An external device can be a hard switch, a switch that operates by breathing into it or the blink of the eye. With auto scanning turned on, each item on the screen will be highlighted one after the other. When it reaches the item that you want, you can activate the switch to select it. You can set the scanning speed, choose different ways of scanning, set the looping mode, etc etc. It even has a cross-scanning mode which is commonly found on the desktop. But note that scanning may NOT work for all the applications.

Assistive Touch – You can define a button to represent a multi-touch gesture. For instance, if someone has problem performing “pinch to zoom”, you can use Assistive Touch to define a button as this gesture. Now whenever that button is clicked, the underlying application will be tricking into thinking that the user has performed a pinch action.


For controlling what the kids can and cannot do with the device

Guided Access – This is a very important feature if you want to restrict the kid to only use one app.  When turned on, the kid will not be able to start or switch to another app. Not only that, you can also set a time limit on how long the kid can use the device, mask out certain areas of the screen, disable the volume/power buttons, etc etc.  The only way to get out of Guided Access mode is by entering the password which you can set beforehand. And please don’t forget this password or you won’t be able to turn Guided Access off yourself.


There is just too much to cover in a single post. If you need to know more, here are some useful resources