We are half way through 2015, and schools boards across North America are entrenched with the lightest, fastest, long-lasting battery powered super computers the world has ever seen: tablets. With 1:1 ratios, class sets, carts, BYOD (“bring your own device”), and even that coveted single school tablet being passed around, schools are challenged with the updating, maintenance, cleaning, charging, and overall understanding of how to use these devices in the most efficient and effective manner for the students involved.
With so many questions emerging (about settings, gestures or other “how do I/can we…” questions) from our colleagues, IT contacts and students, you would think that there would be more rumblings about the set of features that are frequently untouched and yet irreplaceable for some users: the Accessibility Menu. For quite a while, it was almost daily that I would get a request to share my favorite app for a certain exceptionality. It was not uncommon that I would be asked for my “top 5 autism apps,” “my top 5 blind low vision apps,” or something like “what is your favorite app for text to speech” etc. I started calling the various app stores the “Last Resort Store” a few years back in an effort to get staff to consciously investigate the device from the inside out, before going to Google or an app store.
iOS 8.3, Windows 8.1 and Android 5.2 Accessibility Menus. Don’t let size fool you however, more does not necessarily mean better.
It could very easily be argued that more research and development money and thought goes into an Apple, Android or Windows tablet for the 1% of the market who requires a feature on the accessibility menu, than for the 99% of users who do not need it or know it exists. The marketing and commercialization of the devices does not tailor specifically to users of all abilities. One look at Accessibility Menus on the three leading brands of mobile operating systems though, reveals the incredible resources available to every user, out of the box, and the best part, they are all free.
The term assistive technology is no longer only meaning add-ons to a standard computer or laptop. Although some set-ups may still require specialized technology, for many, it is no longer a $10,000 special order from a specialty company, and there are no discs to install and, for the most part, no software to download. And even for those still requiring 3rd party devices and software, the built-in accessibility still makes the overall set-up more accessible, less costly, or easier to set-up. The market has shifted and continues to shift in incredible ways every day. Accessibility features are not an afterthought or a 3rd party venture anymore. We are starting to see them everywhere – built in and, best of all, FREE.
Before you Google for an app, try Googling “iOS, Android or Windows Accessibility.” Each company has a dedicated website to help users and support staff understand the key features built into the device. The accessibility websites assist people in truly taking advantage of the softwares’ incredible power to engage personally and communicate with the world.