As many people with dyslexia already know, the iPad has developed into an indispensable tool for various language-based activities.
During the last five years, Apple has put a great deal of effort into steadily improving the accessibility features of its mobile operating system, iOS. Currently, users can take advantage of built-in dictation, word prediction, and multiple text-to-speech options. In addition, the newest version of the operating system, iOS 8, allows for the installation of third-party keyboards. These mark an increase in the amount of assistive technology (AT) that can be used universally with iPad apps involving reading and writing.
What are Third-Party Keyboards?
Apple’s own iOS keyboard provides two options for people with learning disabilities to get help with spelling: dictation and word prediction. Nevertheless, the company is now allowing users to install third-party keyboards to use in place of the native iOS keyboard. Simply put, a third-party keyboard can be purchased and downloaded from the App Store, and enabled in the Keyboard Settings of the iPad. The advantage of alternate keyboards is that they are being developed by companies that specialize in AT, and can offer more than just the basic dictation and word prediction of Apple’s keyboard.
One of the best alternate keyboards currently available is Read&Write for iPad. Developed by Texthelp, the makers of Read&Write Gold and Read&Write for Google, the keyboard is a multipurpose tool that can provide reading and writing assistance across multiple apps. It features text-to-speech functionality with synchronized highlighting, word prediction with text-to-speech previews, a talking spell checker, a talking dictionary, and a picture dictionary for visual learning. It will also read text aloud, as it is typed, for immediate auditory feedback and proofreading. In addition, the keyboard offers appearance settings such as different colors, the option to highlight vowels, and the option for the letters to appear in the OpenDyslexic font. Finally, a pop-up floating toolbar can be activated in the Safari app to provide touch-activated text-to-speech, along with a talking dictionary, a picture dictionary, and a translator tool for Internet content.
AssistiveWare's Keeble keyboard is highly customizable, allowing it to support the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Developed for users with various disabilities (e.g., fine motor challenges, vision impairments, or dyslexia), it offers advanced word prediction and auditory feedback for people with language-based learning disabilities. The word prediction is self-learning, meaning that it will, in time, predict the words that a particular user writes frequently. It can be set for word completion, next-word prediction, or multi-word prediction, depending on the user’s writing skills. There is also flexibility in how many words are suggested and the size of the prediction bar. In terms of auditory feedback, the keyboard can read each key aloud as it is typed, thus reinforcing the relationship between sounds and symbols, a support that can lead to better spelling. It is also capable of reading each word or sentence aloud as it is typed for instant proofreading.
Like other keyboards, Ginger has integrated word prediction to help with correct spelling as a user types. What makes it unique, however, is its ability to proofread for spelling based on context. After a piece of writing is completed, the keyboard works in conjunction with its companion Ginger Page app to correct misspellings that standard writing apps and autocorrect easily miss, such as homonyms. It can also help a user improve a piece of writing with its rephrasing, synonym, and grammar-checking tools.
With assistive technology built into third-party keyboards, iPads are catching up to the level of productivity that desktop computers provide to people with dyslexia. That is to say, various AT tools that go beyond dictation and basic word prediction can now be applied to all apps, regardless of whether those apps have AT features of their own.
Other third-party keyboards that are worth looking at include:
You can find further expert advice and answers about learning disabilities and differences on Noodle, and here are some suggestions for further reading: