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Getting Started with Switch Access for iPad | Your School OT
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Make a Huge Impact Using Switches with iPad

Let’s face it, iPads are everywhere. Apple claims they make up 95% of tablets in schools. They’ve gotten a bad reputation recently…and for good reason! Research is beginning to show that excessive tablet use can have a negative effect on the motor development of young children. But while excessive screen time has caused a boatload of problems for rising kindergartners, there IS a bright side to these devices.

Do you have students in your school that struggle to participate in classroom activities because of significant motor deficits? Do they have communication needs that prevent them from building peer relationships? Are you desperate for motivating and stimulating activities to increase student engagement that won’t sit in the classroom collecting dust? Then I have a solution for you!

Start Engaging Your Students Today!

I’m going to tell you about one piece of hardware that can open up infinite possibilities for your students with motor impairments. I’m talking about students with significant motor impairments that cannot independently access a touchscreen. The kids that always do more watching than doing.

Using switches with an iPad can be a game changer for many of our kiddos. Augmentative communication is just one way these devices can be life-changing, Those of us who have recommended or worked with a kid that used a communication device know they can be expensive and sometimes bulky or difficult to use. Let’s assume you don’t have an ipad so you have to purchase one brand new in addition to one of the top bluetooth switch interfaces (in my opinion), the Blue2 by Albenet. $249.99 for the ipad + $185 for the Blue2 = $435. Assume you’re going to use the Proloquo2Go app (one of the more expensive ones), which is another $249.99. That’s still only $685. Significantly under $1000 while many devices can cost up to $5000 or more.

I’m not saying that this is always the solution and that there aren’t a ton of reasons why some of these more expensive devices are not required…I’m just saying this is definitely worth a try. Not to mention that many of these functions can also be used on iPhones. Imagine setting up a child with a switch interface that could connect to their parent’s phone via Bluetooth and use it for communication, games, etc. while at home or in the community.

How to Get Started

Using switches with an iPad is very simple. First, you need a switch interface that is iOS compatible. I go into the pros and cons of a variety of interfaces in my post here. What you choose depends on many factors such as whether you want a Bluetooth switch interface (my personal fave) or a direct connection through the charging port of the iPad. Use the guide I created and really take time to see which one meets the needs of your client, student, or child. The way you connect the interface to your iPad depends on what type of interface you buy. They come with instructions but I also give a brief demonstration in the how-to guide I referenced above.

Next, you need to add the switch you’re going to use in the accessibility settings on iOS. I’ve included a quick video of that setup process. Note: This is assuming you are going to use an EXTERNAL switch (ex. Big mack, cheek switch, sip/puff). You also have options to turn your iPad screen or camera into a switch that I talk about in another post.

There is really too much to say about this topic for one post! So at this point, I’ve got other posts to check out on each way you can use switches with the iPad. Depending on what you’re using it for and what app you’re trying to use, you will need to decide whether you want to use some sort of scanning option or maybe an iPad recipe. Check out the following posts on each option

Scanning with iPad: Auto Scanning vs. Manual Scanning

iPad Recipes: How to Create and Use Them in MinutesAn ipad and a houseplant with the article title

Here Are Some Apps to Try!

I definitely want to point you in the direction of some apps you can start using with the switch. Some are great for assessing skills or teaching switch skills but remember that we want to promote engagement in REAL, MEANINGFUL TASKS. If you ask yourself “why are we using this app?” and the only answer is “to teach switch skills”…you probably need to think about your goals and what you’re trying to achieve. I have a whole post on this process right here! Not that we shouldn’t have fun games and activities to teach switch control skills…but we should be working towards increasing their participation in classroom and school activities first and foremost!

Also, with the use of iPad recipes, you can really use most any app as long as you can figure out the “finger gesture” needed to use the app. More on that topic in my post about iPad recipes!

It’s A Marathon, not a Sprint

As I said, there is way more information about this topic than I can put in one (or 20) blog posts. The first steps are  1. getting the hardware, 2. deciding on a switch and assessing for what part of the body they are going to use to activate the switch, 3. Picking an activity you would like to do, and 4. Deciding on what app(s) you’re going to try. Once you’ve done all of this, it’s more of knowing where to get help setting up your activity. I am continuing to post on different activities and ways of using switches witan h iPad. Stay tuned for more info and feel free to comment and let me know what you’d like to see done!

Ways to Learn More!

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To recap, iPad is here to stay for better or worse. While they do have a dark side they also offer a very bright light for our students or clients with motor impairments.  Using switches with an iPad offers infinite possibilities and is easy to set up (I promise!). Here are links to posts and videos about each step of the process.

  1. Picking and setting up a Switch Interface
  2. Addiing a Switch in iOS
  3. Setting up Scanning (Auto vs. Manual)
  4. Setting up an iPad Recipe