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Choosing the Best Type of Switch Scanning for iPad | Your School OT
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Title states Switch Scanning for iPad with a picture of an iPad in the background

Choosing the Best Type of Switch Scanning for iPad

You’re all set up with the switch interface, switch and the iPad but don’t know where to begin? If the answer is “what is a switch interface?” then check out my post on getting started with switch access and choosing a switch interface here. If the answer is “yes, I’ve got the stuff but no idea where to begin!”, you’re in the right place. This post will walk you through what’s called “scanning”, one of the main ways to use a switch with the iPad. There are technically three types of “scanning” you can do on the iPad: auto-scanning, manual scanning, and point scanning. All three have their pros and cons but I am going to deal mostly with manual two-switch scanning because I find it to be the easiest for students/clients with motor impairments such as cerebral palsy. Check out my post on automatic scanning here! 

READ ME PLEASE!  Manual and auto scanning are only available on the home screen and in “switch friendly” apps that are set up for scanning. If you are trying to use an app that’s not set up for switch use you will need to use an iPad recipe (check out my post on these) or point scanning (also, an entirely different post). 

Sometimes Two Really is Better Than One 

One mistake a lot of folks make when setting up switch scanning (myself included) is assuming that having one switch is always going to be easier than using two switches. THAT IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE. Single switch scanning or “auto scanning”is where the iPad automatically move through icons until the user makes a selection. Your student has to hit the switch at just the right moment or the cursor will have moved onto the next choice (or not gotten to the one they wanted) and this obviously leads to a lot of unwanted selections. You can slow down the scanning but this is not always a solution. 

So imagine the frustration when you miss what you want, hit the switch too early, etc. This is only made worse when you’re in a communication app and it takes you to a whole other page of choices!  Moving at a specific time is often so difficult for many of our students that controlling two switches (a “move” switch and a “get” switch) is sometimes easier and offers your client more control. 

Setting Up Two-Switch Manual Scanning 

Setting up manual scanning requires the use of two switches (duh..). So there’s that! There are so many options for switches and where to put them. I go more into detail in my post about switches here. Once you’ve got your two switches and your switch interface (see post here for recommendations), you then need to add the switches in iOS and set up manual scanning. I’ve included a video for you to reference below! This video shows how to set up the Blue2 switch interface and use it for two switch manual scanning. 

Auto Scanning vs. Point Scanning 

As much as I love manual scanning, I admit there are many scenarios where someone needs to be able to scan with only one switch. They wouldn’t have bothered making it if that weren’t true. Auto scanning is just what it sounds like…the cursor automatically scans through items or rows until the person hits the switch. What I find problematic about it is this…when you’re scanning through icons on the home screen, you have to not only hit the switch once to activate the icon but you then have to hit it a second time to activate the “tap” feature. There are definitely going to be folks that this works for…just know it’s not the only option.

Point scanning uses “crosshairs” to select a certain point on a screen. The huge advantage of this is that you can access any webpage, app, the iTunes store, etc. with great flexibility for whatever you want to do. This disadvantage is that it’s cognitively demanding, requires good visual perceptual skills and good timing. I screw it up every time. This is definitely not a strategy for those with poor frustration tolerance! Check out this demonstration here!

If At First You Don’t Succeed!

Just remember that you have options! There are options I haven’t even talked about in this post (like iPad recipes!). iPad’s and tablets have become such a common technology that we as therapists and educators really do have an obligation to make sure all our students can access them. 

Leave a comment to share any experiences you’ve had with using switches with an iPad, any barriers/problems you’ve come across, or just ideas for future topics! 

Here’s your summary: Manual scanning with two switches is often easier than automatic scanning. Remember to try different strategies until you find something that works but don’t feel like you have to know everything!


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