A Tactile Roadmap to Help You Learn to Use an iDevice

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Do you have one of those new iDevices? That’s right. Those marvels of technology that are supposed to do almost anything. Everyone is constantly telling you how great their smartphone or iPad is and all of the fantastic things that they can do with it. But you can't imagine how they are doing it. After all, there are no keys and only one button on the screen that you can use to navigate around. You know that you are missing something important going on behind that smooth piece of glass. So where do you start?

Hesitant to Learn New Technology

I often have the opportunity to share iDevice instruction with others like myself who have low vision or no eyesight. The above comments were actually shared with one of my recent students. The challenge for me was going to be in creating a way to show her a tactile roadmap of the types of items that could be found behind the glass screen of her iDevice. She was very apprehensive about learning something new and admitted that she had reasonable computer skills, but this type of device may be beyond her ability to learn.

teaching tool template of cutouts for apps on iphone

Caption: Tactile iPan Template

Creating the First "iPan"

As I got to know her a bit better, she shared with me some of her interests, including her love of cooking. So, I decided to start teaching her about iOS devices by using familiar items from her kitchen. I took a small baking pan and turned it onto the backside. This would emulate the tactile screen of an iPhone where she could explore all of the components and areas of the screen. With the help of a few round bump dots used for the home button; some waxed string for dividing the status bars section, home screen section, and dock; and a few old Scrabble tiles, we were going to have our very first "iPan." Yes, I’m sure that it did look rather ridiculous, but it worked great for identifying the parts of the phone and the different areas of the screen.

With our tactile "iPan," we were ready to explore. The large raised area of the pan made it possible for providing a mental picture of how the screen was divided and the position of the apps. There was even enough room for some single-finger swiping forward and backward as well as swiping up and down to get the hang of all of that gesture terminology. Once she felt confident about having a mental roadmap of where everything was located, it was time to use her iPhone.

Learning iPhone Accessibility Basics

We started with the basic single-finger touch near the upper left of the home screen, allowing her to swipe through each of the spoken apps without missing anything on the screen. She soon was able to navigate to each area of the screen and move around with confidence. She shared with me that no one had ever really explained to her how things were arranged on the screen. I also shared some of the basic features of many apps with her, such as the position of back buttons that tend to be in the upper left-hand corner as well as tabs that appear toward the bottom of the screen near the home button. Of course, there are always exceptions but focusing on concepts that provide similar features will help her navigate new apps.

If you have ever had the opportunity to show another person how to do something that they really desire to learn and then experience that "ah ha" moment when you realize they "got it," you can understand why teachers are willing to improvise. So the next time you reach into your cabinet for a baking pan, just remember that it could be the next instructional tool that opens the door to learning a new skill.

Additional Resources

Are You Afraid to Take Up a New Smartphone and Other iDevice?

Help for Apple Device Users

I Finally Got an iPhone!


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