How changing the settings on your iPad and iPhone can help people with tremors and other dexterity difficulties

This blog has been updated! Originally published 13/01/17. Advice amended 12/01/22

The software that drives iPhones (iOS) and iPads (iPadOS) includes a range of incredibly powerful accessibility options for people with tremors due to conditions such as Parkinson’s or Cerebral Palsy, or who have reduced dexterity with age.

These can be found in the Accessibility settings and can help anyone with dexterity issues take their day to day computer usage to a whole new level.

One size definitely doesn’t fit all

Everyone’s wonderfully different. In this mobile-first world of extreme computing we all know how important inclusive design is for every single user. And settling for a vanilla experience on your device will waste a lot of the potential it has to be inclusive for you – especially ‘on the go’.

Like many other people with disabilities, I have always been deeply touched and truly grateful for the work that Apple has put into ensuring that its devices and software are as accessible and inclusive as possible. If you’ve never been in the Accessibility settings of your iPhone then I’d strongly recommend taking a peek now.

Screenshot of Apple General Settings showing Accessibility menu item optionScreenshot of Apple Accessibility setting

As a blind person I’m able to use my iPhone by turning on VoiceOver - and a quick glance down the other accessibility settings show us that people with a wide range of vision, hearing, motor and reading difficulties are also very extensively catered for.

How can technology help? 

Discover our Don't Disable Me training course series that focuses on the lived experiences of people with disabilities including those who face visual, hearing and physical barriers. In the course, you can learn first hand how technology can support those facing these barriers at work, in study and day-to-day life.

Touch accommodations

Built into iOS are some incredibly powerful options that can be customised to make a smartphone even easier to use for people with a tremor or other dexterity difficulty. For this group of users, it is often incredibly difficult to do a simple concise tap that is swift, on-target and not interpreted as a series of taps or swiping gestures.

The first two settings in the touch accommodations section aim to resolve this first issue; where a single tap is interpreted as many.

Screenshot of Apple Accessibility Touch Accommodations menu options

Assistive technology training

Many people are unaware of the accessibility and productivity tools built into mainstream packages such as Office 365 and Google Suite.

AbilityNet can provide 1:1 training on most assistive technologies (AT). 

Hold duration

The ‘hold duration’ is the length of time you must touch the screen before a touch is recognised and processed by the phone.

Screenshot of Touch Accommodations menu settings showing hold duration options

Starting at 0.1s, here you can set the minimum time your fingertip needs to be touching the screen before a tap is sent. This will allow you to fine-tune the phone’s response so that tremulous butterfly-light taps aren’t constantly activating items or sending keystrokes from the on-screen keyboard. Only more definite and intentional touches are processed.

Ignore repeat

The partner setting to the hold duration option above is ‘Ignore repeat’. Here you can tell the phone to discount multiple taps in quick succession in favour of more deliberate taps that are more spaced out.

Set the minimum duration in which multiple touches are treated as a single touch. Starting at 0.1s you can increase this value until all but your initial tap is ignored.

Tap assistance

Often it is very hard for users with dexterity difficulties to ‘tap and go’ without dragging their finger across the glass. Try doing a swipe on your phone now using the smallest possible movement and you’ll see the problem; even a few millimetres will turn a tap into a swipe.

Enabling tap assistance will allow any single finger gesture simply to be treated as a tap.

There are two choices here; use either the initial or final touch location as the point of the tap. In other words, should the phone consider the starting or ending point of the swipe as the position on the screen where the single one-finger tap was made.

For some users, the first place they put their finger might be closest to where they were intending to tap, whilst for others the fact that their finger is now resting on a surface makes it easier to slide it to where they want the tap to be, at which point they would lift it off to send the tap.

Leading the way to inclusion

There’s no doubt in my mind that Apple are continuing to show how accessibility, or inclusive design, can be done well.

In the coming years we should be optimistic about an ever-greater choice of inclusive products. We’re touching the future and, personally, I think it feels good.

Do you have or care for someone with Parkinson's?

AbilityNet is working with Parkinson’s UK to help people with Parkinson’s learn how to get online and use digital devices.

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