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Apps and technology

A Parent’s Perspective on Using an iPad with her Son

An interview with a TVI and parent of a visually impaired child and her experience using the iPad with him.

I had the pleasure of learning all about one parent’s journey with her four and a half year old son and his iPad. She enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed for a Paths to Literacy Blog post.  

It is a great opportunity to learn about iPad use from families who can attest firsthand to the utility or troubleshooting needed when implementing an iPad with a student with a visual impairment. 

Let me introduce Sarah Chatfield. She is a teacher of students with visual impairment (TVI) graduate student at Texas Tech University and she lives in Wyoming. Sarah grew up in Texas and is married with two children. Her son, Jack, is four and a half years old and has a visual impairment. 

Please tell me about your son’s vision.

young boy using ipad
He is four and a half years old and has severe vision loss in both eyes due to underdeveloped optic nerves (ONH), myopia, and nystagmus. He is unable to fixate and maintain eye contact. For near distances, he will sometimes tilt his head so that he is examining with his right eye only (at distances of closer than 2 inches); for all other distances, he does not display a favorite eye. 

What do you think will be your son’s AT needs?

An iPad with stand or similar to both magnify and record what the teacher is doing on the blackboard would be beneficial. He explores print media like books primarily through his vision. However, unless he uses the CCTV or iPad, he is unable to see the print that accompanies the books that he enjoys. He should be given access to large print materials.

What have been some of the ways your son uses his iPad to accommodate his visual impairment?

magnifier app logo
lightbox logo
Jack is four and a half and he began using the iPad when he was just over a year old. We’ve used the iPad as a Lightbox and we have used it as a Magnifier. These are the specific apps we use: 

What are some of the educational apps you use with your son? 

injini app logoI really love this one educational app called, Injini Child Development Game, I would encourage parents to check it out.  On the iTunes website, developers describe the game as having 10 feature games, 90 puzzles, beautiful, simple illustrations and 8 farm themed mini games. The game costs $29.95 and is best for early intervention working on the areas of fine motor, language skills, understanding cause and effect, spatial awareness and memory and visual processing. When my son first started using this app, he would consistently miss hitting the target. He would hit it too high and to the left of where he was aiming. One of the many, many things this app taught him was eye-hand coordination. Additionally, he has been solving puzzles and tracing the alphabet.

Does your son like to read books on his iPad? 

Yes, we use VoiceOver to read several books or find apps with audio books since my son has a cane and has started braille instruction. His favorite books are Dr. Seuss since we read them together not using his iPad.

Are there special features only available on Apple iDevices that have become particularly useful for your son? 

Let me tell you about Siri! If you’re not familiar with Siri, she’s the voice-activated system on the iPad and iPhone. You press the home button and she asks how she can help you. We’ve asked Siri “where are we?” and she answers – don’t tell me that isn’t useful for Orientation and Mobility! I won’t believe you! She can tell you about the weather in any city. She can read your text and emails. And that’s just scratching the surface. Siri is useful now to our family – I can only imagine what she will do for my son in the future. “Siri, is this color blue or black?” Siri responds, “Jack, it’s blue.” No more mismatching socks, which is a totally small thing but also, totally important.

What other hardware features does your son use on his iPad?


We use the iPad camera function just about every day. We take a video of the teacher drawing a circle and my son can magnify that video and watch it over and over. This is usually how he masters skills for his occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT). His little brother sees a cow in a field; we take a picture for Jack. My son can blow that picture up until he sees the cow in the field. We’ve used the iPad under our CCTV, which is also a great tool, just one that we use often, not every day. When we have worked on teaching emotions and facial expressions? My husband has taken a pic of me smiling or frowning or looking confused. You wouldn’t believe the conversations we had after that little experiment! Is everyone in the classroom watching Cars 2 on the big screen? My son has to be about six inches from the TV, which makes any type of shared media difficult, unless we download Cars 2 to the iPad.

What are some really innovative things the iPad has enabled your son to do that you had not thought about until that moment? 

Alright, I’m about to blow your mind. Ready? We were at the eye surgeon’s exam room. I went to another room with the doctor and Facetime’d the iPad using my iPhone (that’s the app that is a video phone). The surgeon was able to see how Jack used his eyes because Jack’s eyes were literally two inches from the camera. I pointed my iPhone at an object (like a truck in the parking lot) and we walked until he said what he saw. Do you know how difficult it is to do a visual exam on a toddler/preschooler? 
For our family, I hope my son will have access to anything he needs. The iPad has opened up so many possibilities and purchasing a refurbished iPad can be an inexpensive alternative to combing lots of pricey vision-specific devices. We recently looked up what a bible would cost in braille – any guesses? We were shocked to find it costs almost $800. Siri will read you chapter and verse. 
I am so excited to see what’s next for this device. I don’t know how soon these will be commonly available, but I’ve seen the little sensors (comparable to a disposable pulse ox) that you can hook up to the iPad that will give you tactile feedback to what you’re running your finger over.

Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to tell me about Jack use of his iPad, any final thoughts? 

I really feel that there are two reasons that my son is super lucky to live in this moment in time, I mean, other than his parents, the laws that have been passed because people have fought for them, and the science/technology that people have developed. The iPad is a game changer 🙂 in our opinion.


ipad collage


The Love Bugs cover with the title and textured hearts.

Love Bugs Book




A Student’s Perspective on BrailleNote