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

The latest version of the software that drives iPads and iPhone (iOS10) offers significant improvements for people with tremors due to conditions such as Parkinsons, Cerebral Palsy or old age. These changes 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

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 catered for very extensively.

Touch accommodations

New in iOS 10, there are now some incredibly powerful options that can be customised to make a smartphone even easier to use for people with a tremor or other dexterity difficulties due to Parkinsons, Cerebral Palsy or old age.

For this group of users it is often incredibly difficult to do a simple concise tap that is swift, on-target and is 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 you go for a single tap and end up with many.

screenshot of apple accessibility settings menu showing Touch Accommodations menu item

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. Whilst there are third-party solutions that do something similar to the above, Apple have done the research and development required to build it right into the operating system in iOS 10.

With a few exceptions (I’m looking at you; wearables running AndroidWear - and you; almost every smart TV) we’re living in a time where the majority of devices and operating systems are benefiting from similar levels of investment and commitment

Things are certainly headed in the right direction. 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.

Useful links

  • Apple’s excellent accessibility page –
  • My Computer My Way - AbilityNet's free guide the accessibility settings in every laptop, desktop and computer