I’ve been using my iPad a lot for writing lately and noticed that my hands were starting to hurt after doing so much typing on the device’s touchscreen keyboard. After learning that a physical hardware keyboard could help me type more quickly and efficiently with better ergonomics and the ability to use keyboard shortcuts, I started to do more research on choosing an iPad keyboard for low vision so that I could find a solution that would work well for me. Here are my tips on choosing an iPad keyboard for low vision users.
What is the best iPad keyboard for low vision users?
I recognize that everyone has different preferences for what they look for in a keyboard and their preferred typing style, and that what works well for one person with low vision may not work well for another. I ended up choosing to buy the Magic Keyboard from Apple because of the built-in trackpad and adjustable viewing angle, and because I did not need a keyboard that would have to work with multiple devices. The cost of the Magic Keyboard varies depending on what model of iPad a user has and starts at $299.
While I am happy with my choice, I acknowledge that this price may be prohibitive for students or people who otherwise cannot spend a large amount of money on a keyboard. I have tested multiple other iPad keyboards that would work well for low vision users and this post is designed to be a guide on determining what qualities/features in a keyboard will be most helpful for a given user.
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High-level considerations for iPad keyboards
When choosing an iPad keyboard for low vision, there are a few high-level items to consider before diving into more accessibility-specific things. High-level considerations for iPad keyboards include:
- General functionality- to put it simply, how well does the keyboard work as a keyboard?
- Keyboard size
- Layout for keys and location of non-alphanumeric characters- some keyboards put these in a different location than typical keyboards
- Key design and spacing
- Whether the keyboard has iOS specific keys, i.e. the keyboard switcher
- How the keyboard is stored when not in use
- Details on power source- is the keyboard rechargeable or does it need batteries?
Wired keyboard or Bluetooth keyboard?
Bluetooth wireless keyboards are the most common keyboard available for iPad and can be purchased as a stand-alone separate keyboard or as a combination keyboard and iPad case/stand. While it is helpful to have iOS specific keys, many Bluetooth keyboards can work with a variety of devices such as computers, laptops, phones, and other tablets- not just an iPad. One benefit to a stand-alone keyboard is that a user could have the same keyboard for their computer and iPad and not have to worry about switching between keyboards.
For users who do not want to worry about battery life, Bluetooth connections, or that plan to use their keyboard for taking exams, a wired keyboard is a great solution for using an iPad with a physical keyboard. The latest iPads come with a USB-C port that can be used to plug in a keyboard, though there are also converters that can be purchased if the desired keyboard has a different connection type, such as USB. One disadvantage to wired keyboards is that the user will need a separate stand for their iPad so that the viewing angle can be adjusted, and this may be more difficult to transport depending on the keyboard size.
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Pairing keyboards with stands
I find keyboards frustrating to use unless the iPad is in a stand or otherwise not lying flat on the table. If I am typing with a stand-alone keyboard, I will have my iPad in a folio case resting on top of a book or other surface so that my iPad is at eye level, and I don’t have to hunch over. For people that have lined bifocal glasses like I do, it is helpful to be able to adjust the iPad viewing angle so that it is in line with my bifocal, and I can read what I am typing more easily.
Using iPad keyboard hotkeys
Apple has a support page dedicated to iPad keyboard hotkeys and shortcuts which is linked below- this goes more into depth about the most common iPad keyboard hotkeys and how they are used. I typically use the same iPad hotkeys that I would use when working on a computer; things like cut/copy/paste, select all, and other text formatting. However, there are lots of other helpful hotkeys for keyboard access, many of which use iOS specific keys.
- Learn iPad keyboard shortcuts – Apple Support
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Controlling iPad with physical keyboard access
For users who typically navigate devices with physical keyboard access, iPad OS gives users the option to enable keyboard access and create custom shortcuts to help with simplifying tasks, which is similar to the custom keyboard shortcuts in Windows 10. Keyboard access can be paired with VoiceOver as well- I’ve linked a post from Apple Support that goes into more detail about this topic below.
- Adjust the onscreen and external keyboard settings on iPad – Apple Support
- How To Use VoiceOver With Low Vision
Adapting keyboards for low vision
What if someone has an iPad keyboard they like already, but they find it difficult to use with low vision? There are a few options for adapting keyboards with low vision, some of the most popular methods include:
- Adding large print labels or stickers to the keys
- Using braille stickers on top of keys, which is a common tool for dual media users
- Adding additional task lighting next to/over the keyboard so that it is easier to see
- Practicing typing skills with an accessible typing program
- Attaching tactile labels to a few keys to help with orientation (i.e adding labels to the F and J keys)
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Other tips for choosing an iPad keyboard for low vision users
- Some iPad keyboards come with backlit keys that light up while in use. The backlight intensity can be adjusted in the Settings app by going to General > Keyboard > Hardware Keyboard > Keyboard Brightness
- I recommend avoiding larger tactile labels such as Bump Dots when adding tactile labels to folio keyboards as this can keep the iPad case from closing
- Store cables or converters in an easy-to-locate area so that they don’t get lost in a backpack or travel case- I keep mine in high-contrast jewelry bags in the front pocket of my backpack or in a desk drawer
- Want to learn more about iPad accessibility for low vision? Check out my post How To Make iPad Accessible for Low Vision