iPad and Poor Vision Part 1: Setting up the iPad and iOS

The iPad is an amazing device–for leisure, for reading, for listening and for working–as long as you don’t take into consideration one tiny detail: out of the box, I can barely use it at all.

Why? Because of my terrible eyesight, texts, menus and buttons are unreadable: too small, too thin, and not contrasted enough.

Luckily, iOS comes with many accessibility options that can help a lot. Depending your needs.

In this post, I will list the settings I use to compensate for my bad eyesight. It’s not an exhaustive list–not even as far as vision goes.

How bad is my eyesight? Not bad to where I need a screen reader, but bad. I can still read big texts as long as they’re light on a dark background. To give you an idea, here is an ebook displayed at a comfortable size, on my 9.7 iPad Pro–it was much worse than that a year ago, a huge thank you to the doctors for their amazing work:

To begin with, I’ll focus on iOS itself, then I’ll briefly talk about a few apps. But first, the tweak I apply to any new iPad as soon as I unbox it.

Matte Screen Protector

I know, glossy screens are better, colors are more vivid and everything is so sharp. Sure, they’re great and with each new generation they’re more amazing.

But I have no use of an amazing screen if I can’t use it. I mean it quite literally: I can’t see what’s on the screen because of its many light reflections–and no, the laminated displays don’t help much–and it hurts: it’s painful to look at the screen.

Sure that’s my problem, most users have functional eyeballs. I get that. But at least, I would love to have a choice and wouldn’t mind spending a few more euros to get a non-glossy screen on my iPad as an option, directly from Apple. Like I can take a model with more storage or with LTE.

But things are what they are and I have to put a matte screen protector all by myself, on any new iPad (or laptop, for that matter).

Is there any drawback in using a matte screen protector? Yep. Hence my wish to get it from Apple as I’m confident they’d do an amazing engineering job.

  • There is a more or less pronounced loss in sharpness,
  • Colors will be less vibrant.
  • It’s more money to spend. The thing is you don’t need the fancier and more expensive brands. Just avoid the real crappy cheapo brands. And always double-check the model you’re considering is compatible with your model of iPad, if needed compare your iPad Model Number (Settings→About) with the list of supported models.

To be frank, the slight loss in sharpness doesn’t bother me the slightest (even when watching movies), After a couple hours I stopped noticing it. And, well, it’s not like I have much choice either 😉

On the plus side, next to a now-usable screen, a matte screen protector also gives me an almost paper-like experience when using the Apple Pencil. And that alone would be worth using a matte screen protector too, as I use it a lot and I’ve never enjoyed using it on the naked/glossy screen of the iPad: it felt too much like writing on… glass while using a slippery plastic stick.

Enough about the screen protector. Now that my screen is ready, time to configure iOS itself.

Dark Mode

Before Apple added dark mode, I used to use ‘Inverted Colors’ or ‘Smart Invert Colors’ to get the dark background and light text I needed. And I still use them each time I face an app that doesn’t support dark mode–looking at you Antidote.

To activate the dark theme, I go to Settings→Appearance and select Dark.

Make menus and text more readable

In Settings→Accessibility→Display and Text Size I activate the Larger Text option.

This will open a new panel where I push the slider as much to the right as I need.

Before leaving Display and Text Size, I tap Back and activate these options:

  • Reduce Transparency,
  • Increase Contrast,
  • Bold text,
  • Differentiate Without Colour.

Alas, not every part of iOS will update itself to reflect these changes, but a lot of it will.

One of the thing in iOS that doesn’t change is the top menu bar, or whatever its name is. The good news is that there are multiple ways to work around it. The Zoom (see below) or do a long press on any of its icon/text to get a zoomed popover in the middle of the screen—which could be bigger, imo.

And what about third-party app support for accessibility? There are still many apps, including some of Apple’s own, that don’t care much, if at all. You’ll need to test all of your app one at a time. And never be afraid to contact a dev to explain him or her the problem you face. Often times, they just aren’t aware that their UI/lack of support for accessibility can be a problem.

That said, iOS offers a tool to try to work around those ‘ignorant’ apps, as we will soon see.

Reduce the white point

After I made the text bigger, my next step is to reduce the white point, as I find bright white hard to read.

You can do that in Settings→Accessibility→ Display & Text Size→Reduce White Point.

Having it between 40 and 55% is working fine for me.

Bigger icons on the Home Screen

This is a neat addition to iPadOS 13. Go in Settings→Home Screen & Dock to set the App Icons to Bigger.

The home screen will now show less but bigger icons, which is great.

It would be even better if we could make them bigger and, more importantly, make their text much bigger too. But it’s still an appreciable improvement.

Dark and plain wallpaper

I don’t use pretty wallpapers on my Home screen–I use them on the Lock screen, though–as they often make all icons harder to read.

Instead, I use a few dull dark gray backgrounds, some with discreet motives other plain boring:

A plain anthracite background, with a few icons and the Dock visible, on my Home screen.
A plain anthracite background, with a few icons and the Dock visible, on my Home screen.

The Home button as an accessibility shortcut

Here is a trick I use all day long in order to quickly access any of the accessibility features I constantly need to turn on and off: a triple press on the Home button.

You need to activate it in Settings→Accessibility→Accessibility Shortcut.

If you select multiple entries in this list, each time you triple press the Home button a popover will let you select which setting(s) to (de)activate.

The Zoom

The zoom is great to make any portion of the screen bigger, much bigger. Here, on the tiny menu bar:

Once activated, you turn on the Zoom by doing a double tap with three fingers anywhere on the screen. Or with a triple press on the Home button, if you have activated the options we mentioned earlier.

You move the Zoom around by dragging the small handle–it is a bit too small for my fat finger– or by using an optional on-screen Controller, a kind of virtual joystick. You tap this handle once to access the Zoom settings: size of the lens, zoom levels and so on.

The Magnifier

If the Zoom magnifies what’s on screen, the Magnifier turns your iPad’s camera into, well, a magnifying glass to zoom on whatever you want to look at.

I use it when I need to read printed stuff: papers, a contract, a book blurb, and so on, even on those tiny and barely inked labels shop owners seem to enjoy so much.

It’s in Settings→Accessibility→Magnifier and, once turned on, you can also easily access it through a triple press on the Home button. You can lock the focus, easily change the zoom level, and use the filter button to access Color filters if you need them. Also, you can control the integrated flashlight.

Bonus tip: if, like me, you can’t read printed text on a light background, use the Magnifier in combination with the Classic Invert: it’s working great to read anything zoomed and in inverted colors.

FYI, the iPhone comes with the same Magnifier and since it’s much lighter and much easier to handle than the iPad I’d rather use it. But even lighter, I’d do anything to avoid reading in these conditions. And that includes scanning the book myself if I can’t find a digital copy anywhere online.

Microsoft Office Lens: Text recognition and read aloud

This app does not come pre-installed with iOS but the free Microsoft Office Lens does a great job for quickly capturing anything–cards, labels, sheets of paper, magazines, whiteboards–and have it transformed into searchable text.

And since it now comes with another one of their impressive tools–the Immersive Reader–there is no reason not to use it and have any text you scanned read aloud almost instantly, as long as you’re connected to the Internet, with really convincing voice imo, at least in English and in French (I’ve not tested other languages).

Any drawbacks? Yes, but nothing that can’t be updated. Nothing that will stop me from using it.

  • It already does an impressive job even with some complex page layout, but it’s not fail proof.
  • The UI could be easier to use just by making the immersive reader use the whole screen instead of a smaller window.
  • Office Lens come with a dark theme, which is great. Alas, it is not fully supported everywhere in the app, and it is not supported at all in its settings, which makes no sense. Plus, those settings use a way too tiny font.

That’s it for now. In a next post, I’ll talk about reading and writing on the iPad with a bad eyesight.

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