Opinion: Why The iPad Isn’t For Me

A revolutionary device with an incredible amount of potential but a step backward in accessibility for some.

The iPad has been out for a few months now and so far it looks like it has been a huge success for Apple. I’ve read a lot about the iPad, watched a lot of YouTube demonstrations of various apps on the iPad, and actually tried one out in person at the local Apple store on a few occasions. It’s an incredible device. And because of the excellent App Store the iPad is incredibly versatile. So much that I believe the iPad is the most useful device one can buy right now. Gaming, of course, is a popular use of the iPad, but that is only one of thousands of ways in which you can use this amazing device. With all that said you probably won’t see me ever getting one.

All this touchscreen and accelerometer goodness is great and all but in many ways it’s making things less accessible for some of the physically disabled, such as myself, then what we’ve grown use to over the last twenty years or so. I’ve been using an iPod Touch for almost two years and love it. Ironically that has given me a good understanding of why the iPad is so versatile and useful but also why the iPad is far too inaccessible for me.

The biggest problem with the iPad for me is its size. It’s just too big. So big that there just isn’t any place for me to mount it on my wheelchair where I’d be able to actually use it sufficiently. The iPod Touch mounts perfectly on my right armrest. It’s the same width as my armrest so it doesn’t stick out on either side. There are some potential mounting solutions out there for the iPad but they’re quite expensive and none of them, as far as I can tell, would put the iPad in a position where I’d be able to sufficiently interact with the entire real estate the iPad offers. And even if I was able to position it correctly it would interfere with my wheelchair controls meaning I would need help from somebody else to position it every time I wanted to use it which would defeat the purpose of having one for me. Because of the iPod Touch’s size it sits unobtrusively on my armrest, ready to use whatever I want, without anybody’s help. It appears the only location for the iPad where I could achieve the same result would be on my lap – on a laptop board or something. But the problem with that idea is I can’t reach around to the front of my body all that well, so I wouldn’t be able to use an iPad very well in that location.

Even if positioned perfectly the iPad’s larger screen would be an issue for me as well due to the limitations of my range of motion. Going from one side of the screen to the other, in any direction, on an iPod Touch isn’t a big deal for me because you don’t have to go very far. Even if an iPad could be mounted on my right armrest, where the reach distance is best for my range of motion, I still would have a problem interacting with the entire screen. Left to right wouldn’t be a problem but top to bottom would. Now the bigger buttons and bigger icons the iPad typically uses in most of its apps would certainly help but the range of motion issue kind of makes that a moot point.

Then there’s the screen orientation and accelerometer issues. I’m able to use my iPod Touch enough to be worthwhile despite those issues. The iPod Touch is attached in portrait mode on my armrest but it’s angled enough so that when YouTube videos or the like are played in widescreen I can still watch them without it being too awkward. For anything that requires the iPod Touch to be tilted to landscape mode I just make do without, which hasn’t been an issue for the most part. Anything that uses the accelerometer, which is mainly just games, I just simply avoid. The problem with the iPad is it appears to rely on those types of things even more. I could probably get by not doing anything that requires the accelerometer but it does appear I would really need to be able to change the orientation from portrait to landscape and back on occasion. Now I could be wrong about this but I certainly don’t want to spend $500 to find out. I have nowhere to mount it anyways.

Although I’d like nothing better then to be able to buy an iPad and use it to its full extent I have to admit that I’m pretty satisfied with my iPod Touch, for the few tasks I use it regularly for, and I’m not certain how the iPad would improve on that all that much. The bottom line here is no matter how I look at it there is no type of accessibility solutions that will ever make any kind of touchscreen device anywhere near as accessible as a computer with a head–operated mouse, or whatever type of accessible input method, attached. For myself I can justify having an iPod Touch for the few things I do with it on a regular basis (listen to music, read books, check the news and sports scores, and check e-mail). The iPod Touch is also very inexpensive compared to the iPad. Of course every person that has a physical disability such as myself (C4–C5 quadriplegic with limited use of my arms and no use of my hands or fingers) have different capabilities. Sometimes just the slightest difference in capabilities can make a huge difference when it comes to using devices like the iPad or iPod Touch. So I don’t want to scare anybody away in a similar situation from looking into getting an iPad because this article is entirely based on my capabilities, which in my opinion is limited enough to make an iPad not a worthwhile choice.

I’ve heard some people express concern over the direction that personal computing may be heading. The touchscreen direction that is. Newsweek published an opinion piece this week titled “RIP, Macintosh” in reference to Apple totally ignoring the Macintosh at this past weeks Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple also changed the iPhone OS’s name to just “iOS” which would appear to indicate they intend to use this OS in a variety of devices in the future. There has been some speculation that this could include desktop and laptop computers. I actually don’t think the Macintosh OS is going anywhere anytime soon so I think Newsweek’s article is very premature. But I have to admit I’m just a wee bit concerned about what the future might hold. Touchscreen technology might be all things to just about everybody but I’ll take a good old mouse, in my case a head–operated mouse, over a touchscreen interface any day.

So a glimpse of the future may be here with the iPad, and if it’s any indication the future looks like it could be pretty incredible, but I just hope people like me don’t get left behind. In the meantime you obviously won’t be seeing any iPad gaming reviews from me. However if anybody else in assistive technology land has an iPad and would like to do some please send me an e-mail. I haven’t had a chance to do much gaming recently for various reasons but I’m going to try to get some Mac gaming reviews up in the near future.

Paul Natsch