Looking for ways to make the iPad more accessible for older adults? Next time you’re at the store, pick up some corrugated plastic, knit gloves, stickers and industrial twist ties.

During a recent edition of the National Public Radio’s Science Friday program. 

Therese Willkomm suggested 5 innovative uses for these and other materials. Willkomm is director of New Hampshire's State Assistive Technology Program, which is housed in the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. She is also the author of Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes.

Here’s what she suggests:

  1. Build an iPad stand. Older adults who have trouble holding the iPad for long periods will benefit from a customized iPad stand that you can build with about $2 worth of corrugated plastic, says Willkomm. Users with limited arm strength will also benefit from hanging the iPad over the back of a chair using a 75-cent padded industrial twist tie.

  2. Flag hard-to-see buttons. Use tiny, high-contrast stickers to label the home button, volume button and power button on the iPad. This will make those buttons much easier to find and use. “It’s really hard to find that black home button on that black glass,” says Willkomm.

  3. Wear gloves for more restful surfing. People with arthritis may feel more comfortable resting a hand on the iPad screen when using the device for long periods. But such rest periods can cause users to “inadvertently hit buttons that you didn't want to hit,” says Willkomm. Rather than getting frustrated by unintended commands, she recommends buying an inexpensive pair of knit gloves. Cut off the tip of the middle finger. Use the uncovered fingertip to navigate the iPad. Resting a gloved hand of the screen won’t activate any iPad commands.

  4. Use voice instead of fingers. Navigating the iPad or iPhone keyboard can be challenging for even the most nimble-fingered users. The Siri voice-activated software can help older users avoid the keyboard altogether when surfing the Internet. Tapping the microphone icon available in many iPad programs allows users to speak, rather than type, emails and text messages. 

  5. Get rid of ads and enlarge the type. Use the “Reader” button in the iPad web browser to get rid of screen clutter and make reading easier. Open one website using the Safari web browser. Tap the purple “Reader” button in the URL window. The web page will appear in a new window and will be stripped of all advertisements and other screen clutter. Tap the upper-left corner of the screen to enlarge the type size.

Technology Training is Critical to Adoption

Participating in training programs and social groups with other technology users can also help make technology more accessible to older adults, says Tom Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Service (OATS). The nonprofit organization promotes computer use among older adults in New York City.

“When people come in for iPad training, many of them are starting with the barrier of being an older individual who may not really have connections with their own friends and peers that are using these devices,” says Kamber. “So they haven't been able to observe people succeeding with them. They haven't been able to see what people are getting out of the use of these new tools.”

Some people will need assistive supports to help them use an iPad, says Kamber. But most people just need some basic training in how to use the device.

Technology experts aren’t actually the best people to offer that training, he warns.

“You don’t need someone with a computer science degree,” he says. “What you really want is somebody who enjoys the experience of talking and being patient with an older person on their learning track and their learning pace, and can relate it to the things that older people need. This notion of relevance is so powerful and so important for older learners, many of whom feel really alienated by the technology and the way that we market it and design it.”