How do I use a Switch with an iPad? - June 2012 update!

This blog post has been updated. Please see the new entry at

There have been some very positive changes towards more comprehensive switch access to the iPad recently - so I thought it was time for an updated blog entry on this topic!

And before I start on this topic in earnest, I just want to quickly explain that when I talk about switch access, I specifically mean an external switch that someone can press to make a selection in the app running on an iPad or iPhone (or an app which allows me to use the iPad screen as a switch).  Switches come in all different shapes and sizes. To read more about switches and switch access click here.

Currently, there are two options for switch access to an iPad - you can either purchase specific apps that have been created to be switch accessible or you can look at a more comprehensive switch access option.

There is only one of the more comprehensive switch access options to the iPad available today - the Tecla Shield. I reviewed this recently - so you can read more about it at "Tecla Shield for iPhone and iPad - adding greater switch access to iOS".  This still doesn't offer complete switch access to the iPad - the major limitation is that it only works with apps that have VoiceOver compatibility. Currently, this is a limited set of apps - and, as Luis Perez comments in his blog, we ALL need to advocate for more apps to be VoiceOver compatible so that ALL iPad users can benefit.  It is also worth noting that the Tecla Shield doesn't follow typical 1 and 2 switch scanning conventions - and for more information about that please see my blog entry about the interface.

In addition to the Tecla Shield, other switch access options that will offer more comprehensive access to the iPad are coming out soon. These include SimplyWorks for iPad from Pretorian (due this week), the Switch2Scan from Pretorian (due in July) and the Keynote from Ablenet (edited to add: this has been discontinued). These promise to use a combination of VoiceOver and the new AssistiveTouch feature in iOS5 to add switch access to the iPad.  This combination of accessibility features may lead to options for a greater number of Apps and I really look forward to checking these out.

And as I mentioned earlier, there are also a range of apps that have been made switch accessible by their developers.  These work with a different group of switch interfaces and may be an easier option for some users to master - but these options don't allow the user to move from app to app - switch access is in-app only.

For these apps, you also need to have an iPad switch interface - and this is a different set of switch interfaces to the ones mentioned above. Currently, there are Bluetooth switch interfaces available which work with these switch accessible apps. It is worth noting that Bluetooth switch interfaces will reduce the iPad's battery life and also may 'lose' the Bluetooth connection intermittently. Some people find this to be a problem, but others don't.  This also applies to the Tecla Shield mentioned above.

RJ Cooper has two different iPad switch interfaces available that work with switch accessible apps. The Bluetooth Super Switch (edited to add: product discontinued) connects to the iPad via Bluetooth as the name implies!  The interface itself functions as a switch and there is also a switch port to connect a second switch. The interface is rechargeable from any USB port.

The Air-Turn BT-105 is a small interface with two switch ports - allowing the user to connect one or two switches.  This also connects via Bluetooth and is marketed as the Bluetooth Switch Interface by RJ Cooper and as the SwitchBox by Therapy Box.This interface is also rechargeable from any USB port. (edited to add: this has also been discontinued).

The Blue2 from AbleNet is the third Bluetooth option. This interface has two inbuilt switches (in the form of the two pedals on the front) and also has two switch ports which can replace the two pedals. This interface requires 2AA batteries to run - which works better for some people than recharging - and the batteries have a long run time. (edited to add: this has also been discontinued).

Each of these switch interfaces works with only some of the switch accessible apps available.

The APPlicator from Pretorian is yet another Bluetooth switch interface option for switch accessible apps - but is different from the others in that is compatible with ALL of the switch accessible apps currently available.  It also has some other interesting functions - and I have reviewed this in the blog post entitled "The APPlicator – switch access to MORE apps and music too!".

Now that I've covered, the different switch interfaces available, the next question is generally - so which Apps can I use?  To help with this question, Alex Dunn from Inclusioneers and I put together a Switch Accessible Apps resource. (edited to add: this list has been discontinued).  The resource lists all the apps that we are currently aware of that have switch access, details the type of switch access (e.g. cause and effect, 1 switch scanning, 2 switch scanning, visual scanning, auditory scanning) and also lists which switch interface(s) the App is compatible with.  Alex and I are working on keeping this updated - so if you find any Apps missing or have any comments please let us know!

I hope you've found this helpful.  I am amazed how much has changed since I first blogged about this topic - but I'm also delighted with the change as it means that more options are coming which hopefully will suit more people.

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Comments (14)

  1. Pingback: How do I use a switch with an iPad? | Jane's Blog

  2. Reply

    Jane, thank you (as always) for a very informative post.

    For app developers to support switches in a consistent manner, there needs to be a standard which describes what signals switches will give to an iPad, and how the app will interpret those signals. In most cases that I have seen, a switch connects to an iPad as a keyboard, so it sends a 'keypress' signal. For example, when a switch is pressed, it may send the PageUp key to the iPad.

    The iPad app cannot know:
    a. How many switches are connected to the iPad; and
    b. What the PageUp key should do.

    App developers need to agree upon how to interpret specific keyboard signals - for example, if PageUp is consistently interpreted as a single-switch tap, the apps that those developers create will support switches in a consistent way.

    What do you think?

    • Reply

      Hi Ajit - I guess that is kind of how it is working now. One set of developers is using ~1 and ~3 and the other set of developers is using space and enter. It's a pity that everyone isn't using the same key presses though - as you say it would be really good if there was a standard that everyone used. Cheers Jane

      • Reply

        Hi Jane, this is probably a really dumb question - I saw this in the list that you and Alex Dunn had made too - but what does ~1? Does it mean pressing the ~ key and the 1 key together? Isn't that a really weird choice?

  3. Reply

    Hi Ajit, if you connect a Bluetooth keyboard to the iPad you can test this out - but yes, it's exactly pressing the ~ key and the 1 key together. And I guess it seems like a weird choice - but on the other hand with switch interfaces for computers you sometimes run into problems when they use common keys as the key stroke that the switch emulates, when some functions of an application might stop working while the switch interface is active because it thinks you are pressing a switch all the time.

    The iPad switch interfaces which use that combination of keys originated as controls for music software - so that a musician could have their iPad on a music stand and could change pages with a remote switch keeping their hands on their instrument. I don't know the particular music software involved, but there's every chance that other more common keyboard commands (such as space and enter) each already have a function with that software - so they would need to avoid those key presses, and they might even want to avoid others just in case the app developer decides to use them in the future. So from that perspective I understand why they might choose a very infrequent key combination to serve as the switch press. 🙂

  4. Reply

    Great blog! This is RJ Cooper, the retailer of the very first iPad switch interface. I chose ~1 (actually, sequentially, not simultaneous) after much consultation with David, the developer of Proloquo2Go. My goal was, and has been, to contact every special needs app developer to have 'my' standard implemented, in the hopes that no one even need be concerned with "What keystroke(s) is typed?"

    But alas, companies do go their own way to promote their own stuff. Way of the world 😉

    The reason for the "tilde" ~ is to let the iPad know that the input came from an external switch. You see, the iOS (iPhone Operating System) cannot tell where a keystroke(s) originated. An app can NOT tell if the keystroke came from the iOS's own on-screen keyboard, a Bluetooth keyboard, or a switch interface. Hence, the *possible* need for an app to *really* determine where the keystroke came from.

    This can NOT be done with space/enter. Only with my tilde ~ can an app 'see' that it's coming from an interface.

    And there you have it!

    RJ 🙂

  5. Reply

    Thank you Jane for this great review of switches for the iPad. You sift and winnow for us all the current iOS switch access equipment ! Many thanks for your hours of work to compile this (and all the other posts you provide!)

    • Reply

      My pleasure Carole - glad it's helpful. And I like reading your blog too - so it's mutual 🙂

  6. Pingback: Switch Access and the iPad – Get the Scoop from Jane Farrall « AT 4 Education Blog

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  9. Kristine


    Could you please direct me how exactly to best set up an IPad to take pictures via switch access? thank you

  10. Pingback: Switch2Scan – switch access to Apps, iOS and more | Jane Farrall Consulting

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