Every day children with learning differences and physical disabilities experience additional challenges at school. But unlike decades past, technology can help bridge the gap and allow every child the opportunity to thrive in the classroom. At this year’s Jamf Nation User Conference (JNUC), one Jamf and two Jamf Apple admins from school districts shared how they personally overcome their challenges with dyslexia, blindness and executive function using the accessibility features of Apple technology.
"Dyslexia is a reading disorder and a disorder of written expression, specifically related to someone’s ability to decode using phonics,” Kelly Offerman, business development executive, Jamf, explained, adding that it impacts 10 - 17% of the adult population. Offerman didn’t receive her own diagnosis until the fifth grade. And it wasn’t until about a year ago, she said, that she decided to stop hiding the fact that it was a struggle she faced. She said this change was directly related to her ability to use Apple accessibility features to help overcome her challenges.
Offerman explained that she routinely uses dictation on the Mac as a tool to help her utilize her full vocabulary and maintain her workflow without disruptions. She also uses an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil in meetings to take notes. She said while attempting to type and keep up with the conversation would be a challenge, jotting notes down allows her to be fully present. She then revisits the content at a later date and can even create a 3D image of the conversation in her mind - a common ability of those living with dyslexia. Offerman also uses Siri for quick spelling and Text-to-Speech to ensure her copy, once written, makes sense.
Next to share his story was Tim Killburn, technology consultant, Fort McMurray Catholic Schools. “Blind is not a binary thing,” he said. “Rather, it’s a spectrum.” Now, he pointed out, he can see light, nothing else. But Killburn never wanted to be different, “So I didn’t admit that I was blind,” he said. Instead, he ignored his blindness and did what made him happy - zip lining, surfing, hiking in Hawaii and much more. “Throughout my life, there were challenges that I either met head on or decided not to worry about and did them anyway,” he explained. He used the sight he had to do the best he could. Killburn was a math and computer science teacher for 25 years before transitioning to his current role as a Jamf Apple admin about a year ago.
To demonstrate his challenge, Killburn blacked out his screen - hiding all words, buttons, directionals, etc. from the audience. Then, using Apple’s VoiceOver function, he created a policy in Jamf Pro. In one word - impressive. “The purpose of that was to show that if a developer does the proper things with accessibility, then it makes it easy, or easier, for a person who is visually impaired, or that is trying to use VoiceOver with the accessibility features of Apple,” he said. Killburn encouraged the audience to set aside any preconceptions they may have about people with disabilities and give them the chance to prove their abilities in the workplace.
Last to share his story was Chris Miller, director of Technology Services, Eanes Innovative School District. Having trouble with executive function, he explained, meant focusing on a task, overcoming impulsive behavior, regulating emotion and monitoring his own performance were all challenges. But there are Apple features that help. Using Screen Time across all of his devices, for instance, allows Miller to schedule downtime and app limits. He said, “It allows me to maintain effort and focus on the things that I truly value, instead of being at the mercy of whatever grabs my attention in the moment.”
Miller uses this function to strategically limit time on websites that, while interesting, could take up valuable time and not provide valuable outcomes. But when the time is up, he pointed out, he’s not locked out of his browser or web page. Instead, a notification pops on the screen that signals he met the time limit he set for himself. “It’s just enough of a pause or a break for me to think, ‘Is this what I want to be doing right now,’” he said. And that pause makes all the difference.
“Using accessibility features across all of our devices really allow us to use our full potential,” Miller pointed out. Offerman couldn’t agree more. “If we didn’t work for organizations that enabled us to have access to these tools, we would not be able to be this independent, productive and successful in our contributions to our teams,” she said, concluding the session by asking everyone to bring what they learned back to their organizations. “The more we share about what’s possible with Apple devices, the more we open the door for the next set of professionals who can benefit from these tools in the workplace.”