Encouraging a Resistant Student to Use the Bluetooth Keyboard with the iPad

Most students who are familiar with VoiceOver gestures eagerly dive into learning to use the Bluetooth keyboard with VoiceOver however, occasionally a student will dig in his/her heels and resist learning to use the Bluetooth keyboard.  TVIs know that independent and efficient students are using keyboards – the trick is how to motivate that resistant student to adopting another technology tool.

Case Study:  Susie Q

Susie, an 8th grade student, is currently using both gestures and a refreshable braille display with her iPad.  However, she has become resistant to learning how to use the Bluetooth keyboard on the iPad or JAWS on the computer; she only wants to use VoiceOver gestures and sometimes gestures combined with refreshable braille display commands.  She knows her braille code and is a decent braille reader and writer.  However, it does take her significantly more time than her peers to complete most reading and writing assignments.

Susie Q’s case study

The goal with all students is to be independent, efficient and successful in K-12, college and real-world career.  To accomplish this goal, students need to have tools in their technology toolbox – including using a tablet, computer and smartphone, and being able to complete tasks using auditory (screen reader) and tactually if a braille reader (refreshable braille display).

The VoiceOver commands on the Bluetooth keyboard are POWERFUL!  Navigating and editing are so much easier with the Bluetooth keyboard (BTK) than with gestures or even with the refreshable braille display (RBD).  There are occasionally students who are resistant – usually because they do not know how powerful a tool the BTK is or they do not know how to use this tool.   There is also the whole issue of initially learning to type using a QWERTY keyboard – which is a different mental process than producing letters and words on a Perkins style RBD.  It is important to promote student success; if a student becomes frustrated, he/she will become resistant and may even shut down.

The following are strategies to transform a resistant student into a successful Bluetooth keyboarder.

Identify Strengths/Weaknesses

Start by identifying the student’s strengths/weaknesses with her devices and skills; this will often help uncover gaps in knowledge or skills, which will then lead to determining strategies so that the student will be successful.

VoiceOver Gestures

  • Can she physically create efficient VoiceOver gestures?
  • Does she know and use all the gesture commands – what each gesture does and when to use each gesture?

Refreshable Braille Display Commands (RBD)

  • Can she physically create efficient RBD commands
  • Does she know and use all the RBD commands – what each command does and when to use each command?

Bluetooth Keyboard Commands (BTK)

  • Can she physically create efficient VoiceOver BTK commands?
  • Does she know and use all of the BRK keyboard command – what each command does and when to use each command?

o   Does she understand when to use Quick Nav on and Quick Nav off?

  • Does she know how to type using a QWERTY keyboard?

Navigating the iPad

  • Can she efficiently navigate the Home screen and navigate within apps using VoiceOver gestures?  RBD Commands? BTK Commands?
  • Does she efficiently listen to VoiceOver auditory information or does she depend on checking the braille for navigation clues?

o   This is critical!  She must listen and glean information auditorily; if not, she will flounder when trying to use the keyboard!  Make sure her auditory skills are strong!

  • Does she quickly navigate the Home screen (and within apps) or does she listen to every word that VoiceOver says before delivering the next navigation command?  (Example: On the Home screen, does she listen to VoiceOver announcing every app and the hint, “Double tap to open” or does she quickly flick through the app names until she reaches the desired app?)
  • Is she fast, efficient, and independent when completing tasks on the iPad, such as emailing, reading/writing activities?
  • Does she understand each individual app layout and what is available in that app’s Tool bar?
  • Can she independently self-familiarize and learn a new app?
  • What is her VoiceOver speech rate?

o   Students should be using or systematically working towards 100% speech rate.

Where to Start Teaching

Once you have identified the student’s strengths and weaknesses, build on the strengths and fill in the gaps.  Systematically teach the foundation VoiceOver gestures skills and knowledge of the iPad’s layout before you introduce the RBD or BTK commands.  Your student should initially drag her index finger around the screen to explore the spatial layout.   This exploration enables the student to learn not only what is on that screen but also where things are located on the screen.   Students need to correlate the layout with a specific command.  Example:  The Back button is typically found in the top left corner of the screen (first element on the screen); use a four finger single tap at the top of the screen, Control + up arrow or 1+2+3+space to jump to the first element on the screen.  For those students who physically have trouble creating correct gestures, learning RBD or BTK commands often eliminates the frustration felt when gestures are challenging.  Very young students (preschoolers and kindergarten students) will initially learn only the basic navigation commands needed to accomplish age-appropriate tasks on the iPad.  Example:  A kindergarten student may learn to type and delete letters on the RBD, but will not learn more advanced editing skills such as how to copy and paste.

Start with a familiar skill and then tie in a new skill.  Most navigation commands can be taught while on the Home screen.  Example:  If a student has solidly mastered gestures but is learning BTK navigation commands, start on the Home screen and review gestures such as a moving forwards/backwards through the apps, jumping to the first and last item on the page, moving to the next Home screen, Read All/Pause, etc.  Then, pair the familiar VoiceOver gesture with the new BTK command.  Example:  Flick right to move to the next app is paired with the right arrow.

Taking small steps and tying into her solid foundation skills, begin to specifically teach a weak skill, transforming that weak skill into a strong skill.  Review familiar and emerging skills quickly at the beginning of each lesson.  Be patient and provide lots of praise along the way.  Try modeling the new skill.  Students tend to catch on quickly after observing how a skill/activity can be done – this is especially true when working on increasing speed!  Model the ideal way the skills should be performed; if appropriate, model what a student is doing and give concrete examples of things to try to improve that skill.  Demonstrate silly mistakes and laugh about those mistakes!


Keep in mind that you are the teacher and she is the student; you have to determine the lessons and goals and firmly stick to your lesson.  Be aware that many students with visual impairments, who work one-on-one with educators, have often mastered the ability to subtly control the direction of a lesson!  Young students can often be motivated by building up anticipation for the task prior to introducing the task.  Example:  “Next week, we will learn to type your name on a keyboard – you will be like those fourth graders who know how to type!”

Older students are often motivated by what peers and/or what role models are doing.  Raise awareness about keyboarding skills by involving parents, teachers and other students; set up opportunities for your student to observe others using keyboards in functional activities and for these people to openly discuss how the keyboard is beneficial for the task they are doing.  (It is okay if these people are using the BTK without VoiceOver.)  Be sure to model how you use a keyboard – preferably with VoiceOver.  A little positive awareness and “peer pressure”  - without the pressure – can change your student’s attitude towards the keyboard.

Other Motivational Ideas

  • Involve another student to learn BTK skills along with your resistant student
  • Create a BTK Club and set aside a time to teach a small group of students (students do not have to be visually impaired to be a part of this club!)
  • Find a mentor – another braille student or adult who is efficient with the BTK; set up a Skype call if that mentor is not available for a face-to-face meeting.
  • Invite another student to help “teach” a specific skill
  • Have your student learn a BTK skill in order to teach someone else
  • Have your student do a demo in front of her class, for a teacher or for the principal
  • Have your student take “ownership” of learning on her own; have her watch BTK videos and practice skills independently (see video link below)
  • Create a “before and after” video to document her progress.  (With parent permission, that video can be posted on the Paths to Technology website!)
  • Determine a reward: “When you learn “X” skill we will do ___!” Work with your O&M to create an off-campus reward that combines the reward with an O&M goal.  Example:  “When you learn “X”, we will go get ice cream (or visit the Apple Store!) during an O&M lesson!”

You know your student best and can choose which motivational approach might work today.  You might have to try a different motivation approach tomorrow!

Teaching Strategies

It is critical that you – the educator – are comfortable with the skill BEFORE you introduce it to the student.  If something does not work the way it should, you – as the educator – should model strategies to figure it out versus modeling your own frustration!  Be sure to start and stop each lesson on a positive note.

To view step-by-step videos on How to use the BTK  paired with an iPad, on Diane Brauner's YouTube channel.  Select Playlist and then select Bluetooth Keyboard to find all the BTK videos.

When to Introduce BTK

Ideally, students should be introduced to simple keyboard commands in elementary school – the earlier the better!  Younger students absorb new skills like a sponge and younger students are rarely resistant to learning new technology.

For young braille readers, learning to use the VoiceOver gestures and the RBD is very important, as students need to have braille under their fingertips in order to have great reading/writing skills.  Bluetooth keyboarding skills can be introduced to young braille readers; however, the emerging reader should still have regular access to braille.  After the student is a solid braille reader/writer, listening (auditory mode) is more efficient for reading long passages and BTK keyboard commands are most efficient for editing more complex documents.  Learning to keyboard and to use the keyboard commands on the iPad are building foundation technology skills; keyboarding and BTK commands on the iPad are stepping-stones to learning to use the keyboard and keyboard commands on a computer.  A successful student/adult has many technology tools in her toolbox!  The first step is to help a resistant student learn these technology tools.  Hang in there!  A resistant student is initially the toughest to teach; however, WHEN this student does succeed, she is also the most rewarding!

Read more about: Assistive Technology