Apple takes a bite

iPad image courtesy of Apple, Inc.There’s been a lot of buzz going around lately about the wonderful apps on the iPad and iPod Touch for people with autism. The people who create these new technology tools promise increased communication, academic growth and creativity. In one of my past lives, I worked for an assistive technology company called AbleNet. I’ve always had a fondness for technology, and I think what I am most excited about with these new tools is the concept of Universal Design.

Universal Design implies that tools like the iPad and iPod Touch are accessible to everyone — including those with disabilities. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Steve Jobs commented on the easy-to-use design of the iPad for people with disabilities.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said in an interview that he hopes the easy-to-use design of the iPad has helped children with special needs take to the device more quickly, but that its use in therapy wasn’t something Apple engineers could have foreseen.

“We take no credit for this, and that’s not our intention,” Mr. Jobs said, adding that the emails he gets from parents resonate with him. “Our intention is to say something is going on here,” and researchers should “take a look at this.”

True Universal Design benefits everybody — and we may be getting a glimmer of what Universal Design looks like with the iPad. But all is not rosy with the technology. The iPad may be close, but it really is not accessible for all learners. Example: Individuals with physical disabilities can not use switches to access all features on the iPad.

When it comes to individuals with autism, I am curious about the support that is provided for these applications. Communication companies such as Dynavox and Prentke Romich (two of the largest augmentative and alternative device companies) have trained speech and language pathologists on staff and dedicate thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars toward developing their communication devices and the software that supports communication. I am not sure if apps developed as an afterthought by individuals with no professional training have gone through such a rigorous design process. Can I be sure someone will be available to me for technical support if I experienced barriers while attempting to put the apps into practice? I don’t think so.

I love technology. I think the iPad and iPod Touch are great tools for people with autism. Most of us have not replaced our computer with these additional tools. We have simply added another piece of technology. Individuals with autism can truly benefit from the iTechnology, but for now, it should be in addition to their dedicated communication devices.


 

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  1. Carolyn Says:

    It is so wonderful to hear this and agree Patricia on the Universal Design of Learning concept as well. The Michigan Board of Education embraced a policy on this a couple of years ago and we are still trying to ensure that this thought process is being considered.

    One thing with technology unfortunately is access and the transferability of that within community sessions. A very good example of that happened yesterday for our son who has autism. He testified at a self-advocate at the Detroit Administration on Developmental Disabilties “Enhancing the Future” Summit. He was one of only forty particpants chosen for testimony from the midwest and was very honored to have been chosen. However he was not allowed an accomodation that he has used very often within his educational process…the ability to create and use a Powerpoint presentation to assist him with his testimony.

    Our son has been challenged by expressive/receptive language disorder for many years. He uses assistive technology in many ways. But he also like to be able to verbalize when he can and PP has allowed him to do so from a comfort zone he has. He hates reading his prepared text from the paper and also likes to use visuals, personal photos or quote blocks to enhance what he is discussing. He is very comfortable giving a presentation this way and has gotten As many times on such presentations in his general ed. classes.

    They did not have this option available and he was very disappointed as were we. Though he still did very well, we were very proud as parents to see him stand up and ask for consideration like better waiver programs that meet the needs of individuals with autism like the one we were able to create via a voucher program in MI, the ability to transfer waiver services, as children and adults, so that individuals or families can move when needed, and as he said “I want to be able to live where I want to follow my dreams and live a self-determined life”.

    But this is a perfect example, and we don’t want this to seem like sour grapes, we appreciate all the ADD is doing to have open discussion on what will be in their plan of service for the next five years, however they of all folks should realize the importance of such access for individuals like our son Nicholas.

    Again we thank you and Easter Seals for looking outside that box and embracing options that provide what others make take for granted that can lead to a much better quality of life for individuals with disabilities.

    Respectfully,
    Andrew and Carolyn Gammicchia

    P.S. He will be writing to the ADD to send a letter of appreciation for the opportunity and within that communication will let them know his feelings.


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