Monday, February 11, 2013

Touch Technology Helping Kids With Disabilities

How IPads are helping disabled children communicate and develop motor skills

Children who have an intellectual disability or physical disability, such as paralysis, cerebral palsy, vision loss, hearing loss, down syndrome, and autism, are experiencing fascinating and effective ways to overcome or compensate for their disabilities through cutting-edge technology.

Enablement Through Touchscreen Technology

youth with disabilities
New technologies for students help with
small motor skills.
Children with some disabilities often struggle with common life processes that many of us take for granted, such as cognition, body movement, and communication. Take the keyboard and computer mouse, for example. These common computer tools work fine for those with ordinary motor skills, functioning successfully to connect our thoughts with the computer. But for those whose cognitive or motor skills are in some way diminished, these common interfacing tools are a hindrance, not a go-between.

By comparison, the touch screens of many modern devices, such as the iTouch, iPad, and iPhone, are significantly more accessible, more intuitive devices for many children and adults with physical or mental disabilities:
  • In one case, a two-year-old child with cerebral palsy that put him a year behind developmentally in language, cognition, and motor skills was able to completely bridge that disablement gap within four months with daily exposure to therapeutic iPad sessions.
  • In another case, an eight-year-old with down syndrome, autism, and apraxia is now able to request food or toys, ask for help, and is successfully learning colors and numbers, made possible with an iPad and an app called Proloquo 2 Go
These two examples are not exceptions. Thousands of parents are discovering extraordinary benefits of touchscreen devices in helping youth with disabilities. According to BridgingApps – an organization that works to bridge the gap between technology and people with disabilities – the significant and revolutionary benefits of touchscreen devices for children and adults with special needs have resulted in an estimated 40,000 apps being developed in a very short amount of time that benefit physically and mentally disabled children. Some examples include:
  • Yes|No – one of the simplest apps for people who have disabilities. It allows touch to express a yes or no preference.
  • Touch-to-speak apps, like Proloquo2Go, enable children struggling with small motor skills to point to iconic symbols or images, allowing them to non verbally express what they want, such as what they would like to eat. See a video example of this app in action here.
  • Trouble with hearing? Try soundAmp R, an app that amplifies sounds in certain situations.  Apps like this have increased the use of Ipads in schools since users can also record lectures or presentations to play back later.
  • Assistive Chat is an app that predicts sentence completion, so when you must type out words and sentences, you may not need to type the whole thing.
  • Some apps encourage physical movement by making it a game or simply entertaining to do so. An entertaining app is sometimes used in conjunction with exercise equipment, such as treadmills for those with down syndrome. Using the app as a reward can boost their interest in physical movement that they would otherwise prefer to avoid.
  • Some children with mental disabilities have shown motor skills improvement from playing with iPad apps that were not necessarily designed for youth with disabilities, such as Elmo Loves ABCs, which teachers children to write the entire alphabet. These new technologies for students benefit preschool disabled as well as children with disabilities in the classroom.
  • Also look at Behavior Tracker Pro if you are the parent, teacher, or therapist of a mentally disabled child and need to measure the behavioral progress of children with mental disabilities. It’s supportive for both special education students in the classroom and at home because it helps you track behaviors and automatically graph them – even export the data for off-line manipulation in Excel.

Ipads in the Classroom

Many parents and teachers are finding that the iPad is effective for education disabilities. It is expected that, over the coming years, school districts across the country will begin to approve iPads for classrooms, especially for their students with special needs in the classroom.

Ipads For Youth With Disabilities

First, understand that employing tech in classroom or home, such as iPads or iPhones, is not a solution without the active involvement of the parent or teacher, any more than putting a hammer in a student’s hand will result in great home construction. iPads for school or home are simply tools, and no matter how effective they can be, they are not solutions in themselves. 

tech in classroom
Vincent uses treadmill with
iPad apps for disabled children.
(Image from:
If your child has mental or physical disabilities, take a look in the Apps for Special Education section of the App Store. Here you will find hundreds of new apps for the iPhone and iPad of specific value to the disabled. These new apps for apple range in price from free to several hundred dollars. 

For a more objective analysis of great iTouch apps and iPad apps for disabled children and adults, consider investing in the book Getting Started: iPads for Special Needs by Sami Rahman.  The handbook addresses not only why you should consider an iPad for your special needs user, but also which one to buy, the accessories that may be necessary for a special needs user, such as stylus, keyboards, Braille interfaces, wheelchair mounting and more – all with a particular focus on the special needs user.

 Ric Moxley

Contributing Writer

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