Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
The iPad has become somewhat of a miracle for the disabled. When it was introduced in early 2011, it had the capability to use applications for networking, games and movies. Nobody could have predicted the impact it would have for people with disabilities.
It was designed as a slimmer version of the iPod with a screen that is three times larger. It is more sensitive to touch, making it easier to use, and comes with built-ins like closed captioning, magnification and audible readout functions. The general public embraced it and then something amazing happened.
It turned out to be an incredible therapeutic tool for people with disabilities. Nobody quite understands, but it has opened communication for autistic children. It is being used for speech therapy to give people a voice and occupational therapy to encourage use of the hands. The deaf are able to use the audible functions and GPS. There are applications to help the blind with communication and programs that teach life skills, social skills and behavior.
There are a few drawbacks. The screen sensitivity is what makes it so easy to use, but it requires a light touch and takes practice to control for those who have neuromuscular disorders. It also does not work well for quadriplegics who use a mouth wand. The screen does not accept the touch of the wand, it requires the pressure of skin.
In the last year, 15 million iPads have been sold, many of them to children with special needs, families, teachers and therapists. Studies are underway to study how effective they are and which disabilities benefit from their use. Apple has created a special education section on their app store site.
It is unusual for a device to be instantly adaptable for the disabled. Generally, gadgets are designed for general use and then made accessible to users with disabilities. The iPad is an exception because it is already usable without any expensive adaptations. As a result, they are less expensive devices than would normally be designed specifically to meet the needs of the disabled.
Insurance is not covering the devices as they are not considered medical equipment, but will sometimes pay for applications specifically designed to help disabled people with needed skills. Parents and schools are fundraising. In addition, there are several resources to help pay for the iPads and applications like “iHelp for Special Needs”, The Conover Company and Danny’s Wish. With the direction the iPads are currently taking, insurance companies may be persuaded to change their minds.