With apologies to all you Kindle and Nook users out there: In our household, the iPad wins the prize for eDevice of 2010. It’s the first technological device that my son Charlie has been able to use entirely on his own. Apple has started to take some steps by spotlighting its disability offerings in the app store under ‘special education.’ But how can the company, and can we, make this great technology more accessible to more people?
The iPad: Magically Tailored To Autistic Kids’s Needs
Charlie is 13 1/2 and on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum. Just a generation ago, my son would have been institutionalized when he was younger. He’s benefited more than I can say from our society’s better understanding of autism and of how to teach a child with neurological challenges, and from—yes, I know it might sound like an exaggerated claim—a metal slab about 9 1/2″ long by 8″ wide, the iPad. The iPad’s touchscreen seems almost uniquely, magicly suited for Charlie’s motor and processing abilities. He’s kept himself quite busy and amused this winter break listening to music and videos and looking through his photos.
My Initial Resistance to the iPad
Back in November, I wrote about the iPad as revolutionary and maybe even magical for kids with disabilities. Like many parents of kids with disabilities, we’ve tried a lot of therapies, treatments, and equipment for Charlie over the years. So when the iPad was introduced last January to immediate acclaim (and criticism about its regrettable iName), I got into my cynical ‘look, we’ve tried the iPod, iPodTouch, a touch screen, Handwriting Without Tears, sign language, the special diet, supplements, blah blah blah’ mode. We’d sighed over enough broken techno-devices (and fished a few out of some water-containing household appliances). No, I said, not another one!
Then my friend Shannon started blogging about how her son Leo, who’s a bit younger than Charlie, was benefiting from his iPad. And my parents and aunts read an SF Weekly article featuring Leo. And a check came in the mail, I hied me to the Apple store, and, well, I really had to bite my tongue.
Charlie, who had seemed to be in the distinct minority of autistic kids who don’t like to use the computer, loves his iPad.
New York Times: A ‘Therapeutic Marvel for Disabled People’
On his own, Charlie has figured out how to use some of the apps before calling me for ‘help, help.’ While a great athlete who can ride a bike for some 20 miles in any weather, he has difficulties with fine motor movements and with his visual processing, so manipulating a computer mouse has always been a challenge. He most prefers to listen to music and watch videos on his iPad, but we also use the device for visual schedules and the all-important concept of waiting, thanks to a Giant Timer. And the iPad has become a compact repository of the photos he loves, of my parents, of toys he no longer has, of things and places and activities he likes. (I write about Charlie and his iPad from time to time on my blog We Go With Him.)
A November New York Times article described the iPad as a ‘therapeutic marvel for disabled people.’ Similar praises have been sung by parents of kids with disabilities, autistic adults, and therapists and teachers. Disability Scoop noted that, thanks to devices like the iPad, ‘assistive technology has gone mainstream.’
Calling on Steve Jobs
Lest this post become a lovefest for the iPad and the Apple, I would like to say that, great as the iPad has been, I can’t say that Apple’s response regarding this has been notable. Apple could really make a difference in the world, perhaps by subsidizing iPads for families and individuals who cannot afford them. The HollyRod Foundation stepped in this holiday season with a campaign to give iPads to children on the autism spectrum. And some of my friends pooled their $$$ and purchased an iPad for a family with a child with multiple disabilities.
Yes, yes, I know Apple is a business and has to make a profit. But having the chance to open possibilities for kids with disabilities—kids like my son, who is minimally verbal, doesn’t seem able to read, and has a history of really tough behavior problems—is something that should be seized on.
Steve Jobs, we love the iPad. But now that your company has created this magical device, how about making some real magic and giving even more kids with disabilities the chance to use one, to learn and to communicate?
Photo by the author; the photo displays a segment of a visual schedule (entitled 'Two More Days Till School Starts') made using the First-Then Visual Schedule app.