I doubt that the makers of the iPhone were thinking about people with learning disabilities when they were designing their revolutionary device. But the little wonder (along with the iPod Touch) has turned out to be a surprising boon to people with both LD and other disabilities. And the iPad is promising to be just as helpful.
Apple is starting to take notice. The company recently set up a special section on its iTunes app store called “special education.” The apps are sorted by categories, including Organization, Communication (including Dragon Dictation), Sign Language, Language Development, and Life Skills. Some of the apps include a sign language dictionary, a sound amplifier, and text-to-speech programs.
Online I found this mother raving about the iPad for her son with Down syndrome: “Alec … is also a mad texter on his iPhone! If he spells a word incorrectly, we quietly text the correct spelling back. This creates an electronic spelling list for him to refer back to for future texts. So great! The iPad & iPhone would have been a terrific asset for Alec in his classroom settings as a fully included student in our local high school.”
Another blogger raves about the speech-to-text apps for the iPad: “One of the truly marvelous apps for the iPad has to be Dragon Dictate from Nuance. I have been using Dragon Dictate since I got my iPad and it is hard to believe how accurate it is for transcribing your voice to text. What is more amazing is that there is no need to do any training of the sort.”
Why do the “i” devices seem to be hitting the spot for a whole range of disabilities? In some ways it seems like an accident, but the design of the iPad in particular has combined all the elements that make it work where other devices have not. The touch screen and intuitive menus, for instance, make it a breeze to figure out. They’re also portable, of course, and a whole lot cheaper than a laptop.
Apple itself has come to recognize this side audience of users and is using this fact as a selling point. Aside from the new apps section it mentions the iPad’s accessibility features in its main sales pitch: “iPad comes with a screen reader, support for playback of closed-captioned content, and other innovative universal access features — right out of the box. There’s no additional software to buy or install. These features make iPad easier to use for students who have a vision impairment, are deaf or hard of hearing, or have a physical or learning disability.”