4 min Read

Accessing Accessibility

iPad technology has become increasingly more accessible for individuals with disabilities since its first release in 2010. Built-in accessibility options now allow caregivers to quickly make changes to both the audiovisual presentation and functionality of the device for individual specific adaptations. These features are available out of the box and can be used without the need to purchase additional apps. The potential for iPads to be used as an assistive technology device expands exponentially with the huge range of supplemental apps available.

Augmentative communication apps, such as Proloquo2Go and TouchChat HD, are popular choices for individuals with communication impairments. These apps include a huge library of images and symbols, sorted by category, and are highly editable. Both use a “touch to talk” format and can be used for a variety of skill levels, from one word requests to creating complex sentences. Though the high adaptability of these apps makes them appealing for caregivers, they can be cost prohibitive, complicated to program, have a significant learning curve for users, and have limited functionality beyond being a communication system. For the right individual these programs can have a massive positive impact on quality of life; however, there are other more streamlined programs available, which use a similar format, that actually have the ability to serve a wider range of users because of their reduced scale.

Choiceworks and Choiceworks Calendar are both visual scheduling apps which allow a caregiver to create individualized schedules and routines that are easily editable on-the-go and interactive for client users. The major difference between these two apps is that Choiceworks is designed for small-scale daily schedules or step-by-step routines, where Choiceworks Calendar can show daily, weekly, or monthly schedules but in significantly less detail. These apps have the greatest functionality when used in tandem, but work well as stand alone programs and should be selected for use based on the individual needs and goals of the user. The format is consistent between both programs: the user touches an image and receives an auditory prompt for that activity. Activities can be sequenced, with the user able to mark tasks as complete while they move through their routine, and routines can be saved so caregivers can build a library of task-specific, step-by-step instructions that can be independently accessed by users when needed. Much like augmentative communication apps these programs are highly editable, but by using a static display format they are consistent and predictable regardless of the content, have a short learning curve for both programmers and client users, and the simplicity, yet high adaptability in their design makes them an appropriate choice for users with a large range of needs.

The potential use for these programs is limited only by the creativity of the caregiver. Users can use images to make requests or choices, increasing communication and reducing frustration. Visual schedules can reduce anxiety, decrease dependence on staff prompting, and encourage independence and task completion. New skills can be taught through forwards or backwards chaining, alongside a step-by-step breakdown of the activity, until users have gained independence and can now be supported by a user-controlled linear prompt system. Regardless of use the final goal is the same: all of this technology is working towards making the world more accessible for individuals with disabilities.

iPad technology has become part of the daily routine for one of DDA’s residents, Carol. Carol identifies using her iPad for a variety of purposes: “I use it for music, I use it for making pictures, choices, and for [finding out] something I want to know about, [and] getting information”. She agrees that having a visual makes it easier to understand information and prefers when staff use her iPad when communicating with her, instead of just talking. Carol’s iPad has evolved over the last year. Once exclusively used for entertainment, it now acts as an activity planner, communication device, and learning tool, and Carol continues to look forward to the possibilities, hoping that she can someday use her iPad to “write a letter” or “explain where I’m going”.

Technology can make our lives easier. Technology can connect us. Technology can be the bridge between can’t and can. The technology is ready and waiting, it’s now up to us to use it.

By Keegan O’Toole, Residential Care Worker