The iPhone and iPad as a Work Aid

By , November 4, 2010

At the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference in Chicago last week, tablets and applications took the industry by storm. The iPad, iPhone and iTouch, for example, are hitting all the right notes for users with disabilities as these three mainstream technologies have access already built into them.

For starters, all three gadgets have universal access features, like built-in text-to-speech, voice command, auto text, video chat and magnification. And they function as multiple devices in one gadget for people with different disabilities, from aiding people who are deaf in communication, to providing people with developmental disorders help with tasks and scheduling, to assisting those with learning disabilities in reading and writing.

The impact on the workplace is profound. Using an iPhone, for example, the deaf and hearing impaired can use Facetime, a new video chat tool that lets users sign conversations to each other. People who have difficulty with memory and scheduling can use their iPhone or iTouch to build to-do lists, create calendars, and use apps such as MySchedule and Toodleoo to create schedules and daily lists, such as for work tasks.

Meanwhile, those on the autism spectrum and others who are non-verbal can take advantage of apps that are far less expensive than traditional speech-generating devices. In the U.S., it is estimated that approximately 1 million working-age adults have autism, yet nearly one-third of autistic adults have the ability to work. Apps like Proloquo2go and Speak it! open the doors for communication and control.

For learning and reading disabilities, a popular app is Dragon Dictation, which lets users speak into the phone to create documents. Also, the iPhone’s text-to-speech feature lets you read any document out loud. Microsoft’s Windows 7 OS has a similar feature.

As smartphone competition heats up, the Droid is emerging as a leading contender. Not only is the Droid’s app store getting stronger, it also has a new type of text-input technology called Swype that is a cool alternative to the QWERTY keyboard.

With Swype, users can drag their fingers on the multi-touch keypad to create words, and avoid having to touch pinpoint specific letters. Randy Marsden, CEO of assistive technology company Madentec, originated the concept of the Swype keyboard.

Swype is a great example of a specialized tech that went mainstream. It’s popularity, and the merging of more mainstream devices like the iPad into the assistive tech field, underscores how the industry is evolving.  The welcoming of off-the-shelf gadgets once reserved for only those without disabilities will mean more opportunities – and coolness – for all.

Author: Suzanne Robitaille

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody.com, a website on disability issues. She is the former assistive technology columnist for BusinessWeek.com, giving rise to her fascination with technology that helps people with disabilities surmount barriers in the workplace and life space. She is also the author of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices. As a writer and blogger, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, HealthDay, Media Post, Ability Magazine, Disaboom and more. Suzanne lost her hearing at age four and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology."