Tablets and Disabilities

on October 11, 2012

Next week I am speaking at the California Educational Technology Professionals Association’s annual gathering. I will be giving several presentations to this technology community specifically about tablets and touch computing. My focus will be how this unique form factor and touch computing will advance computing forward in ways mouse and keyboard computing simply could not.

One of the most profound aspects of touch computing is how it brings new generations into the computing era but will also advance current generations forward. The ways many elderly, who mostly avoiding computing on a grand scale, or rarely got the most of their devices, are embracing tablets and jumping in head first to the personal computing era. Or how kids can instantly pick tablets up and intuitively start using this device to its absolute fullest from the start, all without the steep learning curve of a mouse and keyboard. These are prime examples of the distinct ways touch computing is empowering millions of people every day to get more out of their personal computers.

Touch Computing and Leaning Disabilities

During a recent conversation with a friend, I was inspired to add a new element to the our presentations on tablets in order to demonstrate the profound power of touch computing. I was talking with a friend whose daughter has been diagnosed with mild dyslexia. He was explaining to me some of the exercises and therapy his daughter was going through after school in order to properly train key elements of her brain. As always, my first thought for most problems is to look for ways technology can help solve them, so I proclaimed that there must be an app to help with learning disabilities and specifically dyslexia. There have been numerous reports about how the iPad and specific applications are doing wonders for kids with Autism but I was yet to hear much around other learning disabilities. Since he and his family have an iPad, I started looking for iPad apps for learning disabilities. Sure enough there are apps for that.

As I did some research, I came across and interesting company called Tactus Therapy who has developed a number of applications specifically designed for brain therapy. They have applications to address issues around language, reading, writing, spaced retrieval and visual attention. The application on spaced retrieval is designed for brain trauma patients as well as others suffering from memory issues, and can be used as a treatment for dementia. The visual attention application is the one I became most interested in for left-to-right brain training to address dyslexia.

I purchased several of these applications for my own kids to do, simply because they are extremely good foundational exercises for the brain muscle. However, I also wanted to see how the exercises were built uniquely for touch computing. As you go through the exercises it becomes clear that although it would be possible to use a mouse and keyboard, the best possible way to go through the exercises are to use your fingers. This is especially true as it relates to left-to-right pattern recognition exercises.

If you have ever been around children as they are being taught to read, you notice that they perform an exercise of putting their finger under the word being read. In a specific exercise with the visual attention application, the child is given a specific letter, number, symbol, etc., then asked to scan line by line and touch the target. It requires using your finger to scan each line then touch. This would be fairly tricky with a mouse but more importantly defeat the critical exercise of using your finger in a left to right motion to properly focus on each symbol looking to identify key targets. Touch computing taking on dyslexia.

At a high level, I am continually impressed with the quality of learning and education focused applications on the iPad. I am a parent of two girls, one in fourth grade and one in first grade. I am constantly looking for ways to enhance their education in both useful and fun ways and the iPad is yet to disappoint. When it comes to learning and education applications the quality of apps on iPad trounces every other platform. For parents, I would imagine that is a key point.

These are simply a few examples of many regarding the ways that the iPad and touch computing are changing the way we think about computers and how different groups of consumers use them. In fact if you have never done it, I encourage you to look at Apple’s specifics on accessibility features for iPad. What’s fascinating about this element of touch computing for those with disabilities is that it is an extremely small market yet Apple has built specific features and functions for those with disabilities right into iOS and OS X. Other platforms can cater to folks with disabilities but require third party apps.

As I dig deeper into these examples of the power of touch computers, the more I am convinced that tablets represent the computer for everyone.