Touchscreens, when done well, open up the world of computing. Most of the time we think about the 99 year old lady who knew how to use an iPad on the first go or a toddler who can whip her way around an iPad like a seasoned pro; feats that would be much less likely to happen on a full fledged computer. The iPad’s ease of use and disability features are making it a go to device for individuals with disabilities.
The New York Times ran a story last week of a 7-year old boy named Owen who, by chance, began to play with an iPad his nurse set near him. Owen has a motor-neuron disability and cannot speak, but he is able to read, write and do math which as it turns out the iPad helps him do.
Thanks to the sensitive screen Owen has been able to read books on his own, play with apps and even type out what he wanted to be for halloween.
Owen’s not alone in his iPad use, nor is the iPad alone in opening up computing to the disabled. The touchscreen as found on many Windows based tablets, notebooks and all-in-one devices has also proven to be helpful in personal experience.
I have an aunt with down syndrome who loves to make cards on the computer and email family, but the precise movements of a mouse have proven to be difficult for her to control. A little over a year ago she purchased an HP TouchSmart computer which sits on the edge of her desk allowing her to use touch to control the machine instead of a mouse. We also gave her a stylus for a more precise point which helped.
This setup isn’t perfect as she still needs to navigate Windows Vista, but touch screen technology has made it easier for her to get online. If I had it to do over today I would have recommended that she get the iPad since it would handle most of the tasks she wants to do, except printing.
It’s great to see computing coming to a point where it is accessible for more people, but as the New York Times article points out there is still a long way to go until all devices are as accessible to those with disabilities.