IPad Boot Camp Opens Doors for Disabled
Swiping the unlock button on your iPad.
Typing an email.
Browsing websites on Safari.
For most people, these tasks are fairly mundane. But for those with visual, communications or speech impairments, these tasks could be difficult, if not downright impossible.
Enter Dr. Therese Willkomm, director of New Hampshire’s State Assistive Technology Program with the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. Willkomm, who is dyslexic and has Tourette Syndrome, is an expert at finding ways to make modern technology accessible to those with learning and other disabilities.
Willkomm presented her tips, tricks and techniques in September at iPad Boot Camp: Awesome Apps, Accessories and Resources – Supporting Students with Disabilities. The daylong workshop was held at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus in conjunction with the Maryland Assistive Technology Network and the Johns Hopkins Center for Technology in Education. Approximately 160 people attended, including teachers, administrators, researchers, parents, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, assistive technology specialists and others.
“For us at CTE, this is Johns Hopkins at its best: bringing innovations of research and practice together with collaborators who lead and direct policy in order to pave a way for better outcomes for people who need our help most,” said Christopher Swanson, director of Technology for Learning/ Early Childhood Initiatives in JHU’s Center for Technology in Education.
Willkomm encouraged the attendees to think about the iPad in a different way.
“It’s not about the iPad. The iPad is a tool. I want you to think about outcomes,” Willkomm said.
For example, she said, think about students who can’t come into the classroom. Perhaps they are in the hospital or home sick. The FaceTime feature on the iPad can allow the student to see everything going on in the classroom – almost as good as being there in person.
Willkomm highlighted an app called TextGrabber, which she said is valuable for students with visual disabilities. The app will take a picture of text, scan it and then read it back aloud.
The VisionAssist app magnifies external images, another good device for students with visual impairments. Willkomm showed how an iPad can be used to take pictures of a book and enlarge the pages for the legally blind.
QuickVoice, she said, is one of her favorite apps for those with communication impairments.
Willkomm also taught how to adjust the settings on an iPad to make it more accessible for those with disabilities.
The New Hampshire professor is also an inventor and has earned the nickname “The MacGyver” of Assistive Technology. She has created devices for individuals with disabilities that make the iPad easier to use. One such device, a stand that enables those with visual and other impairments to position the iPad in a way that works best for them, is patented.
She amazed the workshop attendees by showing how she takes simple materials – tape, discarded campaign signs, scissors, Velcro – and makes devices to help students with disabilities.
Swanson said this is an exciting time to work at the “intersection of technology and education.”
“For so long, assistive technology was this ‘add-on,’” Swanson said. “It was powerfully helpful, but seen as complicated, expensive, bulky, and really made the student who was using it stand-out from their peers. But now, the same device any kid uses to play Angry Birds can also be a communication system, or a magnification device, or a personal organizer. So the perception barrier is starting to come down.
“People should not be defined by what they can’t do, but what they can,” Swanson continued. “Assistive and adaptive technologies enable people to move past barriers of ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can.’ And as exciting as it is to see so much universal technology ubiquitously a part of our lives, we will always need people thinking about how you provide access to that device or software, and how that technology provides access to learning and living.”