Owen Cain depends on a respirator and struggles to make even the slightest movements he has had a debilitating motor-neuron disease since infancy.
Owen,7,does not have the strength to maneuver a computer mouse,but when a nurse propped her boyfriends iPad within reach in June,he did something his mother had never seen before.
He aimed his left pointer finger at an icon on the screen,touched it just barely and opened the application Gravitarium,which plays music as users create landscapes of stars on the screen. Over the years,Owens parents had tried several computerized communications contraptions to give him an escape from his disability,but the iPad was the first that worked on the first try.
Since its debut in April,the iPad has become a popular therapeutic tool for people with disabilities of all kinds,though no one keeps track of how many are used this way,and studies are just getting under way to test its effectiveness,which varies widely depending on diagnosis.
A speech pathologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center uses text-to-speech applications to give patients a voice. Christopher Bulger,a 16-year-old in Chicago who injured his spine in a car accident,used an iPad to surf the Internet during the early stages of his rehabilitation,when his hands were clenched into fists. It was nice because you progressed from the knuckle to the finger to using more than one knuckle on the screen, he said. Parents of autistic children are using applications to teach them basic skills,like brushing teeth and communicating better.
For a mainstream technological device like the iPad to have been instantly embraced by the disabled is unusual. It is far more common for items designed for disabled people to be adapted for general use,like closed-captioning on televisions in gyms or GPS devices in cars that announce directions. Also,most mainstream devices do not come with built-ins like the iPads closed-captioning,magnification and audible readout functions,which were intended to keep it simple for all users,but also help disabled people.
Representative Edward J. Markey,a Massachusetts Democrat,who wrote recently enacted legislation that will require mobile devices to be more accessible to users with disabilities,said approximately three-fourths of communications devices need to be adapted for blind and deaf people.