Apple recently opened a special section of their App Store to showcase learning and communication tools for students with special needs. These Assistive Technologies are for Apple mobile platforms like the iPad, iPhone and iPod. The aggregated tools contain the best of 3rd party applications, ranging from free tools to a few hundred dollars per app.
The section of the App Store, titled “Special Education: Learning for Everyone” features categories like Sign Language Development, Communication, Emotional Development, Literacy & Learning, and more. Apple’s long history of encouraging technology in the classroom has extended their emphasis to educational mobile technology in post-millennium years.
Apple mentions that Macs have “dozens of assistive technologies — many of which you won’t find in other operating systems at any price. And with the development of universal access features for iPod and iPhone, Apple is taking these technologies to a new level.” Recently, many of the Apps developed for iPod and iPhone touch screen technology been expanded for use with the iPad, including feature-rich updates and new user-friendly interfaces.
Mobile devices in classrooms have been met with mixed reviews; some classrooms embrace the use of mobile and social networking as ubiquitous tools that cannot be ignored. Others see them as classroom disruptions. Despite the varied opinions, special needs students stand to gain the most from existing educational mobile applications.
Audrey Watters states in Read Write Web: “Some educators have found the iPad in particular to be well-suited for Special Education programs, as it can provide multiple paths for engagement and expression for struggling learners and special needs students.”
Friendship Circle is familiar with Assistive Technologies available for the Apple mobile app platform. Lila Bechmann, a 10-year-old with non-verbal Autism, found difficulties in day-to-day communication and decision-making. Seeking a solution, Lila began using Proloquo2go and iPrompts. Proloquo2go is a augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) program, a powerful text-to-speech (TTS) app that uses images to allow users to “speak” with automatic sentence conjugations and a vocabulary of over 7000 words.
“At Friendship Circle, we have programmed all the things to do in [Proloquo2go] and she can pick activities from it.” Says Marlowe Bechmann, Lila’s mom. “She never asked for the sandbox because she didn’t know it was an option. Last week, she picked it after bikes and swing and LOVED it.”
iPrompts is a visual scheduling app that can be updated on the device or from the web. “[It is] so helpful in communicating to your child, where you are going and what the family schedule is for that particular day.” Says Marlowe.
She continues to explain that the visuals of the app allowed Lila to grasp the concept of going to a specific restaurant more quickly than Lila would have without the app. “She recognized the restaurant from the picture, but the words might not have meant anything to her.”
While some may debate the usefulness of mobile devices in education, it is clear that buzzwords like “intuitive computing” have a strong place when speaking about special needs education. Apple’s call-to-action for the use of mobile apps in special education, augmented by their decades-long support of technology in the classroom, shows that the best tools for educating can appear in unlikely places that were once reserved only for playtime, but now blur learning and play.