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Tzvi Schectman
BY Tzvi Schectman

4 Special Needs iPad/iPhone Apps for the Future

This post is part Nine and the final post of the Special Needs iPad & App Series.

Almost from the day the iPad was launched there was an immediate buzz about the special needs apps that were available in the iPad app store. Apple quickly realized that the iPad was perfectly suited to enhancing the lives of individuals with special needs and created a special education section of the app store.

In this series we have discussed Websites and blogs that are dedicated to reviewing special education and special needs apps for the iPad and iPhone. We have covered apps for Assistive CommunicationSocial Skills, Life SkillsScheduling and more.
Thanks largely to Apple and the iPad, technologies that help children with special needs have advanced dramatically in the last few years.

Looking to the future we can see huge potential for what the iPad can and most probably will do. Below we highlight 4 concepts that will most likely show up as apps for the iPad and iPhone within the next few years.

If you have any concepts you would like to see or you think will appear let us know in the comments section.

Eye Tracking Technology Special Needs iPads1. Eye-Tracking Technology

Motion based control is moving very quickly. First there was the Wii were a sensor picked up the motions of the controller and converted it into action on a screen. Recently the XBox Kinect was released letting you control movies, games and music with the wave of a hand, a shake of your body or the sound of your voice.  If that isnt enough within the next year computers, tablets and iPads will not need input from fingers or a mouse.

Right now the iPad is great for individuals who can use their fingers to tap the screen or scroll through different options. Unfortunately the iPad may not be appropriate for individuals who have poor fine-motor skills, (ex: Cerebral Palsy), or limited use of their hands.

Currently eye-tracking technology is being developed that will enable users to do many of the things they now do with a mouse or fingers. Stare at a folder to open it. Read to the bottom of a page of an e-mail, and the program skips to the next. While eye-tracking will be beneficial to everyone, it will open a whole new world for individuals who cannot communicate through speaking or through the use of an assistive communication device.

Imagine an iPad app that will use the iPad’s camera to track your eyes and when you focus on a certain item it selects it for you. Or if someone asks you a question you can communicate your answer by focusing on the yes or no text.

Look for this technology to be available in 2012 as an add-on to your iPad or PC. The prices is expected to start at around $200. Eventually this technology will come built in to most devices.

Health Monitor Special Needs Apps2. Health Monitoring

You may be driving a car that has the OnStar system installed. If you do you know that you get email updates on the health of your car. OnStar regularly runs tests on your car’s tire pressure, engine, transmission, air bag and more. If there is anything wrong your car lets you know about.

A child with special needs often can’t tell you that something is bothering them or that they don’t feel well.  Neurotypical  individuals often have advance warning that something is wrong and will take appropriate action (or ask others to).

Already apps are available that can monitor your heart rate and send an update to your iPhone. In the next year or so look for even more comprehensive apps that will monitor heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature and more all from the same app.

In the future expect to see a small device that can be unobtrusively attached to an individual with special needs. The device would be able to be worn 24/7 and regulary send you alerts and updates in real time. Currently you may be able to find such devices in hospitals, but they are bulky, expensive and not meant to be worn on a regular basis.

Visually Impaired Special Needs Apps3. Guidance for the Visually Impaired

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a person walking down the street with a red and white stick? Right away you know that they are visually impaired. How about if you replace the stick with an iPhone? The stigma instantly disappears right?

Expect an app to come along that will make good use of the iPhones camera and would assist individuals who are visually impaired cross streets and move around obstacles with ease.

Imagine walking down the sidewalk and your iPhone tells you how many feet left until you need to step down on the curb, warn you if you are walking into a puddle, or if someone is walking toward you. This app would also recognize when the walk signal is says to walk or Don’t Walk letting them know when it is time to cross.

iPhone Special Needs apps of the future4. Finding Special Needs Friendly Retailers

You been dreading this day for weeks. Its time for a haircut for your child with special needs. Your child doesn’t sit still for 30 seconds… 20 minutes in the barber’s chair is a nightmare. You walk out mortified from all the dirty looks you were given and the less than friendly attitude of the staff.

Ratings for stores and websites have been around for  years already. You can even pull up ratings and reviews from stores all around you on your iPhone. It should be fairly easy to create an App for special needs friendly retailers. You are always looking for hair salons, restaurants and grocery stores that are sensory friendly. A store that you feel comfortable to take your child into without getting stared at or being afraid of causing a scene.

Currently you have to try numerous retailers until you find the right one. Eventually someone who is tech savvy and involved in the special needs community should come up with a crowd-sourcing app that lets special needs parents rate and review retailers for their level of acceptance and understanding of individuals with special needs.

So the next time you walk into a restaurant with your child you don’t have to worry if you will get kicked out. The iPhone just told you that 250+ parents gave this place the thumbs up. And now you know not to walk into that art gallery with your child because according to the iPhone app a number of parents were told to leave the gallery until their child calmed down.

The Rest of the Series:

  1. The Special Needs iPad & App Series: Welcome
  2. 7 Assistive communication (AAC) apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch
  3. 7 Scheduling and Behavioral Apps to help with transitions and more
  4. 11 Social Skills & Life Skills Apps in iPad App Store
  5. 10 Websites to Find Special Needs Apps for the iPad & iPhone
  6. 7 Special Needs Apps in the Google Android Market
  7. On a tight budget? 7 ways to get an ipad for your child with special needs
  8. 6 steps to get the iPad into your child’s special education classroom
  9. 4 Special Needs iPad/iPhone Apps for the Future

More Special Needs Apps

Looking for more special needs apps? Check out the Special Needs App Review!

With over a thousand apps now available to help individuals with special needs it has become increasingly difficult to find and choose the right special needs app. The Friendship Circle App Review gives you the ability to find the perfect special needs app for your child.

Special Needs App Review

Tzvi Schectman

Written on April 6, 2011 by:

Tzvi Schectman is the Family Coordinator for the Friendship Circle of Michigan and the Editor of the the Friendship Circle Blog. You can connect with Tzvi on LinkedIn and Google+
  • Pingback: App Reviews offered on The Friendship Circle Blog | OT's with Apps()

  • pamela ybarra-cressman

    This is a great website. I have one question.
    Are there any communication applications for the ipad that will let you access directly any video or movie already downloaded to the device. Example:
    What do you want to do?
    Child presses watch movie
    Next page opens up to a selection of movies already downloaded from itunes on the ipad.
    Child picks video and it opens the actual video directly without having to go somewhere else on the ipad device? I hope my question makes sense.
    Pam Cressman

  • I am so overwhelmed by all the good input on this site from such a caring and knowledgeable community. I’m leaving this little comment in appreciation and to let each and every reader and contributor know that Gametrender is behind you all one hundred percent and if we had the time would write a special article for each and every one of you. As it is if you are a member of this wonderful site or a developer of any of these life changing apps then please get hold of us-we would love to be another forum to broadcast your life changing work to the world. Happy New Year.

  • Great website, you guys are doing a wonderful community service. Speaking of which, there will be an app for #4 very soon…more to follow from a colleague.

  • Bernard R michaud

    Dear Tzvi,
    My wife has ALS she is on a vent and currently uses an eye tracking computer to communicate. How much longer until the eyetracking system you discussed will be available as we are now looking for a replacement to her current sluggish system.

    If we could mount on her wheelchair a couple of eye tracking I pad, this would add so much to her quality of life. 

    The PC systems we are currently looking at cost about $17,000…

    If you know anyone developing such applications please let me know.


    Bernard R M ichaud 

    • Tzvi

      Bernard, At this point my guess is as good as yours. Your best bet would be to follow the company and look for competitors. I would guess that something will be on the market in 1-2 years.