Friday, April 1, 2011

To App or not to App...

I am not an iOS evangelist, I do not believe that these devices can cure Autism, save lives or cure cancer.  That being said I do see the benefit of having mobile, touch screen devices available in the special education classroom.  So lately as the debate around whether the iPad should be considered as an AAC device has left me with some thoughts.

Let me start this debate here, I'm going to focus on the 90% of students with disabilities (I have no actual numbers, just my experience) who have no issues accessing a touch screen.  Students who require alternative access like switches or eye gaze would have limited access to an iOS device, not something I like to say, but the truth.  One reason these devices are not a cure or right for every student.

So, I want to change the debate.  Why is this about the device and not about the apps?  The device is important only as a medium.  When we look at AAC devices we are looking at whether the Unity system is better than Picture Word Power, not the device, Vantage vs. V+, but the symbol set.  So let's look at the apps that we are talking about.  If we are looking at communication we have Proloquo2Go, TapSpeak Button, Choice & Sequence, Grace App, Expressive, Speak it! or Voice4u.  And that's just the ones I know about.  We have apps that give students the opportunity to do a single message (TapSpeak Button), a grid of choices (TapSpeak Choice, Voice4u), full picture supported communication (Proloquo2Go) or text to speech (Proloquo2Go, Speak it!).  Why wouldn't we as professional look at a device that has so many choices to give a student at such a good price?  If one doesn't work, we can try another.  We don't have to change the device we can just change the app.

On EdCeptional we talked about this topic quite extensively.  We looked at a white paper from AAC-Rerc, and it covers many of the reasons this debate is changing.  I'm not going to get into that debate, but I wanted to share a comment that was left by a fellow blogger and podcaster, Chris Bugaj (@attipscast):
"Thanks for being in my car with me today on my way to school. Nice job everyone! Here's one thought I thought I'd throw into the mix with regard to iOS apps (or apps of any kind really). When it comes to research, I think it is impossible to keep up with the number of apps and the hardware to run the apps. So, in my opinion, the research questions should be focused on the skills we need students to learn, not the tools they use to learn those skills. Instead of the research question being, "Does an iPad work with a student with autism" it should be "Do sequencing activities help with language acquisition?" If the answer is yes then we ask "Can we use the iPad to do sequencing ?" You don't need a research article to tell you that you can use an app on the iPad to do sequencing. Plus, technology is changing so quickly, research being done on the "tools" rather than the "skills" would be impossible to keep up with. Keep up the great work everyone!"Thanks!Chris
Again, taking the focus off the device and focusing on the app.  We don't question whether a laptop can help a student access the internet, but we do look at what browser has the best accessibility features, and can be customized.  I especially like what he says about research.  Devices are going to change constantly, whether they are from Apple, Microsoft, Google or whoever, if they have software that helps kids learn, they should be considered.

Last thought on accessibility and iOS devices.  My daughter is 10 months old, she LOVES iPhones, I have seen her crawl across a room to get to an iPhone, and she understands how to make it work.  I'm not saying she's making calls and starting apps, but she understand that if Bebot is on the screen she has to touch it to make it work, but if Gugl is there she can talk and he'll talk back to her.  I've seen the same thing for many students with disabilities.  They just get how to navigate, it just makes sense to them, especially those kids who have trouble using a mouse and typical computer.  It eliminates the back and forth required to navigate.  I'm not saying this is a reason to use these devices exclusively, but it is something to consider.

I'm not sure how to end this post, I don't think I've discovered anything mind blowing or new, but maybe it will start helping to change the discussion.  iOS devices are a viable option for many students with disabilities, and I think we need to recognize that.


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