iPads, accessibility and disability

Experience and evidence would suggest that when great leaps forward are made – in the form of transport, education or the internet, for example – disabled people often don’t have equal chance to benefit from the progress the leaps represent.

Insofar as generalisations across all impairment groups can be made (for example, for people with learning disabilities, hearing impairments or visual impairments), I’m inclined to think that iPads and apps* are, unfortunately, in much the same category of great leaps forward.

This article, though, suggests at least some room for optimism, even if it is from Mashable.

It suggests there are four main ways in which touch devices such as iPads are “changing the lives of disabled people”:

  1. As a communicator – touch devices are making text-to-speech or touch-to-speech technology more affordable
  2. As a therapeutic device – touch devices are both motivating and enabling disabled young people to develop or use their motor skills
  3. As an educational tool – touch devices can act as very useful supplements to (or replacements for) traditional education tools
  4. As a behaviour monitor – touch devices can quantify behavioural progress, either through recording notes / videos etc. and/or charting graphs. Similarly, apps can remind people to take medication.

There is undeniably a medical model focus in these benefits: they tend to focus on what “deficits” someone’s impairment represents and how these can be addressed. This is rather than highlighting, for example, how technology can be used to overcome the barriers that society puts up for disabled people (a great example of this is the Hills are Evil app, which enables people to identify inclines, raised kerbs and impassable streets).

Nevertheless, it’s good to see tech so widely known and appreciated as an iPad being seen in the context of what good it can provide for disabled people too.

*I’m not sure, though, if social media is in the same category. I’m not aware of any work that has been done on this particular topic – i.e. disabled people, social media and accessibility. If it has, please let me know.


“Is that so bad?”

I enjoyed reading Simon’s thoughtful notes on the iPad, and thought his conclusion was particularly good:

A large group of people out there (and I count myself as one of them, most of the time) don’t want to tinker or take their devices apart[.] They just want things to work really well, be beautiful and easy to use. Is that so bad?

The answer to Simon’s question is no.

It may be an early adopter thing (of which I am not typically one), but the debate about new things like iPads seems to miss this point. Such debates about what gadgets like an iPad do and don’t do or have is valid, and the conclusions people draw from those debates are perfectly fine. But the basis on which early adopters have those debates is very, very different from how I suspect most people approach buying stuff.

This may seem self-evident, but the fact that Simon offer his rhetorical question at all indicates it may not be.

For me, you only need to look at the hoards of people playing with an iPad in an Apple store to see that Cory Doctorow’s views on the iPad may not matter.

(A side note: without wishing to pester him too much, I wish Simon would blog more. He’s very thoughtful in what he writes and adds a good dash of style when he does.)