There are a growing number of applications for iPad and Android that can be valuable tools for those on the autism spectrum, and those with sensory-based needs. These tablet devices are revolutionizing how many people on the spectrum learn as well as how they communicate with others.
Some of the built-in features on these devices, especially the iPad, include: open captions, closed captions, and subtitling; headphone jack and bluetooth audio; mono audio (integrates the stereo channel for those with hearing loss in one ear); adjustable visual display for better contrast; and visual alerts for Mail and many other apps. Users can also integrate their own photos into many apps directly from the camera feature, and there are many apps that include voice recognition as well as voice output.
A college student in Virginia who is blind and has a moderate-to-severe hearing loss in both ears wrote to us recently to praise the usefulness of VoiceOver, an app that comes standard on iPads. He wrote: "VoiceOver works by sliding your finger around the screen; it identifies the element under your finger, and says aloud to 'double tap to open.' You then tap your finger twice on the screen to open an application."
An Internet search, such as on Google or Yahoo, using keywords such as "autism apps," "hard of hearing apps," "visually impaired apps," and so on will provide a listing. Here are just a few examples:
FaceTime, Skype - quality, fast-rate video to communicate with sign language and/or lip reading
SpeakIt - reads aloud emails, documents, web pages, etc.
SoundAmp - adjusts sound in one's surrounding with an equalizer, adjusts background sound levels, and replays the last 30 seconds
On the horizon:
Computer scientists at Technabling Ltd. in Scotland are developing a translator program for the deaf called the "Portable Sign Language Translator." It uses a camera to facilitate communication with the non-signing community. For example, an individual 'signs' to a camera, and the sign is then converted into text or voice output. The users can customize the app in order to interpret sign language jargon and even personalize their own signs. The developers plan to apply this technology to various sign language systems.
Muriel Saunders of the University of Kansas' Life Span Institute has been conducting research with children with cortical visual impairment (CVI). These children do not usually look directly at people and objects, but they do look at light. Thus, interacting with screen items might be helpful to individuals with CVI to develop a better sense of control, and make possible the needed practice to improve their vision. As a result, they will begin to interpret and understand images.
Given the importance of tablet technology, we expect the development of many more powerful apps to improve communication and learning for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those who are blind or visually impaired. Please let us know whenever you find other useful apps so we can share them with our Network member readers.