A growing educational field of interest is that of assistive technology. Through assistive technology, people with disabilities are able to bridge the gap between what they want to do and what they are physically and mentally capable of doing. Adaptive technology is by no means a new field of study, but recent tools such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch have made powerful and meaningful assistive technologies a reality for many people. Because of the range of IOS devices and the tools available at the Apple iTunes store, special education students and special education teachers are able to leverage new and exciting technologies in both exciting and economical ways. For many, the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad are opening doors. Apple has realized this, and they have recently highlighted the growing category of IOS applications focused on special education in the Apple iTunes Store.
As a general educator who is married to a special education teacher, this is of particular interest. Special needs children often respond very positively to technology in their therapy, but often adaptive technology is prohibitively expensive. An iPod touch or an iPad, with the right tools, can change the lives of many special needs children.
What is Available at the Apple iTunes Special Education Store
At the Apple iTunes Special education store, parents, students, and educators have access to dozens of applications in various categories. Specifically, there are applications for Sign Language, Communication, Accessible Readers, Diagnostics and Reference, Emotional Development, Language Development, Literacy, Life Skills and Organization. Many of the IOS special education apps are free and some cost a few dollars, but the cost seems well worth it. Take the Pocket SLP Articulation application for example. For $29.99, it allows a speech language pathologist to have access to a complete set of speech language tools including sound flashcards, articulation models, sample articulations, and the ability to formally or informally assess a student’s articulation. For the cost of an iPod and the application, speech language pathologists can replace hundreds of dollars of flashcards and thousands of dollars of computer equipment and software. The SLP Pocket Articulation app enables a speech language pathologist to get their job done more effectively and more efficiently.
Of particular interest to my wife is the collection of applications designed to help autistic children with emotional, behavioral, and organizational goals. There are several applications including face-cards C and Moods which help autistic children appropriately and correctly interpret and react to facial expressions and moods. Both of these applications model specific emotions and quiz the user as to their meanings. My wife tried the face-cards C application, which is free, and her students responded very well to it; she saw the first smile in a long time from a particular student she was working with. Many autistic children also need structured organization and planning support, and there are multiple apps to help in this arena as well. First Then Visual Schedule seems particularly useful for organization goals. The app allows parents or educators to break down tasks into discrete steps and list them in chronological order with clipart photos or real photos as a visual cue to the student. A complex task such as getting ready for school can be broken down into its individual parts such as brush teeth, pour cereal, pour milk, eat breakfast, get dressed and pack backpack. First Then Visual Schedule is $9.99 at the iTunes Store.
Personally, I am benefiting from the the iTunes Special Education store. I teach at a school that hosts the deaf and hard of hearing program. I am using Sign 4 Me as a tool to help me learn ASL and communicate to students who are deaf. For $9.99, I am able to dramatically increase my knowledge and communication skills. I am also able to avoid taking ASL classes that would cost much more in real dollars and time. The language lessons in Sign 4 Me are surprisingly effective, and I am picking it up very well.
Out of my 8th grade students, only 62% have access to a reliable computer, yet 84% have an iPod Touch. My students compose essays, do research, and organize their lives on their IOS devices. Apple has penetrated nearly every demographic with their iTunes App Store compatible devices including the special education population. As device use continues to grow, so will the application developers interest in using the devices to help students grow academically and emotionally. iTunes store applications are already helping special needs communicate and stay organized; I am excited to see what will come next.