Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Using the iPhone for Assistive Technology; a Case Study

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Using the iPhone for Assistive Technology; a Case Study

Article excerpt


Parent and teacher collaborated to use the Apple iPhone as assistive technology to meet the needs of Bill, a 20-year-old student in the Saline Young Adult program, part of the Saline Michigan School System. Bill has an intellectual disability and this technology provided an effective, flexible and moderate cost solution that helped him meet his Individual Education Program job site time management goals. It also enriched Bill's connection to family and friends and empowered him with increased self-determination. This paper provides an overview of how we used the iPhone as well as the results and lessons learned.


Bill is a 20-year-old young man with apraxia. He has a limited vocabulary and the level of intelligibility of his speech is low, making his verbal communication very difficult to understand for those not familiar with his speech patterns. He is unable to read or write. Still, Bill is able bodied with good large-motor skills and fair fine-motor skills. He is active and especially enjoys golf, basketball and bike riding.

Despite his obstacles, Bill is an outgoing and gregarious young man who thrives on social interaction with family, peers and community members. At home, Bill experiences frustration when his disability hinders his self determination efforts, such as when selecting what he'd prefer to eat or which movie to see.

Since preschool, Bill has tried a wide range of augmentative communication devices, from low-tech keychains with pictures to high-tech Wolf, DynaVox and IPaq based devices. While Bill benefited from each of these solutions, he didn't stick with them because each provided only limited benefit and proved difficult to carry on a daily basis.

In the past few years, mobile technology has started to converge. Previously, you might carry a watch, a personal desktop assistant (PDA), a mobile phone, a camera and maybe a music player (MP3). Today, you can have the same functionality in one single device. The explosive growth of the Apple iPhone and Apple iPod Touch fueled an equally explosive growth in compatible applications, greatly expanding the capabilities of the device. This unprecedented multi-functionality and growth in scale can be leveraged to benefit those needing portable assistive technology.


An overview of the approach we used to evaluate assistive technology for Bill is depicted in Figure 1. Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals for the school year were established by considering Bill's long-term goals for the future and identifying appropriate short-term goals for the year. Understanding Bill's needs and wants helped drive the functional requirements for an assistive technology solution, while understanding Bill's capabilities, limitations and strengths helped determine the type of solution that would most likely work for him.



We believe an important consideration when exploring assistive technology is the student's personality and preferences. Bill loves to communicate and interact with others. His apraxia often makes his speech unintelligible, but in no way does this stop Bill's efforts! He's a "hip" young man who enjoys using the latest technology and he picks up on trends from his peer group and older adults. Though Bill's reading ability is not functional, he's quite good at learning how to operate such devices as cell phones, video games, and computer software.

Finally, in Bill's young adult program, there were several transitions throughout the day that required Bill to plan ahead, catch a bus, and be generally prepared for what was to come. As a personality trait, Bill loves to know what to expect in the coming day, week, and even month. Looking at Bill's life situation at the time, it was clear he needed a way to know and manage his schedule more independently.

We summarized Bill's capabilities, limitations, strengths, needs and wants in Table 1. …

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