Getting Started with Mobile Devices

What is a Mobile Device?

A mobile device is a small hand-held computing device, many of which have a touchscreen interface. They are commercially produced and benefit from using the very latest hardware and software technology. Unlike traditional medical equipment, mobile devices are relatively inexpensive and have a large pool of developers creating apps that are designed for adults and children who have special needs, or apps that can be repurposed for use with people who have special needs. Some common examples of mobile devices are smartphones, such as an iPhone or Droid, iPod Touch, Kindle, Nook and the iPad.

Mobile devices are different from netbooks and touch screen computers, as mobile devices are designed for quick and casual interaction. Traditional computers, on the other hand, are typically larger in size, have a longer boot time, a complex operating system, and a shorter battery life. Computers do not provide the same instant in-your-pocket interaction as mobile devices. Additionally, many people who are using devices to help them communicate would rather not carry around a huge computer that needs to be plugged in in all of the time. Mobile devices provide access to applications and communication tools, right in your pocket.

Why do we focus on mobile devices and apps for people who have disabilities?

mobile devices for special needsTouch-based, low cost, commercially available tools can augment, or in some limited cases, replace traditional therapies, expensive equipment and curriculums to result in better physical, educational and social outcomes for children and adults who are naturally engaged by iPads, tablets and Android devices with their combination of touch, sound, color, movement and fun.

Parents, teachers, and therapists have found that that these devices paired with certain apps can be effective tools for improving skills and accelerating learning for people with disabilities. Because touch-based mobile devices such as the iPad have a direct interface—no mouse, track pad, joystick or external mechanism required to operate the device—users can access mobile devices more easily than a traditional computer. Additionally, using touch-based technology is intuitive and relatively inexpensive and does not make a child with a disability seem “different”—other children recognize mobile devices and their use does not scare them or make the user unapproachable as is the case with some traditional assistive-technology devices and equipment.

Many tablets and e-readers on the market are more cost effective options than the iPad, but there are fewer apps suited for people with disabilities available for these devices. Overall, however, we are seeing more development of accessibility features and apps for people with special needs.