On the Threshold of Independence: Recommended Apps for Young Adults

The digital age is a boon to assistive technology and the people who depend on it. For disabled youngsters entering legal adulthood, the new digital world is also a wider doorway to independent living. It’s no longer necessary to have human caregivers always available: apps, AI, and robots can help with most physical and mental tasks. (And they never “talk down” to disabled users.)

A person in a wheelchair using a laptop at a café with bookshelves in the background.

Just a few things technology can now do:

One Young Adult’s Story  

Andi Fry, our BridgingApps Coordinator for Montgomery County Outreach, shares her daughter Megan’s experiences with independent adulthood and college life. (Megan has cerebral palsy and uses eye-gaze technology for communication and other tasks.)

Q: When and how did Megan start preparing for independent living?

Andi: Even as a child, Megan wanted to help clean house: she would have me attach a broom to her little power wheelchair. In high school, she was so excited when Instacart became popular and let her feel independently useful. [Megan published an Instacart review on the BridgingApps blog in 2016.]

Around that same time, we installed the Nest thermostat so she could control indoor air temperature, and the August app for door locks. Also in high school, Megan started to talk directly to her doctors without my help, doing her own scheduling, consulting, and prescription processing. She used whatever portal the doctors recommended, especially MyChart and the Walgreens app.

Q: What other apps/digital technologies have proven helpful?

Andi: Group chats via texting has always been our go-to for communication. Megan uses the GroupMe app for specific groups of people: family, friends, caregivers. This works great because she needs a computer to speak and communicate, and she has always wanted to be “in the know”—never left out.

Sharing e-calendars with me and the rest of her caregiver team has also been beneficial. Between medical appointments, college classes, and social events, it’s essential to always let the whole team know what’s coming up. Megan’s regular eye-gaze communication device is Windows-based, so Google Calendar is easy for her. And it translates well when texting calendar events to Apple devices.

Q: What do most of Megan’s favorite apps have in common?

Andi: Ease of use is a priority. It’s very labor-intensive when you have trouble accessing the buttons for physical or intellectual reasons—when it takes extra effort to complete tasks. It’s okay if it takes a while just to set things up, but not if apps are more trouble than they’re worth in everyday use.

Choosing Apps Wisely

Of course, every app user has a personal definition of “user-friendly.” The best way to find your ideal fit is to experiment; you can test out apps in an assistive-technology lab, or by downloading them on a trial basis.

Other tips for choosing apps wisely:

  • If you download an app that’s new to you, set a schedule for trying it out—and a deadline for deleting it if it doesn’t suit your needs. Avoid cluttering up your device with “tried once and then forgotten” apps.
  • If downloading an app on a “trial period” basis, make sure you’re clear on all details—especially how to avoid being charged for services you don’t use.
  • Don’t buy a “Premium” app, either, before testing whether the free version meets your needs. (Note: one feature of most Premium versions is “ad-free,” which may be worth the price if you have sensory-overload challenges.)
  • Every six months or so, look through your apps and delete any you aren’t using anymore.
  • Remember, an app only deserves space on your device if you find it helpful and user-friendly.

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