Tech-Friendly: Special education apps for mobile devices

December 12, 2012

By Paul Gorski

Years ago, I trained a blind student how to use a computer to help her become a medical transcriptionist. The program was funded by the state of Wisconsin, through the University of Wisconsin school system. I didn’t work for the UW system, but for reasons still unclear to me, the UW system couldn’t find one person in the system to train this woman. I soon learned about the tools available for the visually impaired to overcome the hurdles of using computer technology.

Technology is quite different now, with smartphone and tablet use on the rise. Both iOS and Android OS are improving access to mobile devices with better voice controls and voice feedback, and tactile feedback as you use the touch screens. In addition, there are specialty apps available to help use these mobile technologies even more effectively.

While the good news is there are a variety of “special education” apps for both iOS and Android, the bad news is you may have trouble finding the app you want; the apps that make the device easier to use (overcome technology) are mixed with the apps for learning and skills development.

You can search the iTunes and the Android/Google Play apps store for “autism” and find some apps, but where is the one-stop shop for these apps? As recently as last year, Apple offered via iTunes a “Special Education” category. That category is no longer posted, but still available. Find the Special Education iTunes link and more information about it at: http://www.brainparade.com/blog/2011/06/special-education-category-in-itunes/.

As for Android, perhaps I missed a special section for these apps at https://play.google.com/store/apps. If I missed it, let me know and we’ll get the word out.

However, AndroidAuthority.com (http://www.androidauthority.com/best-android-apps-and-options-for-persons-with-disabilities-31045/) and Dailytut.com (http://www.dailytut.com/mobile-phone/android-apps-physically-challenged-people.html) do provide great information about apps that help navigate smartphones and tablets.

I’m particularly impressed with Vlingo for Android OS (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.vlingo.client). Vlingo is a voice-activated “virtual assistant,” much like Siri for iOS, but in my limited testing, Vlingo actually works.

At this point in the article, you’re looking for more pearls of wisdom. Not going to get it. Years ago, I needed help training that young woman to use a PC. I’m asking for your help now. No single article about this topic could address everyone’s concerns regarding usability and special education mobile apps, but I offered solid starting points. Forward this article to friends, aides, executive directors and others whose job is to assist those with special needs.

As important as spreading the word locally, contact Apple and Google. Ask Apple (http://www.apple.com/support/itunes/contact/) and Google (http://support.google.com/googleplay/bin/request.py?&p=play_contact&rd=1) to create and highlight special categories for these apps. You wouldn’t expect to have to search for “soup” at Woodman’s grocery store, there’s an aisle for that! We shouldn’t have to work so hard to find apps that help us not work so hard. Thanks.

Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple IIe.

From the Dec. 12-18, 2012, issue

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