A couple weeks ago I went to Washington DC for the Children & Youth Action Network meetings put on by the Council for Exception Children (CEC). The purpose of the Children & Youth Action Network is to give coordinators a chance to communicate with elected officials on behalf of the CEC members they represent.

Our Mission

While I was not there as a CAN coordinator but rather as a sponsor of the event, I still had the opportunity to meet with congressmen and senators. In our meeting, we discussed the possibility of changing the current Medicare and Medicaid regulations so that the iPad would be covered as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. The large touch screen on the iPad allows users with limited motor skills to use the device easily and effectively, without the social stigma attached to some other devices. Unfortunately, the iPad does not meet the requirement that the device “generally is not useful to an individual in the absence of illness or injury,” but our argument is, that’s the whole point!

The Benefits of Mobile Technology in Special Ed

As one of the technological leaders in our industry, we have been leading the charge for using technology in special education for over 25 years. Back when we started, the general consensus was that special education students would never be able to use a computer. We were among the first to show people that not only could special education students use a computer, but they were much more motivated to learn when doing so. As a result, they retained a lot more of what they were taught. Fast forward to the present and we are fighting the same fight with the iPod and iPad.

If the Shoe Fits…

The fact that the iPad can be used by someone without a disability makes special needs individuals much more motivated to use it.  Bill Thompson, a school psychologist in California with the Orange County Department of Education, calls it a “norming” quality in this article. Add to the fact that a lot of AAC devices cost several thousand dollars and Medicare will cover these devices. To us that seems like a waste of valuable funds that could be put to better use.

Our point is this: “If the technology is readily available, more effective, and more affordable, why not use it?”

That’s one of the reasons we created our Mobile Technology Grant program. We give out iPods and iPads to promote the use of mobile technology for freedom and independence. We receive applications almost every day from parents thanking us for the opportunity to receive a free iPod or iPad because they recognize the effectiveness of the device and they are frustrated that it’s not covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

Making Progress

While in Washington DC, we had the opportunity to meet with our senators and congressmen to discuss with them the importance of including the iPad as an AAC device. I’m happy to report that the majority of them agreed with our stance and saw the merit in using mobile technology in special education. The next step is to talk to the appropriate people on the Medicare committee. Only time will tell what effect we had, but we firmly believe that the iPad is the future of AAC, and it’s only a matter of time before the potential of the iPad for AAC is widely recognized and accepted.

As someone who’s been fighting this battle for almost 30 years, we’ve seen it all before.