I just got back from the M-Enabling Summit in Washington DC, a global conference that focused on accessibility for aged populations and persons with disabilities. There were over 300 attendees from from over 30 countries, including representatives from some rather large companies (Apple, Microsoft, Research in Motion, IBM, and HTC to name a few). It was very interesting to see whatʼs coming next in the area of accessible technology, but it also opened my eyes to the fact that weʼve got a long way to go in the quest for making assistive technology truly accessible.

Re-Inventing the Wheel

As I sat through session after session where people were demonstrating their products (everything from screen readers to specialized devices to mobile applications), I was awe-struck at just how many dedicated devices there were. Personally, I believe this is backwards thinking. Here we are at a conference where weʼre supposed to be emphasizing the importance of accessibility for everyone, everywhere, and yet weʼre embracing and promoting an older way of thinking.

Simplify and Streamline

For example, do you have a smart phone? If you do, Iʼm sure you use it for more than just making calls. If you’re like most smart phone users, you use it to check your email, surf the web, update Facebook or Twitter, and even play a game or two. Yet when it comes to persons with disabilities, we believe that a dedicated device is better. Personally, I canʼt stand carrying around more than one device. Now imagine youʼre in a wheelchair and you need to have all of these devices mounted – it gets ridiculous!

Take Advantage of the iPad’s “Cool Factor”

One shocking statistic I took away from the M-Enabling Summit is that only 7% of people who receive a dedicated speech device actually use it! I have not been able to verify that statistic, but I have seen the effect of the principle behind it – dedicated devices generally have an undesirable social stigma attached to them that the user is trying to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, for some people, a dedicated device is great because they need the extra customization that they provide. On the other hand, I think itʼs a safe assumption to say that a significant number of those people are individuals who just don’t want to use (or at least be seen using) a dedicated device. On the other hand, the iPad has the opposite effect.  The iPad is “cool!” Who doesnʼt want an iPad? I’d be willing to bet that the majority of persons with disabilities do, especially when presented with a choice.

“Only 7% of people who receive a dedicated speech device actually use it.”

Doing More for Less with the iPad

Right now, Medicare and Medicaid (with the exception of a few states like Minnesota and New Hampshire) will not allow the iPad to be covered as an AAC device because it is not a “dedicated device.” The problem with that is, these devices (which are as simple as an Android tablet thatʼs “locked” into a particular app) can sell for up to $8,000 because thatʼs what insurance will cover. The iPad is much less expensive, and for the most part, a much more powerful tool. As an example, check out this video on our new Functional Communication System application, an app that sells for less than $50 in the iTunes App Store.

The iPad is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used as a speech device, but can serve a lot of other functions as well. This is not a negative, it is a positive, and it’s up to us to convince our lawmakers of the tremendous value of the iPad.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.