Communicating is often a real struggle for people with cerebral palsy. But these days, with amazing technological advances that even people without disabilities are using, the situation for individuals with speech difficulties and fine motor skills are completely changing.
CP sufferer James Belvins is one such example of the independence technology can provide. Tyler Swett – together other students from Blackstone Valley Tech – decided to raise money to buy an iPad for Belvins through the sale of many bracelets. They wanted to do this once they started learning how helpful modern technological devices can be for people with disabilities. Swett pointed out that the iPad has enabled Belvins “to do the unthinkable: gain the ability to communicate.”
So how exactly can the iPad help people like James Belvins who have symptoms of cerebral palsy? First, the iPad needs to be set up with the Augmented and Alternative Communications (AAC) applications and then the user needs to learn how to activate them. Given that individuals with cerebral palsy have limited fine motor control, there is a learning curve involved. However, given that an iPad has a touchscreen with large icons and applications that can be more easily selected, this is a great way of facilitating the operation of a “computer” for people with CP. Regular computers are much more difficult for people with symptoms of cerebral palsy to use.
In Belvins’ particular case, Swett has been visiting Belvins regularly at the Adult Day Health Center in Massachusetts to teach him additional touchscreen tricks on his iPad.
It is rare to see James without his iPad – it allows him a level of independents and a way to surmount his disability – out touch screen at a time.
Individuals with cerebral palsy used communication boards – a relatively cheap and practical device without any mechanical parts to facilitate some level of communication. They would get a picture of an object (toothbrush; phone; car) or printed words that they would use to show what they were trying to say. The problem with this was the communication boards were limited in how many symbols it had. Since the board is portable and cannot be too bulky or cumbersome, it had to be limited in its symbols. As well, changing the symbols on the board was often tedious. But a computer was still too difficult for many people with symptoms of cerebral palsy to use. Thus the iPad – with its AAC applications – gives hope to many people with cerebral palsy and substantially improving their capacity to communicate.