What Quadriplegics can do with an iPhone or iPad

EDITOR: 9 Surprising Things Quadriplegics can do with an iPhone or iPad, by Mauricio Meza, is republished here with permission. It shows how Tecla gives iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android access to people with spinal cord, brain, or muscular disorders or anyone else who can’t use a touch-screen, including quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis (MS), ALS, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, brain injury, and stroke.

iPhones and iPads are now surprisingly indispensable tools for quadriplegics and those with limited mobility considering they are primarily controlled with a touchscreen interface. The introduction of iOS “Switch Control” and powerful wireless switch interfaces, like the Tecla Shield made by Komodo, now allows those with limited mobility due to spinal cors injury, MS, ALS, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, among others to use simple switches (button, sip puff, joysticks) to control their device. This has opened up millions of apps to those with mobility issues, some of which can completely replace “made for the disabled” equipment.

The Tecla Shield switch interface links up to 6 ability switches to the mobile device through a Bluetooth wireless connection. With a single switch, a series of switches, or a joystick, users can gain full control over their touchscreen device without ever physically interacting with the screen. In general, while as little as a single button switch can yield full control over the iPad or iPhone, the device navigation gets faster with every additional switch used.

Here are some examples of how people with limited mobility are leveraging this setup to take advantage of mobile technologies:

1. Run a Business

At the age of 12, Todd Stablefeldt acquired a spinal cord injury that left him a C4 quadriplegic, which leaves him paralyzed from the neck down. While he was able to control his wheelchair through a mouth joystick, he was dependent on an assistant to help him communicate with anyone not immediately around him. Todd now controls his iPhone using 6 tongue switches through the Tecla Shield, which allows him to quickly navigate the device, make and hang up phone calls and summon Siri. With this setup, Todd runs his own software database business, and a disability foundation that helps others with high level paralysis to achieve independence through mobile connectivity.

2. Play Games

Amy is a 6 year old twin with cerebral palsy who, through the use of a single switch, can now play Angry Birds with her sister instead of just telling her sister what she would like to have done. As Angry Birds is not an icon based app, iOS automatically switches to “Point Mode” that allows you to select any point on the screen and then emulate complex gestures like the “click and drag” required to launch your bird.

On the other hand, Owen a user in Ireland relies on a single switch that he activates with his head to control gestures and play FIFA Soccer and Grand Theft Auto on his iPad. So, why not play these games on a desktop computer? Desktop games rely on complex sequences of keyboard buttons – something near impossible to do with mobility issues vs the gesture based approach used on touchscreen devices.

Chris in Australia, plays the RPG game “The Room”, Chris uses the same gesture control to perform functions like turning a key. Besides it just being possible to play these games, the three of them can do this anywhere and anytime as a result of mobile technology.

3. Be More Spontaneous!

While this seems trivial, it’s well known that those with limited mobility have a tougher time accommodating “spontaneous” changes in schedule. With mobile technology, a last minute invitation for drinks, involving ride coordination/cancellation, notifying loved ones and calling for a pick-up at the end of the night is simple.

Kids usually experience this as new found freedom to accommodate last minute events. If you can call for a pick-up vs having everything prearranged, hanging out with friends and other last minute social events are possible.

4. Stay Safe

Many users with limited mobility rely on power wheelchairs to move around, they control their chair through joysticks, head arrays, sip and puff controllers or switches. While this gives them independence to move themselves around, the risk of a breakdown causes many to stay closely tethered to family members and caregivers who can help in the case of emergency.

Using an iPhone, iPad or similar smartphone with the Tecla Shield, these users can now make calls for assistance, and even share their location in real time with family members through tools like Google Latitude using the same switches they are familiar with for mobility.

5. Control their Home

Some of our users utilize their iPad as a “remote control for her house” and can utilize “Internet of Things” devices like the NEST thermostat in order to control the temperature in their house without assistance. This is particularly important for independent living in areas with extreme hot or cold weather. Another user of ours, David Thomas in BC, pointed out that he uses his setup to cancel false fire alarms from his phone using the Nest app as well.

Tweet: Excited to try my @Nest smoke alarm with @teclaproject.

In the same way, you can get apps for mobile devices and other hardware like the Harmony Ultimate Hub that turn the phone/tablet into a remote for controlling the stereo, TV and other devices.

In one great example of why this is more than a novelty, a user told us of relying on a voice activated environmental control system to control his stereo. Unbeknownst to him, the cleaning person had cleaned the volume knob to max volume. He turned the stereo on through speech recognition, had it blare music at top volume, and had to wait for hours until the next caregiver arrived to coincidentally assist him with dinner preparations to have the music turned down.

6. Download and Read Books

A few years ago, people with poor hand dexterity would need to use expensive and outmoded page turning equipment to read books. With the advent of switch-accessible mobile devices, and the proliferation of e-books, users can now utilize their iPad or iPhone to download, and read e-books independently and easily. At first glance, it may seem like a minor benefit, but we hear time and again from users who claim that this functionality has changed their quality of life.

7. Participate in Online Courses

With the massive proliferation of free online courses (udacity, etc) learning at home has become accessible and easy for anyone to do at home. Switch accessible mobile devices allow people with limited mobility learn new skills from home, or anywhere they please.

8. Communicate from Anywhere Independently

Before smartphones were accessible, one of the biggest complaints we heard is that people with mobility impairments could not access emails, text messages, or voicemails at all. Even with voice recognition, these communication modes are difficult to navigate. In addition, speech recognition like Siri is useful in quiet rooms to initiate calls, but Siri stops listening to you once a call is initiated to avoid any confusion, making hanging up calls impossible! Switch control now allows quick and robust access to these communication modes anywhere, and in any environment.

9. Participate in Social Media

Social media is becoming the preferred method to stay in touch with family and friends and participate in communities of like-minded individuals. Switch enabled mobile devices now bring those with limited mobility into these new communities and allow another mode of communication with family and peers on the go. David took his very first selfie with an iPhone and a Tecla Shield!

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