From Tea to Tech
- One Friday afternoon while drinking Tea at the Orchards in Granchester, I received what to most people might sound like a random call. It was a mother saying that she was thinking of purchasing an ipad for her 28 year old daughter. Her daughter, let’s call her Laura, was a happy, funny, witty woman who happens to have Down Syndrome and chooses not to speak verbally. Laura has an ipod touch that she loves using for music. Her mother has seen children with complex disabilities using technology to communicate, so she wondered if an ipad might help Laura. So, we agreed to meet up and explore the question, ‘could an ipad enhance Laura’s life?’
- We first met at their house to have a look at my ipad. Over time, I have downloaded a few of the free trial versions of a variety of communication apps….but it was important not to start with this. First, what does Laura like to do? She likes singing (which is amazing since she chooses not to speak verbally!), acting, Eastenders, playing the piano/keyboard, watching funny videos and listening to music. So, we started by listening to some music. Because Laura had an ipod touch, she knew how to do this. A great way to boost her confidence in using the ipad. She started tapping away and nudging me to check that she could change a song when I started talking to her mother too much. It was great. So we moved onto Garageband and started to make our own music. While the app features were more complicated, Laura really started to shine when the keyboard was brought up on the screen.
Then, it was onto what can be seen as more ‘serious’ apps…the communication ones. We tried out Verbally, where Lucy could type and have it read her words. While she really enjoyed this, we quickly became frustrated when the sentence would disappear after reading it out loud once. We tried few others like MyChoicePadLite, Grace, TapTo Talk and ICommunicate. It was far to early to decide which one would work best for Laura but it was great to have a play.
Our biggest success was with Scene&Heard Lite. This simple app adds hotspots to a picture, with a recording for each hotspot. So, we Laura took a picture of her living room, made a hotspot of her tv, and after a bit of encouragement she whispered the word TV into the device. She could then touch the picture of the tv and it would say it in her own voice! Amazing! So I’ve noted down this approach for any future work I might do with Laura. There are so many apps with which you could build a library of Laura speaking that the possibilities are endless! I can’t help but wonder whether speaking into an ipad is the first step to speaking face to face…
So, what happened next? 2 weeks later I found myself meeting up with Laura and her mother in Bill’s cafe in Cambridge the day that they purchased an ipad. The Apple store was great at setting it up with Laura (apparently they made her type everything, which took a while!) but the family needed more than that. So we met up, and after a few wifi mishaps, we installed some of the apps that we had looked at for Laura to try on her own. It always surprises me how much sitting, listening and patiently showing someone how to use technology can make a difference to their confidence. Both Laura and her mother had the skills to do all of this themselves….but what they needed, was someone to help them believe that they can.
I can confidently say that Laura’s life is better now that she has an ipad. The challenge will be to keep developing her skills and confidence and exploring new ways to use her ipad, and her ipod touch in her everyday life. I look forward to helping them with this challenge!