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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

iPads open up new world for people with disabilities

 

Lindsay Kines / Times Colonist
March 3, 2013
When Rob Baker handed an iPad to a woman at the Garth Homer Society recently, he expected to see her toss the computer aside in disgust.
 
The woman, who has a developmental disability as well as dementia, often resists changes to her daily routine.

So Baker was surprised when he plopped the tablet in front of her and watched as she immediately began doing a puzzle on the touch screen.

“You had never seen this side of her before,” he said. “She was beaming from ear to ear. It was amazing. Nobody expected that kind of reaction.”

Such breakthroughs have become more common among the society’s clients in recent months thanks to Baker’s initiative and the generosity of Butchart Gardens.

It started last year when Baker took his personal iPad to work with him at the society, which provides day programs and employment services to people with developmental disabilities.

Staff were so impressed with how clients responded to the new technology that the society decided to purchase 14 iPads with money that the Garth Homer Foundation receives from the wishing ponds at Butchart Gardens.

The effect was immediate.

People who struggled with fine motor skills or were unable to hold a pen or a paintbrush found they were able to write and draw more easily using the tablets.

“For me, I have issues with keyboards because the buttons are either too small or just awkward to operate,” said Laurie Fairweather, 41. “So with the iPad just having the keyboard as a touch [screen], there’s no right, no wrong, you just do it.

“I’m not great with computers, but I’m good with this.”

Lynne Hibak, 32, said the iPads have allowed her greater access to news and current events as well as a range of games and puzzles that help boost her spirits.

“When I’m down and depressed, that helps me lift myself back up again,” she said.

Others, unable to speak or hear, communicate what they want to eat or do by pointing to a picture on the screen.

“Now that there’s a visual cue, it’s so much easier,” Baker said. “Our breakthroughs tend to be quite small at first and it’s amazing to see. It opens up their world a whole bunch.”

In some cases, the tablets have been used to alleviate the anxiety of clients with autism who rely on routine. Staff create a visual schedule on the iPads with pictures that show what will happen throughout the day.

“It’s a picture of the bus they take. It’s a picture of the car that they get into, and it’s a picture of their face,” Baker said.

“If it means that they get in the van to go out in the community, whereas maybe they wouldn’t if they weren’t primed or they didn’t have that visual component, it’s a big deal.”

One man, in particular, had difficulty leaving the building until staff began using the tablets to show him his schedule for the day, said Colina Titus, director of client services. “Now, I would say 90 per cent of the time, it’s no problem.”

In future, staff hope to use the tablets to better assess how much people understand and what they are capable of doing.

“I think it levels the playing field for a lot of them,” Baker said.

“It gives them access to technology, it allows them to do things they could never do before, and it’s one more step to just being another part of the world.”

lkines@timescolonist.com