The Delrey School was recently awarded a $10,000 donation from Merritt Properties to purchase six new iPad Air devices with adaptive hardware, communication apps, and an Amazon Echo to improve students’ communication skills.
In 2012 the school’s speech-language department started to incorporate the use of iPad technology into their therapy sessions to work in conjunction with traditional augmentative and alternative communication devices, which are customized computer-like devices with adaptive switches as well as special hardware and software that help the students access computers. Since using the iPads with students, the department has found them to be the ideal communication device option because of their accessibility and multi-sensory capability. Unlike the older communication devices, the iPad is portable, lightweight, and operates with an easy to use touch screen. It is considerably less expensive and works with a variety of apps that allow students to perform on many different levels with multiple purposes. In addition, iPads are exciting and captivating, which helps to hold the attention of students during therapy, and they can also easily be used at home to practice and continue learning outside of the classroom. Plus, iPads are universally accepted. There is no stigma placed on a student for using an iPad, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Every student at every ability can use an iPad in some capacity, which creates accessibility, flexibility, and a sense of independence.
These iPads, working together with specifically-designed communication apps, are becoming power therapy tools as well as primary communication devices for our nonverbal students. “The apps, such as Touch Chat, GoTalk, and PODD, are especially successful in developing the student’s understanding of cause and effect by fostering positive reinforcement after task completion – like teaching students the concept of how to “turn pages” to advance story books. In essence, reading a book all on their own,” explains senior speech-language pathologist Patti Kurek. This is a success that doesn’t happen using traditional books. Some apps also use a real sounding text-to-speech voice that can literally give a voice to a nonverbal student.
Since implementing iPad technology into the classrooms, the school’s therapists and teachers have already seen significant increases in their students’ communication, engagement, confidence, use of vision, and attention. However, due to some motoric issues, many of the school’s students have difficulty accessing the iPad. Adding pieces of adaptive equipment such as wheelchair mounts, switches, switch interfaces, and durable protective cases will increase the number of students able to use the devices. And, the Amazon Echo is a new system that can be easily accessed by students using their communication devices to help them make requests and enable them to have some control over their environment.
“Expanding Delrey’s iPad technology will enhance the school’s current communication services and curriculum while also allowing for the school to continue to provide a unique and innovative service to the students and families it serves now and plans to serve in the future,” says Kurek.