iPhones and iPads are now surprisingly indispensable tools for quadriplegics who have limited mobility, even though smart devices are primarily controlled through a touchscreen. The introduction of “Switch Control” in iOS, along with the Tecla Shield, means that those with limited mobility (resulting from spinal cord injuries, MS, ALS, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, to name a few) can now use simple switches (for example: buttons, sip-and-puffs, joysticks) to control their smart device. This has opened up millions of apps to those with mobility issues -- some of which can completely replace some equipment that's especially been “made for the disabled.”
The Tecla Shield connects up to six switches to a mobile device wirelessly through Bluetooth. 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 nine (maybe / maybe not?) surprising 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, 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 six tongue switches through the Tecla Shield, which allow him to quickly navigate his phone, make and hang up phone calls, and summon Siri. With this setup, Todd runs his own software database business, as well as 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 have liked to do. As Angry Birds is not an icon-based app, iOS automatically switches to “Point Mode” which allows you to select any point on the screen and then emulate complex gestures like the “click and drag” movement 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 versus the gesture-based approach used on touchscreen devices.
Chris in Australia plays the RPG game “The Room.” He uses the same gesture control to perform functions like turning a key.
Besides it just now being possible to play these games, Amy, Owen and Chris can do this anywhere and anytime as a result of mobile technology.
3. Be More Spontaneous!
While this may seem 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 relatively simple.
Kids usually experience this as newfound freedom to accommodate last minute events. If you can call for a pick-up versus 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 powered 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 Tecla users utilize their iPad as a “remote control for their 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 areas with extreme hot or cold weather. Another Tecla user, David Thomas in British Columbia, pointed out that he uses his setup to cancel false fire alarms from his phone using the Nest app as well.
In the same way, you can get apps for mobile devices and other hardware like the Harmony Ultimate Hub that turns a phone or tablet into a remote for controlling the stereo, TV or other devices.
In one great example of why this is more than just a novelty, a Tecla user told us about relying on a voice-activated environmental control system to control his stereo before using Tecla. 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 outdated page-turning equipment to read books. With the advent of switch-accessible mobile devices, and the proliferation of e-books, Tecla 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, for example), learning at home has become accessible and easy for anyone to do. Switch-accessible mobile devices allow people with limited mobility to learn new skills from home or anywhere they please.
8. Communicate from Anywhere Independently
Before smartphones were accessible, one of the biggest complaints we would hear 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, which makes 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!
Other articles you might like:
- iPhone and iPad accessibility options for quadriplegics and other users with limited mobility
- 4 Ways Quadriplegics Can Use An iPad or iPhone
- Siri vs iOS Switch Control for hands free iPhone access
- Using iPad AAC apps with switch control for speech and motor impairments