Tynesha Murray wears white skinny jeans and a pink tube top with gold sandals. She smiles while typing vigorously on her iPad in response to a question about her favorite part of being on the cheerleading squad.
A robotic female voice answers, “Looking at the football players,” causing everyone in the room to burst into laughter.
Tynesha is like any other junior at Bakersfield High School in California, but she has cerebral palsy. Thanks to her new iPad, she now can communicate clearly and easily for the first time in her life.
New technology has been a game-changer for many people with disabilities. Smart phones, tablets, and apps have made it easier than ever to access technology that can make life easier for people with disabilities.
Cerebral palsy leaves Tynesha unable to vocalize, so she uses the application TouchChat, one of many text-to-speech programs available on the iPad. Previously, Tynesha would type her responses onto her cell phone in text form for people to read, which was difficult and time-consuming.
BHS program specialist Beverly Foster has seen Tynesha through her journey and watched her struggle to communicate her intelligence.
“She just happens to be trapped, and she needed this device to even out the playing field,” Foster said.
BHS speech pathologist Katie Whyte also has been using the iPad to teach children with autism how to interact socially. Apps like Talking Ben the Dog, Talking Gina the Giraffe, and Talking Bacteria John all feature animated characters students can talk with and learn from.
“It just encourages interaction,” Whyte said.
Adults are getting in on the tablet revolution, too. The Kern Assistive Technology Center helps people figure out what technology works best for them, whether it’s a smart phone or bulkier machinery, and it helps them apply for financial assistance to buy the equipment that can run anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.
Director Aaron Markovits said the introduction of affordable communication technology, like the $500 iPad, has brought more people into the center looking for ways to make their voices heard.
“It’s been a game changer for everyone, and people with disabilities are no different,” he said.
Still, he said, there always will be a need for more expensive, customized communication equipment.