Mobile technology: is it hype or a revolution?

August 5, 2011 by JoLynne Lyon

Over the past few months, e-newsletters and RSS feeds have run over with stories about mobile technology and its implications for both education and special education. Every day there’s a new story about a tablet as a teaching tool.

Educational apps can resemble games, with built-in repetition and rewards for students who are trying to master a new concept. This is great not only for students, but also for special education students who can work on their own, at their own pace. Craig Boogaard, a technology support specialist for the Utah Center for Assistive Technology, said the app market is booming for devices of all brands.

The revolution may go beyond the school. Mobile technology may encourage some people to go online who have not done so before. People with disabilities have typically been slower than their peers to use the Internet. A Pew Research Center study found that among adults with a disability, 54 percent were Internet users, compared to 81 percent of those who did not report a disability.

Why the difference? Accessibility may be a complication, since using a computer without assistive technology may be so frustrating for some people with disabilities that it turns them off. Cost may be a big barrier: not only the price of the desktop, but also the price of the assistive technology required to make it work. Age may also play into it, since people with disabilities tend to be older that their peers, and thus they are less likely to be comfortable with new technology. (That’s a generalization, of course.)

Mobile technology may address some of these barriers. A tablet or smart phone is less expensive than a desktop. Some devices have accessibility features built-in. (The iPad, iPhone and iPod appear to be ahead when it comes to accessibility.)

In addition to features that make the device easier to use for people with disabilities, apps are available that transform a device into a mobile piece of assistive technology; one that can magnify print, scans labels in a grocery store, reads the dollar value of paper money or speaks for someone unable to talk. You can read a list of iPad 2 assistive technology apps on the Utah Assistive Technology Program blog–and more have probably become available since it was compiled.

This is all fine in theory, but how does it work in practice? If you are an educator, or a person with a disability who uses a device, or if you know someone who does, please leave a comment. It would be nice to know how mobile technology is working for real people in the real world.

Finally, there’s more information about mobile technology on our website.

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