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Assistive Technology for Quadriplegic Students

Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

Advances in technology provide quadriplegic students with a wealth of opportunities for leading more independent lives, as well as excelling in school and beyond. Read on to learn about assistive technology available for quadriplegic students.

Assistive Technology for Quadriplegic Students

With the rise in the use of smartphones and the development of faster and smaller computer processors, more and more liberating assistive technologies are available to quadriplegic persons, individuals who have limited to no use of their extremities and torso. Assistive technology is any device, equipment, or service that gives a person increased independence. For quadriplegic students, available assistive technology makes it more than possible to earn a degree, start a business, and even drive a car. Let's take a look at some of the possibilities.

Forms of Assistive Technology

Tecla Shield

The Tecla Shield provides quadriplegic students with full access to iPads, iPhones, and Android devices through wireless technology controlled by the same adaptive switches students normally use. These include simple buttons pushed by the head or shoulder or by blowing into a straw or blinking. The Tecla Shield uses Bluetooth to connect to an iPad or other device, allowing students to open and use apps, fully navigate a device, and type or dictate notes and messages. They can also watch videos, navigate the Web, read e-books, and more. All apps are fully accessible, not just those created for Tecla, so students can make and receive calls and control smart-home hardware for air conditioning units and televisions.

Switch Control

Apple devices include an iOS setting called Switch Control that turns touchscreen technology into a device that can be manipulated with basic inputs, ideal for a quadriplegic student who may find it difficult or impossible to use touchscreen technology without assistance. Switch Control cycles through the apps and elements on a screen; users trigger their switches to select the desired option highlighted by a blue outline. Switches are those typically used by the student; the touchscreen itself can become a switch as the front-facing camera detects head movements. Switch Control is highly adaptable to individual needs.

Student-Based Apps

iPads, iPhones, and Android devices can be extremely useful to quadriplegic students. As opposed to hardware made specifically for the disabled, these flexible devices have a wide array of uses, allow for easy communication with others worldwide, and can be updated. For example, an individual can just update an app to get the latest technology. These devices are also equipped with voice control for hands-free navigation.

Many apps are available on Apple and Android devices to assist quadriplegic students in taking notes, communicating with classmates, writing papers, making calculations, and so on. Here are just a few of them:

  • Notes Plus: allows quadriplegic students to take notes by themselves, eliminating the need for note takers; particularly helpful in math for drawing graphs and using shapes and symbols
  • Notability: allows students to copy and paste images from the Internet and incorporate them into notes to make them more visual, among other uses
  • Splashtop: allows students to remotely login to laptops through iPads, which eliminates the need to transport laptops to classrooms
  • Read&Write Gold: reads notes back to students
  • iBooks: provides unlimited access to e-books

Sixth Digit

For students with some but limited mobility in their arms and hands, Sixth Digit assists with typing on a keyboard, swiping and selecting on a smartphone, and pushing buttons. Invented by Joshua Smith, who is a person with quadriplegia, the Sixth Digit fits onto the pinky finger like a ring and has a bar that extends out to a rubber base.

RibGrips

RibGrips are wheelchair handrims designed by a veteran with quadriplegia, Brandon Handel. They are ergonomic soft ribs that are easy on the hands, increase performance, and decrease fatigue. RibGrips are designed to minimize calluses and shoulder pain, as well as do away with the need for gloves.

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