Redesigning Our Tools
Earlier this month Tactus Technology released their new Phorm case that can add and remove tactile buttons to the iPad mini's screen. Dr. Craig Ciesla, CEO and co-founder of Tactus stated, "Typing on a flat touchscreen is still a really unnatural user experience. Adding a tactile dimension to an otherwise flat surface changes the way we will interact with all the screens in our lives." This month, we are counting on that being true.
One of the concerns raised at our visit with the augmented communication team early this month was Nathaniel's isolated finger touch on the flat iPad screen. At times Nathaniel rests his whole hand on the iPad which desensitizes the screen from reading his attempt to touch one button.
The recommended solution is to offer a key guard that keeps the hand elevated off the screen and requires the child to reach through a plastic grid to touch just one button at a time. To the right is a photo of a Lasered Pics brand key guard for the Speak for Yourself app for the full size iPad.
Nathaniel uses an iPad Mini, selected purposefully because it is lightweight. Even when housed in his red Gripcase, it is light enough that he can carry around. (Increasing personal ownership of his device was another recommendation at our meeting.) From talking with other AAC parents, I've learned the openings are very small on the commercially made key guards created for Speak for Yourself on the iPad mini. An adult finger can not reach through the guard to the buttons on the touch screen, thus preventing the ability to model for the child.
There are multiple ways to solve this problem. The most drastic, and one mentioned by one of the therapists at our meeting, is to switch Nathaniel to a completely different device and language system. This has advantages and disadvantages that would require an entire blog post of its own. A second option is to move Nathaniel to a full size iPad and continue to use the Speak for Yourself app. The larger screen allows for larger buttons and larger openings in the commercially made key guard. This is a feasible option, but would require the purchase of a new iPad, case, and key guard. There are currently no third pay sources (insurance companies, charities, grants, etc) that will fund the purchase of an iPad. Despite being four to five thousand dollars cheaper than the first option mentioned, which would be paid for by insurance, an iPad is still considered a consumer product. A luxury. A toy. Its reputation as a dedicated communication device has not been established yet. A third option, and the one we are taking initially, is a classic example of necessity being the mother of invention. Many AAC parents, Rich now included, have created their own key guard with a screen protector and a gel pen.
We are hoping Ciesla and Tactus Technology's foundational premise is accurate. That adding a tactile dimension changes the interaction with the screen and that Nathaniel continues to grow in his use of an isolated finger touch. Like much of parenting Nathaniel, we simply wait. This time to see how he responds to his modified tool.