As reported by Reuters earlier today, the ongoing recovery and rehabilitation of wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has progressed very well since the tragic and deadly assault at her event 12 days ago. Dr. Michael Lemole, the chief of neurology at Tucson's University Medical Center, noted that Giffords has demonstrated several key skills: "She is beginning to stand with assistance, she is scrolling through an iPad -- these are all fantastic advances for her. They do show higher cognitive function," he said.
While it's certainly possible to frame Dr. Lemole's reference to the iPad as merely an example of the sort of thing Giffords and other brain trauma patients are able to attempt in the days and weeks after their injuries, the other side of the story is that the iPad has quietly begun to turn the world of assistive/adaptive technology -- specialized software, hardware and medical devices aimed at improving function and quality of life for people with disabilities or challenges -- on its head.
The iPad's starting price of US$499, compared to traditional assistive systems that can cost orders of magnitude more, has enabled application developers like AssistiveWare to bring pictureboard technology to thousands of people -- and the next time you feel like giving the developer of a $4.99 game a piece of your mind for "overpricing," note that the happy purchasers who gave a 4.5-star rating to Proloquo2Go paid $190 for the privilege. Of course, the high costs of older assistive tech can be offset by health insurance, which generally will not pay for an iOS device/assistive app combo -- something that may have to be reevaluated in the near future.
Despite the highly visual iOS interface, the baked-in VoiceOver and accessibility features on both the iPad and the iPhone deliver a surprisingly compelling experience for visually impaired and blind users of the technology. Children at many places along the autism spectrum are already taking advantage of the iPad's immersive nature to communicate with family members.
All this with a device that has yet to celebrate its first birthday on the market. Here's hoping that Rep. Giffords' use of her iPad, along with all the incredible support and expertise of her medical team in Arizona and her upcoming rehab in Houston, helps her to recover quickly and as fully as possible.
Hat tip to Keven Guillory of KQED Radio.