New iPad Add-On Shows Promise for Helping People With Disabilities Communicate

Soon, differing abilities will be no issue

Key Takeaways

  • A new iPad software update could help people with disabilities.
  • The software enables a communications gadget called the TD Pilot
  • There are a growing number of tech innovations for people with disabilities.
Someone with limited mobility working at a laptop on a kitchen table.

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People with disabilities are turning to new technologies to navigate the world better. 

The recent iPad 15 OS update features support for third-party eye-tracking devices. The software enables a new gadget called the TD Pilot that claims to bring the tablet experience to people who need communication help. 

"Using eye tracking-enabled communication aids, individuals with limited voice or movement capacity due to conditions such as cerebral palsy, ALS or spinal cord injury can type messages using only their eyes and have the computer speak those messages out loud," Fredrik Ruben, the CEO of Tobii Dynavox, which makes the TD Pilot, told Lifewire in an email interview.

The Eyes Have It

The TD Pilot looks like a frame for iPads that includes speakers, a battery, and a wheelchair mount. It also has a window on the back that spells out what a user is saying.

The eye-tracking feature on the TD Pilot can also be used to replace a traditional keyboard and mouse with your eyes to surf the web, Ruben said. 

We look forward to universal designs in technology that allow all of our senses to be integrated into tech and hope for a future where every device is accessible to all.

The need for such technology is great, lawyer Josh Basile, who has quadriplegia and works as community relations manager at the tech company accessiBe, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"The bottom line is that without different assistive technologies, persons with disabilities either struggle or have no way to control a computer," Basile said. "In today's age, to fully benefit from computers, a person with a disability must have equal access and usability of the Internet."

Assistive Tech Grows

The Pilot is one of a burgeoning number of tech innovations for users with disabilities. 

"Technology can help make the digital world more accessible through different features and products designed specifically with people with disabilities in mind, by bridging the gaps that might exist in content," Emily Scharff, a product manager at Google for Chrome & Chrome OS accessibility, told Lifewire in an email. 

Live Caption on Chrome can be particularly helpful, Scharff said, allowing people who are deaf or hard of hearing to get real-time transcriptions for media with audio on their browser. It works across social and video sites, podcasts and radio content, personal video libraries, embedded video players, and most web-based video or audio chat services.

Screen readers like ChromeVox, the default screen reader on every Chromebook, help people who are blind or low-vision navigate computers by vocalizing what is being shown on their screen, and magnification features can also be helpful with accessing important content, Scharff noted. 

Chrome features like Switch Access help enable users with limited mobility to control and navigate their computers. Select-to-Speak allows you to read selected text aloud, which can be helpful for people with learning disabilities.

The company accessiBe uses artificial intelligence to try to make the web more accessible. The company uses algorithms to scan their clients' websites every 24 hours to search for new content that may need to be adjusted for those with disabilities. 

"It breaks my heart every time I have to say this, but less than 2% of the Internet meets accessibility standards," Basile said. "This creates major barriers for persons with disabilities to access products, services, and information that can lead to opportunity and a better quality of life."

People who are blind often turn to screen readers, Sharon McLennon-Wier, a disability advocate who is blind herself, told Lifewire in an email. Available software includes JAWS screen reader for Windows, magnification programs like Zoom Text, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software that helps convert PDFs into readable text for people who are blind or low-vision, she said. 

Someone in a wheelchair working at a desk in an office, using a laptop computer.

MoMo Productions / Getty Images

Many people who are blind or low-vision do not use a mouse and instead use a keyboard to navigate the screen, McLennon-Wier said. Some devices currently available include adaptive keyboards for those with hand dexterity or other related disabilities, Sip and Puff devices for someone who has limited or no mobility below the neck, as well as eye blinking tech.

"We look forward to universal designs in technology that allow all of our senses to be integrated into tech and hope for a future where every device is accessible to all," McLennon-Wier said.

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