From the desk of Sarah Small, M.S., CRC, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
In today’s world technology is ever growing. Each day we see new technologies being developed, tested, and implemented into mainstream society. While there are a variety of products and technologies out there, one thing that most people have today is a mobile device or tablet. Whether it is a track phone or the most recent version of Apple or Android products, odds are that every household has a minimum of one of these technologies.
Mobile devices today contain so much more than the simple function of making a phone call. From texting to taking pictures and videos to using the internet and now using a wide range of applications or apps that are available. According to Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary the term app can be defined as “a computer program that performs a special function.” Most devices today come with some apps already pre-downloaded onto them. Often this may include an app for your email, checking the weather, news, etc. Apps are becoming increasingly popular and can be easily accessed by a simple click on the device.
While anyone can use apps, there are certain functions that may be particularly helpful to individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities may experience limitations that impact their personal and/or work life. We are seeing examples of individuals using apps to help with various aspects of their life at home and work. Apps can help remove barriers and assist individuals by performing specific functions to support them. As with any piece of assistive technology (AT), apps may be a great solution for some and not for others. The following may help to determine if apps are right for you.
Step 1: How do you know if you would benefit from an app?
In trying to determine if apps could be helpful, you would want to start by assessing how much you use your device. If you are someone who owns a device, but do not feel that you use it often or only use it for phone calls, then apps may not be the best solution. If you do use your device often or have frequent access to it, then apps may be easier to get used to or insert into your day to day activities.
If you want to give apps a try, you might move on to thinking about what you feel could be useful to you. Have you been able to identify specific issues in your life that could use improvement or have you noticed any patterns? It can help to think about what you do daily.
Some examples include housework, work, school, attending appointments, taking medication, grocery shopping, leisure activities, and sleeping. Try to identify the things you do and think about whether you have difficulty with any of them. Do you have difficulty concentrating while working? Do you have a hard time taking notes? Do you often feel you forget what needs to be done around the house or what needs picked up at the store? Do you have difficulty remembering to take your medication? Do you find it hard to fall asleep at night or feel anxious throughout the day? Is it hard to read restaurant menus when you are out to eat? In any of these situations there may be an app that could help.
Step 2: What type of app are you looking for?
If you decide to give apps a try, it can help to have an idea of what you are wanting. This does not have to be an exact science, but will help to tailor your search. If you identified that you have difficulty with memory you might look into apps that help create a to-do list or that help set reminders for you. If you have trouble reading small print you might look at apps that use your device’s camera to magnify or read the writing out loud to you. You might write down some key words or phrases about what you want to look for in an app. The following are some examples:
- to-do list
Any words or phrases to describe what you feel you need help with can assist in pointing your search in the right direction.
Step 3: How to find an app
When searching for apps the first place to start would be to access your device’s online app store. Most devices come with a pre-downloaded app to access the store such as google play store for Android or iTunes for Apple. Other devices may have something similar, it may just take a quick scroll through your phone to locate. If you find it easier to search on a computer you can start there as well and download it to your phone or tablet later.
Next is when the fun part begins. Using your app store or the internet, simply enter in “apps for” followed by your key words or phrases and see what comes up. In addition to using a search engine you can also ask around. Talk with friends or family, a counselor, or even an outside agency such as JAN or your State Assistive Technology Project to see if they have any recommendations or lists of ideas to help get you started.
Make sure to take into consideration the features of the specific app and what might be best for you. For example, if considering timer apps to help with time management, you might find Time Timer as an option. One feature you might consider is that it uses a visual passing of time. For some, having that red disk that slowly disappears may help them remain focused and improve productivity. For others, watching the red disk slowly disappear may increase anxiety and in turn cause them to be even more distracted. It is important to remember that as with any piece of AT or accommodation it is individualized.
Another thing to take into consideration is cost. A lot of apps can be downloaded for free while others may have to be purchased. If an app has a price listed you might check to see if there is a free trial initially. Sometimes this may be available and it is a great way to test out an app and see if it will be effective for you. When searching you might not want to automatically download the first thing you see. While that may end up being what you select, do your homework first. Sometimes it may take some creativity in your search to find exactly what you are looking for.
Step 4: Putting your app to use
Once you have selected an app, try to start incorporating it into your daily life. If you were having difficulty with memory, sit down and customize your app to meet your needs with reminders, to-do lists, and calendar, then let the app do the work for you! If you had trouble reading those restaurant menus, next time you are out to eat pull out your phone and see if the app can help. Trouble sleeping? Set your meditation app to remind you to do some deep breathing at bed time. It may be difficult at first to remember to pull out your phone or tablet when needed, but try to remind yourself and gradually it should become a part of your routine.
While the above steps are geared toward individuals finding apps to help with all aspects of life, these same steps could also be helpful for employers or service providers to use. As an employer, you might be aware and try to be open to the possibility of apps being possible accommodation solutions. You might be able to help explore all possibilities with the goal of finding something that will be effective. Using an app in the workplace could involve modifying a policy to allow the employee to use a phone or tablet while working. As a service provider, you might help your clients explore whether apps are right for them and whether they could help the client in the workplace.
Apps are out there and will continue to grow, but do not let it overwhelm or discourage you. Remember to be mindful and invest in finding what works best for you.