Everyone wants iPads. I get it; they are pretty cool and have a great deal of features. However, it is far from the perfect solution for meeting the needs of every individual with a disability. When exploring options for assistive technology (AT), it is best to put features first and devices second.
Features must guide every assistive technology device decision. Each individual is going to have unique needs, even if disability diagnoses are the same. By putting features first, you can narrow your potential devices to trial down to a manageable list. The devices-first approach will lead to a long, arduous, and costly process of trial and error until you realize what features you need in an AT device and search for something that matches that criteria. The keys to success are these: 1. Individual first, or treat every case on an individual basis; and 2. conduct a proper assessment that looks at the skills, deficits and needs of the individual that will guide your search for devices and services.
iPads are great for many things. For example, there are dozens of apps for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Why is that? Well, each app offers something slightly different. It may be certain customization options, preloaded vocabulary, interface, or any number of things. Each app has strengths and weaknesses that may or may not be suitable for an individual who needs an AAC device. There are also many other apps that assist individuals in areas other than communication. However, an iPad filled with apps might not provide the features that are needed for an individual.
A dedicated AAC device–whether it be high or low tech–may provide a better feature set than an app. The dedicated device may have a better interface, be easier to update, and/or easier to transport or use in certain environments. An iPad filled with apps might be a great solution to control many items in a home, but it also might be overkill for what the individual needs to live independently.
iPads are great. The wide variety of apps have improved countless lives. However, selecting the iPad first will paint you into a corner. Identify the features you need from a device and then go shopping. If an iPad meets your feature needs, then great! If it does meet your feature needs, then go with something that does; there is no shame in that. Make your decisions based on what truly matters–features, not the fancy device(s).