Get App-Happy


By Linda Ehlers, ND Hands & Voices

With iPhones, iPods, iPads and similar devises becoming increasingly popular, technology has become a natural part of children’s lives today. These devices are so portable; children can hold something as powerful as a computer in the palm of their hands. They have longer battery life, are adaptable with mandated universal accessibility designs, and utilize applications or “apps” to perform a variety of functions. On top of it all, these devices are socially accepted—even “cool”.  The children and students born today will learn to read, write and count on even more advanced portable devices than we have available today. They already play games and watch movies with captions; many more will use them to communicate with others and learn academic and life skills.

There is excitement among teachers, parents and therapists about the possibilities of using these devices and applications for learning in education.  While this article primarily focuses on the Apple brand names, other companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Verizon have and are quickly coming out with their version of these devices.

The number of apps that can be purchased in the iTunes store is probably overwhelming to most of us. You may ask yourself: How can parents and professionals determine which applications might be beneficial for a child or student?

Recognizing the importance of this technology, the North Dakota School for the Deaf (NDSD) recently invited Mark Coppin to present at its Family Learning Vacation.  Coppin is the assistive technology director at the Anne Carlsen Center, a private residential school for children with multiple disabilities in Jamestown, North Dakota. While parents were learning about technology at the workshop, their children with hearing loss, along with siblings, were engaged in language learning and social activities.

Mr. Coppin recommended reviewing the Student, Environment, Task and Tools (SETT) framework before purchasing applications or any assistive technology (AT).  This is a process to get the child’s team to gather information and make a well-thought out plan about the goals of assistive technology.  (For further explanation on the SETT framework please refer to

More About the SETT Framework and AT

Under the SETT framework, the first step is to consider the child. You must assess the needs and abilities of the child, including mobility, vision, hearing, cognition and behavior, as well as interests and preferences. The team should also look at the things that a student needs to be able to do which are difficult now. The second step is to consider the environment.  In considering the environment, the team should look at where and when the technology can be used. This includes more than just considering the classroom and the people in that room. This step should include consideration of other environments such as the home, gymnasium or lunch room. The team should look beyond the environment toward the services and support provided, and the knowledge and attitudes of the staff or family providing support.  Consider what device would be best for the work area. For example, an iPhone or iPod would be better suited than an iPad in certain environments due to the fact that it can be clipped to an individual’s belt. The third step in the SETT framework involves looking at what task the child needs to accomplish. In looking at the task, consider what is actually going to happen in the environments where the child interacts. Finally, you must consider which applications will meet the child’s needs. When researching applications and determining if they meet the needs of the child, the team needs to consider the goals of the child as well as the age of the child. The team should also consider if the applications can be used for social activities, such as cooperative learning, turn taking and group learning.

Apps Useful for Deaf/hh students

These devices have unlimited capabilities and have many things to offer a person with a hearing loss. There are apps that teach basic sign language. The one featured at the training was Sign4Me which is a 3D animated Signed English Translator. An app called  iStories, released by StoryTime, features sign language in popular children’s books such as Danny the Dragon Meets Jimmy. This book app comes in three different versions – one that a child can read, one that can be read to the child and one that features a QuickTime video of a person signing the words of the story.

There are also apps that can help with listening to environmental sounds and speech. TapSpeak is an app for the IPad that records and plays multiple messages. This app can be used in auditory skill development activities to give a series of increasing complex directions to challenge a child’s ability to perceive and respond to what is being said.  It costs about $15.00. It would be similar to Simon Says or the Language Masters where messages are recorded on a magnetic strip on a narrow card. Another app called SpeakIt (about $1.99) reads downloaded emails and news articles. The words are highlighted as they are read. You can also select the type of voice, selecting from British or American, female or male and adult or child if a child hears better in certain frequencies. Dragon Dictation is a free app that changes voice to text; certainly it is not perfect, but perhaps is a motivator in practicing articulation. The SoundAMP R App (about $6.99) amplifies environmental sounds and speech. This may be useful in practicing, listening to and identifying environmental sounds and speech for those who need amplification.  A final app demonstrated was the iCommunicate ($35.00) which utilizes symbols and pictures to create a storyboard. This could be used for an individual who is non-verbal or used for an experience chart story.  Pictures of an activity could also be downloaded to create sentence strips designed to teach a syntax rule.

For those individuals who are isolated in rural areas, the iPhone, iPods and iPads are a great tool for socializing and connecting with others. It is also a great tool to connect with others who have a hearing loss. There are a variety of programs that can be downloaded to provide captioning for phone calls or videos to allow for sharing between children who use sign language and/or speech reading.

Find Out More

Mr. Coppin shared a website: that has several eBooks that are free to download. It has a tutorial page as well as PDF pages that cover the accessibility features built into Apple mobile devices, including the iPad, iPod Touch and the iPhone.  Each section includes practice activities highlighting the techniques and tips discussed in the eBook.  

It also includes video of all the tutorials available on the Wiki site.  It explores apps for the iPod touch and the iPad used with students who have disabilities.  It also has an “Accessories” page which lists stands, cases, input devices and speakers that can be purchased.

Families and professionals in today’s world are using apps for entertainment and for practicing academic skills (i.e. counting, matching, math computations or learning the alphabet, how to spell words and to read). These apps benefit all children, and perhaps especially children with special needs.   The possibilities for technology use for all children, including those with a hearing loss,  have only just begun to be realized.

Editor's note: Cassandra Crump and Susan Irby, both teachers of the deaf/hh working in Halifax County, VA, compiled a list of Ipod/Ipad Aps in the spring of 2011 that may be especially useful for students who are d/hh.  See the document on the website at:

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