"First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondlyit has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover". Douglas Adams - The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

We live in an age where technology encompasses our daily lives. The world wide web is the personification of the ultimate advert, with "Wait, there's more," being undoubtedly true. Then there are the gadgets that house this never-ending web of information and the applications that go with the gadgets. Happily, this technology has greatly benefitted people with disabilities.

With "DON'T PANIC" helping my nerves, as a first time writer for RollingInspiration, I was reminded that we often expect, or hope, that technology will provide all the answers, and simplify life; which is as likely as finding the answer to "life, the universe and everything!"

Most people are aware of Tablets, especially the Samsung Galaxy Tablet and the iPad, the most common Tablets used by people with disabilities (or, at least, by those people who provided me with information). Other Tablets include the Huawei, Motorola and Lenovo. All run on one of the three Tablet operating systems: Android, Mac and Windows Mobile, therefore the information in this article will be applicable to all of these Tablets.

Tablets

Tablets come with all the bells and whistles that a modern business-person or serious gamer wants. But what about people with disabilities?

Tablets are relatively light and all of them come with various covers or desktop docks that allow the user to stand the Tablet up. Rubber covers also make grasping the Tablets easier. Apple have developed the iPad Smart Cover that stands the iPad up for viewing and lays it down at an angle to type and interact.

Stylus Pens

For those individuals with sufficient arm movement, it is relatively easy to navigate the touch screens of the Tablets using the thumb or fingers, even if active movement of the fingers is absent or weak.

Tablet keyboards can be enlarged for easier typing, though most of the touch screen keyboards and icons are relatively large from the get-go.

Stylus pens can be used to navigate a Tablet if you have hand or arm movement restrictions, or if you just prefer using a stylus.

Stylus pens are widely available, but do ensure that the stylus you choose can be used on your specific Tablet.

Most stylus pens are approximately 10cm long, lightweight, have a built-in shirt clip and have a soft-touch tip that will not scratch the screen of your Tablet.

Stylus pens are thinner than the average pen or pencil requiring a special writing splint to hold the stylus pen. Writing splints can be made by most Occupational Therapists who work in therehabilitation setting.

The built-in pocket clip makes holding the stylus pen in your mouth difficult for people who lack arm and hand movement. The Cellet Touch Screen Retractable Stylus has all the same features of standard stylus pens, but without the pocket clip. Another alternative is the Pogo stylus, but this only works on iPhones and iPads. These clipless stylus pens, only available online, are not the only ones on the market. I strongly advise that all possibilities should be reviewed and considered.

Alternative Tools

If neither a stylus, nor the touch screen, works for you there are a number of bluetooth, wireless, keyboards available that can be used with typing sticks.

Make sure that the keyboard is compatible with your Tablet. iPads are generally only compatible with Apple Wireless Keyboards (and most bluetoothwireless keyboards that use the Apple keyboard layout).

Other bluetooth keyboards might work with the iPad but some of the specialised keys may not function as expected. This is also a potential problem with Galaxy, Huawei, Motorola and Lenovo Tablets.

Mounting

When arm movement is limited, or absent, the size of Tablets makes them difficult to position for independent use. One brilliant solution to this problem is the Mount 'n Mover, a mounting system specifically designed for wheelchair users that mounts any device at any desired position. On the down side, it has to be bought online (www.mountnmover.com) and imported, and is quite expensive.

A variety of other mounting systems are available, too many to list here. You will need to try out and test these first to ensure that they meet your needs.

It's Bigger on the Inside!

All Tablets come with basic voice commands, that allow you to speak simple commands, for example: to open applications and phone people, as long as you speak with an American accent!

Dragon Speak, from Nuance, functions on iPads andWindows 7 Tablets. The user is able to navigate the entire Tablet using voice commands: from opening applications, making phone calls, typing documents and sending emails to browsing the web.

Nuance's Dragon Go! Android and FlexT9 are brand new and can only be downloaded and paid for on their  website Dragon Go! Android allows you to browse the web using speech where as FlexT9 is marketed as a 4-in-1 keyboard that combines speech, tap, write and trace functionalities. Just a word of warning! As an internet connection is required when using FlexT9 in speak mode this could quickly chomp through your airtime!! Whether one can navigate all aspects of the Tablet with this software, is not clear. As the product is new, user reviews are extremely limited, but it ischeap to download (about R40) so perhaps worth the risk.

All Tablets come with applications and accessibility software. Book applications (such as Amazon Kindle and Aldiko and others) allow you to download books on to your Tablet and read them, without having to turn pages. With most book apps a tap on the side of the screen will turn the page -  you can also enlarge the font size for easier reading and change the setting for day and night reading.

Affordability

Many tablets are available on contract from Vodacom, Cell C and MTN, and include cell phone functionality. The most common Tablets available on contract deals are the Samsung Galaxy, iPad, Hauwei and Motorola.

With such a range of products to choose from we are, once again, left with the famous question of which device will, without a doubt, provide us with the answer to - life, the universe and everything-  or in this case, life, the universe and accessibility. - Wilandi Visser

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