"I could not live without my iPhone"
How many times have you heard someone say that? Or something similar about a gadget, whether it's an Apple device or otherwise? Well, for me, thats pretty much true. Welcome to the work of autism and assistive technology.
So, first up I am going to take a slight step away from my statement and one extra word: "I could not live (independently) without my iPhone".
Now for a bit of background. My name is Jamie Knight, and I am an autistic front end web developer from the UK. In this article I am going to explore how Apple technology fundamentally changes my life, and enriches the lives of others.
Disabilities, differences, call them what you will, have for a long time been a great area for technology to help. From the first white canes to the latest assistive and augmentative communication aids, there are a range of needs out there which technology is able to fulfil.
For this article I would like to focus on 3 areas: communication, organisation and management. These are the ways in which my autism affects me and where technology helps the most.
Communication is hard; with or without autism. But once you start limiting the ways you can communicate it starts getting harder. My biggest issue with communication is speech. When stressed I am unable to talk, word simply won't come out. Back when I was younger this would mean going back to PECS (a big books of pictures) or sign language (assuming someone else can sign). Both methods are slow, or difficult to use without some specialist know-how. What if technology could give me a voice? Well, using a few choice pieces of software it can.
Jamie Knight with plushie Lion and his trusty MacBook
Back a couple of years ago, I lost the ability to speak for almost 7 months; this was while I was at college and the stress levels were high. However I still had to communicate in class, communicate outside of lessons and with my peers. My saviour was a little Mac app that is called Quicksilver. Quicksilver has two features of interest, the first is the large type function. It's very simple - you type a message, then hit enter and the message is displayed in large white text on the screen. Coupled with my trusty 13" MacBook this was my primary form of communication. For times when people were unable to see my screen, I had set up the shortcut ctrl + s to operate the wonderful Apple inbuilt speech engine. This tool was my primary form of communication everywhere for months, without it, I would have been unable to do functions as simple as attending lessons, or buying food.
At the same time I was using a mobile phone (the irony, a device for talking while walking, used for speaking while standing still!) with a keyboard (a Nokia E61). My only way to use it was to type message in the text app, and then show it to people.
A couple of years later and my choice of phone has changed - I am now an avid iPhone user - and the apps for my needs have grown in sophistication and power. Proloquo2Go is my current app of choice for communicating. It goes beyond the old Nokia in that after building up a phrase or sentence with a quick tap, it reads the sentence to whoever I need to talk to.
In my pocket, every day, I have a voice for when I am unable to speak. This has changed my life, empowering me to go into situations which would have been daunting just a few short years ago. Providing confidence, providing communication.
Apart from living independently with minimal support I also run my own business. This is another big challenge for me, and key area where Apple products have changed my life.
I live most days by a rough timetable, a routine as you would. I use a number of Apps on my Mac and my iPhone to make sure I am where I need to be, when I need to be there.
There are many apps which have versions for both iPhone and Mac computers, making them doubly useful.
On both my iPhone and Mac I use the iCal calendar application, hooked up to a Google apps account for synchronising the two. iCal has all of my events in it, from what I should be doing in the morning (and importantly the correct order for doing them - no getting dressed before getting in the shower!) through to any meetings through the day. Each morning starts with a glance at iCal to know what the day will bring. I also make use of iCal alarms for things such as reminding to eat, or reminding me of when I should be locking doors or ensuring the cooker is off.
Sometimes iCal is not the right tool for the job, at these times I fall back on the wonderful app Things. Things is a "to do list" type of app which helps you get stuff done. It syncs between my MacBook and my iPhone and give me the extra detail. This combined with iCal, and Task Paper give me the organisation I need to get out and do things calmly and productively.
A big part of maintaining my independence is by managing the areas in which I struggle. These areas can be wide and diverse, from worrying and obsessing, through to panic or knowing when I need to get help. Worrying and obsessing on issues is part of how my autism affects me. Everyone worries, but for me they can become debilitating and take over all my mental processes. The iPhone once again comes to the for here, the ability to pull up instructions on how to make coffee, or turning to Google or chat-rooms when trying to fix things around the house (like fuses tripping etc) is vital. By allowing me instant access to the information I need, I can manage my worries. I can check that I am doing things in the correct order, or the correct way.
Apple technology helps me to manage my world. My iPhone, is the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see at night. Without it, I would struggle to function. For me, technology really is my life. I could not live without my iPhone.
- Jamie Knight
Photo credit: Picture of Jamie was taken by martin_88 and is used with permission.
Jamie Knight is a UK based autistic web designer/developer never seen far from his plushie friend Lion. Jamie runs his own web design studio and accessibility consultancy alongside presenting and training on autism and advocacy. Jamie has worked with a range of clients from universities and national charities through to international broadcasters. When not working, Jamie enjoy mountain biking, reading about design and user interfaces, and occasionally plays a game of Warhammer or two. Lion enjoys smarties and planning how to catch that next antelope.