For many of us, our smartphones and tablets are enjoyable diversions and even an integral part of our work and leisure lives. But they’re even more than that to some persons with disabilities. They’ve helped take the place of other forms of assistive technology. In case you’re not familiar with assistive technology, it consists of devices and equipment that enable persons with disabilities to more effectively communicate, interact, and make use of existing resources, with the overall goal of achieving a greater level of independence and engagement. Quite often, government grants or grants from foundations help defray or cover the costs of these devices.

Even with government grants, though, the fact that these devices are expensive interfered with the goal of widespread usage among those who could benefit from them. Resources are always limited, even in the case of government grants. According to a leading industry analyst, there are about 125,000 adults—mainly stroke patients and those with traumatic brain injuries—who could benefit from assistive communication devices each year. Although the foundation and government grants are plentiful, they still do not provide for everyone who is in need.

This is where smartphones come to the rescue. The touchscreen technology is ideal for many persons who have disabilities.

Here’s just one example of how the newer technology has helped someone. Emma Edwards has little control over her hands as the result of brain damage suffered in an auto accident. In the past, her main mode of communication was a non-mobile, 9-pound, $15,000 device. Now, she has the same technology and more, using her iPad and an app that cost $6.99, which she can take anyplace she wants to go. There are many stories similar to hers.

Government can sometimes to slow to change, so it’s a mixed bag right now as to which types of assistive technology are covered by government grants. But the iPads and Android tablets represent the wave of the future, one that can lower costs. Lower costs can mean a greater number of government grants, so that unmet needs are reduced or eliminated.

The ways that the touchscreen technology can be used surpasses the older technologies and can combine a number of functions into a single device. This can benefit an individual who may, for example, have only qualified for insurance coverage or a government grant for a single device. These are the main functions that touchscreen technology and apps can perform:

  1. A communication device – Before the new touchscreen technology, touch-to-speak technology typically cost about $8,000, which made it difficult to have enough government grant funding for all who needed it. Now an iPad or an Android tablet, plus a touch-to-speak app, performs the same service.
  2. A therapeutic device – The touchscreen technology improves hand/eye coordination and is more fun to use than the old devices, encouraging longer physical therapy session. Another big bonus is that the individual with the disability can self-sufficiently use the device, whereas in the past, a trained physical therapist may have been required. You can imagine the amount of money needed from insurance companies or government grant to cover this one-on-one therapy from a trained specialist. Again, this reduced cost can mean more government grants to a greater number of those in need.
  3. An educational tool – Educators report that a large number of their autistic students enjoy using and are very drawn to the touchscreen technology. Using these as an accompaniment to traditional instruction will enable fewer educators to teach a greater number of students who are autistic. As this teaching model becomes more proven and mainstream, then more legislators will on board with allocating government grants to help a greater number of their constituents who are on the autism spectrum.
  4. A behavioral monitor – When an iPad or Android is used for any of the special needs just discussed, it also has the capability of recording usage statistics and keystrokes. This can be a valuable tool for instructors, therapists, and researchers to monitor progress, help make corrections, and refine the process.

Government grant funding could legitimately be justified for any of these purposes because it will help the technology help more people, more efficiently, at a lower cost, and with a better allocation of human interaction and assistive technology. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that government grants are all about, after all.