When I first heard the news that Steve Jobs had died, my first reaction was one of sadness you might feel with a complete stranger’s passing. However, the next morning it hit me like a ton of bricks. I found myself crushed by the weight and just heartbroken, even moved to tears, simply listening to news coverage on National Public Radio. This isn’t typical me, and so after some reflection of the profound impact his contributions have been to my life, I realized his inventions and attitude has given me so much more than just gadgets and better computers. He has given hope and inspiration to not only me personally, but also to a community I care deeply about.
I am not an Apple fanatic. I certainly have issues with some of Apple’s environmental policies, ethics and blatant push for consumerism, yet I cannot deny the impact Steve Jobs and Apple has had on my life. Our first computer was an Apple II arriving at my house when I was in 3rd grade, complete with a cassette-tape drive to load the start up program as well as ‘exciting games’ like hangman. I typed my first research report, a 5th grade report on seeing eyes dogs, on that computer carefully using the required codes to capitalize a sentence, then printed it using a thermal printer. In 6th grade my parents bought the latest Apple technology, a Macintosh 512K then without a real hard-drive too! Somehow I convinced my middle school English teachers that it was OK to turn in my spelling assignments using the Mac handwriting font. (Thus the probable reason for my pitiful spelling today…..). I worked at a computer lab in college as a teaching assistant for classes using Macs. I enjoyed programming and even briefly considered a dual major in computer science before I realized that would mean one more year of undergraduate classes. Then in graduate school I switched over to PCs because most good statistical programs were still DOS based and that was my primary need for a computer. So there it pretty much ended. Sure we had an iPod, but no iPhones or iPads or iMacs at our house. Having an iPod doesn’t make you a fanatic or cry when Steve Jobs dies. So what is my deal?
Gia was almost two when both our occupational and speech therapists first mentioned buying an iPad for Gia. I thought they were crazy. I would’ve never bought such an expensive “toy” for Anna. At two, I barely let Anna watch videos! As our pediatrician gently reminded me, Gia is different and this would be useful. Still skeptical, the more I researched the benefits of an iPad for kids with special needs, the more I was convinced they were right. The evidence is overwhelming. Apple includes assistive technology in its products as standard; the ease of use of a touch screen is almost revolutionary. Many of the applications developed for iPads aren’t just for fun or everyday organization, they’re designed specifically to make life easier for people with special needs. These apps can improve fine motor skill development, help with learning or make communication, behavior management, or health management easier. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices that assist those with communicative disabilities and hearing impairments are not new, but iPad apps written in this category cost thousands of dollars less. Whether he knew it or not, Steve Jobs has given countless people with disabilities a voice and a way to engage with the world.
So for Gia’s second birthday, instead of clothes and toys, our family and friends generously paid for our little girl’s iPad. Within a week of using it, she started using her pointer finger. Two months later, she figured out how to access her apps on her own. With programs designed for fine motor control, she started using the appropriate hand motions for each one. Eventually she even figured out how to send gibberish emails and once even posted to my blog! We are still working on her AAC apps, but she understands the basics and is moving forward. We are so grateful to have this product for Gia to grow into a communicating individual. It is nothing short of amazing, and I can’t wait for her to unleash the full potential!
Of course, it’s not just what Steve Jobs created, but his life lessons too. As a mother to a child with special needs I can really relate to his philosophy. His various speeches contain such very important points to remember in life: never fear failure, don’t settle, think outside the box, and love what you do. Perhaps my biggest lesson from Steve Jobs was how immensely important it is to disregard the naysayers and believe in yourself; to follow your heart and intuition because people with passion can change the world for the better. As a mother I definitely have the passion to change my children’s individual worlds; I can make it better for them.
But why stop there?
We are so thankful for family and friends for Gia’s iPad, yet I know there are so many families who can’t afford this life-altering device. Luckily there are many in the special needs community who feel the same way I do and have the passion to ignite a change in this special world. There are numerous places where you can donate to help make this happen but I am most familiar with Apps For Special Needs Children (A4CWSN). A4CWSN (http://a4cwsn.com/) is a wonderful non-profit committed to helping families and caretakers of children with special needs by producing videos that demonstrate how apps designed to educate children and build their life skills really work. They have also raised enough money to give away over 80 iPads and they plan to donate even more! Please visit their website (or facebook page) for more information.
Thank you Steve Jobs.