Apps for my Uncle

December 15, 2016 | Ahilan Amirthanayagam

Technology has greatly enhanced the number of opportunities for people with disabilities.

In fact, according to the FCC, people with disabilities could realize opportunities “perhaps more than any other group of Americans” from access to new technologies. The list of potentially life-changing technologies includes high-speed broadband networks, telecommuting and apps that provide essential services.

When I think about the ways in which technology is changing the world for people with disabilities, the story becomes very personal for me.

My uncle is someone who could have benefited from this technology if it had been so readily available to assist him earlier in his life. My uncle was diagnosed with autism at the age of four in Sri Lanka and my paternal grandparents made the decision to leave the island to get treatment for him in England. My uncle’s disability changed my family’s life.  We left the country our family had lived in for centuries, moving to the UK and, eventually, the United States to have access to the services we needed. Since my uncle’s disability made him non-verbal, assisting him with communication was a critical factor in increasing his quality of life and his personal sense of agency.

Apps that allowed him to look at pictorial representations of things he that wanted, such as food and drinks, or to indicate that he wanted to go to the bathroom, or even to indicate that he was tired and wanted to go to bed, might have changed his life if his caregivers had access to this technology while they were working with him. However, many of these apps were challenging for caregivers to implement as part of their care, so many of them did not make it past trial phases.

The good news is that these apps are getting better and better, unlocking opportunities that can open doors in education and in the workforce. And, if government, industry experts, device manufacturers, service providers, consumers and others work together, we can ensure that everyone benefits from access to new technologies and services.

Should you have a friend or a loved one with a disability, I would encourage you to explore this fascinating world and use the apps that have been developed to help change people’s lives.


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Ahilan Amirthanayagam was a 2016 AAPD Summer Intern who interned with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He is currently a student at George Washington University in Washington, DC, studying communications and psychology.

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