For those with limited ability to speak, a flick of a fingertip is making all the difference.
New technology such as the iPad is making communicating easier and more affordable for the clients at United Cerebral Palsy of Stanislaus County. The nonprofit group works with medically fragile adults who have cerebral palsy, a congenital neurological condition that impairs motor function, as well as a range of other developmental disabilities.
UCP Chief Executive Officer Scott Webb said technology that once cost as much as $8,000 for a specialized machine can now be had on a $600 iPad.
"This just opens up a whole lot of possibilities," Webb said. "It has opened up people with disabilities to a whole new world."
UCP has centers in Modesto and Turlock, where it offers day programs five days a week for those with disabilities. The group applied for a $40,000 state grant from the California Communication Access Foundation in 2011, which allowed it to buy the center's first assistive communication technology.
When the grant was written, the organization had planned to use it to buy an $8,000 DynaVox, an oversized tablet that allows users to press corresponding letters and images to speak words and phrases. But after UCP received the funding, iPad technology became available to replicate the functions at less than a 13th of the cost.
Webb said they were able to buy six iPads, as well as other communications technology including a SmartBoard, an interactive touchscreen white board, and two GoTalks, simple touch-to-talk tablets.
UCP communications officer Mario Supnet said iPads are more versatile and customizable than the more expensive older technology. Several apps already are on the market that offer tap-to-talk technology, often for free download. The iPads are used every day, for people with all level of disability.
"All of the clients have really reacted well to the iPads and want to use them," Supnet said. "And they are more flexible. They can play games and use other apps to develop other skills. It's great for people from very low to high functioning."
Rose Cohron, one of the clients at UCP, said she loves using the iPads. The 27-year-old comes to the Modesto center every day.
"I like to use them to help me with my writing," she said. "These are easier to use. I wish I could use them all the time."
The UCP centers in Modesto and Turlock serve about 60 and a dozen individuals, respectively. The Modesto center has six iPads. An additional two were purchased for the Turlock center, which just opened at the end of last year.
Before the grant, the center had no assistive communication technology for its clients to use. Individuals would have to buy their own for personal use. Webb said he hopes to get more iPads and help people buy their own for customized use.
"A lot of these people have physical disabilities, but mentally they're sharp," Webb said. "Yet only 20 years ago, they might have been institutionalized, strapped to a bed or chair. This allows them to live and be out in the community."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.