To break out of previous paradigms, we could consider the plethora of applications or apps for mobile devices such as cell phones and tablet computers, we soon realize some of the potential of not only the devices, but also what can be done with them relative to disability. (To find suitable apps, there are several web sites available such as Google Play and Disabled World.) Tobii Sono Flex is an app that uses symbols to create speech. Designed for nonspeaking users, it could also be used for less fluent speakers, nonnative speakers, or for people with multiple disabilities. However, there is promise for other uses as well. There are also applications available that make access easier. For example, in an earlier work I wrote a review of Swype, which is a text-input method that could be used on any touch screen (see CCC Online Fall 2010/Spring 2011). Although, to my knowledge, not designed for any disability, it could be used to aid those with various disabilities.
There are many apps such as Dragon Dictation that allow the user to speak and the app converts the voice to text that can be used in texts or emails. In the Apple App Store, Dragon Dictation's description explains that the application is useful for any length composition (app store, updated June 8, 2012). If we consider the usefulness of such an application for students with some visual, motor, or sensory disabilities, we realize the potential to produce text and share it with others via emails, texts, or other programs that convert the text to speech (e.g. Talkback, which is included in most Android operating systems--it just needs to be activated). Such applications are common and often free for those with a smartphone; others may be upgraded for a small fee. Based on my experience, most students have mobile devices that can utilize such apps.
By going to one of the App stores available, teachers and students can easily search for any number of applicable apps that perform various functions or help in various ways. For example, perhaps a student has ADHD; there are any number of apps that might help the student stay focused on various tasks. One such app, ToDo List TaskDash ADHD, provides a program that helps users focus on the tasks at hand by not having a list of tasks, but a system that the user inputs the "impact" of a task, which translates to increasing focus on that particular task and not the number of overall tasks.
There are also apps that magnify using the camera. Such applications would be useful for visually impaired when a large text, digital or convertible version is not available. But wouldn't such an application also be useful in showing something small to a large group of people? In making such analogies, we can recognize the potential in these applications. Another app designed for those with visual impairments is Mobile Accessibility. This application is designed to do most general use functions (SMS, email, phone, calendar, etc.) of all standard smartphones through a touch interface that speaks to the user. However, such an application could be used by anyone.
With the advent of Apple's iPhone 4S and "Siri" and similar programs (e.g. Jeannie, Speak4it, and S Voice), accessibility, productivity, and self-management have become easier. A single button can be pressed and a person can ask a question, and the program generates an answer, marks the calendar, or many other nifty tasks. Moreover, this kind of software with such ability to interact with a user provides new areas to unleash composing potential including collaboration and revision.
Certain applications serve other uses beyond the expected ones. One example is the speech-to-text app, which is sometimes referred to as Automatic Speech Recognition technology. As I've discussed, these apps could be useful for students during the composing process, freespeaking, or other single person activities. Consider, however, how they might also be used to enhance other forms of student learning. For instance, transcribing lectures or discussions for students in present time or for them to later review, which can enhance learning for all students (Revuelta et al., 2011, p. 90). Envision students that do not have to ask, immediately after you say it, "What page did you say?" because the page is displayed on a screen in front of them. Or a student (or ourselves) just said something really profound or pithy, and we ask them to repeat it, and they stumble--these and many other forms of technology enhance our ability to engage students and help them focus. The potential is there; we must seize it.