Emma Edwards, 26, has no control over the fine motor muscles in her hands, which stay tightly and awkwardly clenched. She also can’t talk, walk or move her arms more than 20 inches at a time.
Edwards, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2001, can write e-mails, though, and she’s revisiting a favorite pastime, sketching, for the first time in a decade, thanks to her iPad and software applications that can cost as little as $7.
That’s a switch from the $15,000 communication device she had tried, a 9-pound machine approved by her insurer that tracks eye movement on a special grid corresponding to the alphabet. That device kept her tied to those in the room around her. The iPad, along with several other consumer-driven apps, has reopened the world to her.
“You see the joy on her face” when she’s using it, said her mother, Jill. “It represents freedom for her.”
Edwards, of Rochester, Minnesota, is part of a grassroots movement sweeping the $1 billion-a-year assistive-technology market. While Pittsburgh-based DynaVox Inc. (DVOX), closely held Tobii Technology from Stockholm and Prentke Romich GmbH of Kassel, Germany, dominate the field, the advent of Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad and an open operating system that enables anyone to create software is changing the way thousands of disabled people communicate and take care of their daily lives. ...