iPads Helping Patients with Disabilities Communicate Better

By Cristina Mestre

UPMC’s Disabilities Resource Center (DRC), which works to ensure that health care is accessible to people with disabilities at UPMC, is offering a new tool to connect with patients: iPads.

“Devices like iPads have made a huge difference in the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities,” notes Mary Duranti, director of the DRC. “We wanted to bring these devices into all of our hospital settings, which we did last fall, and into our skilled nursing facilities, which we’re doing this month.”

iPads and other touch screen devices have proved incredibly beneficial to those with disabilities. For example, for those lacking motor skills, touch screens are more intuitive than computers and have fewer moving parts (i.e., a mouse and keyboard, which can require "visual shifting," a skill that can be challenging for some with disabilities). Those with barriers to speech can also use the iPad to express basic feelings or needs, such as hunger.

In a hospital setting, the iPads are kept on hand for use with patients who may have autism, Down syndrome, learning disabilities, brain injuries, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities, speech impairments, or are deaf or hard of hearing. In UPMC’s skilled nursing facilities, the iPads will be used to communicate with patients who have dementia or other forms of cognitive decline, and who have vision loss, hearing loss or speech impairment. 

“There are a plethora of apps available for those with disabilities. We’ve downloaded 10 of them for the iPads that will be used in our nursing facilities,” Duranti said. “The apps will help patients and residents to communicate more effectively with caregivers, nurses and doctors, and to eliminate frustration often caused by difficulty in communication. For example, the health care communication app allows a patient who is entubated to tell family members 'I love you.'"

Apps that will be used to communicate with residents of skilled nursing facilities include:

The iPad also includes an app that links to the UPMC DRC website, which includes links to common forms for patients and information regarding resources and programs for people with disabilities.