A few years ago, after the iPad had made its appearance and MadTV had poked fun at its ridiculous name, something inspiring started to happen in the world of speech-language pathology. People started making apps that encouraged speech and language development, and some apps were developed that could be used as a communication device. Those unfamiliar with the field might not realize what an amazing accomplishment this was. For one, an iPad is much cheaper and more user-friendly than traditional communication devices. It is also smaller, easier to transport, and more socially acceptable, and it has a variety of uses, unlike many other devices. Finally, it’s easier to fix – all you have to do is walk into an Apple store or call any college student you may know. In short, it’s one of the best communication devices out there right now, and it’s pushing other (traditional) companies to step up their game. The problem with using an iPad for communication is that insurance won’t pay for it. And that’s where my story begins.
Actually, this isn’t my story, but one that my boss told me today. She didn’t tell me so she could receive accolades and would not allow the news to report on it, but I found it so inspiring that I had to share it. Since I have about 10 readers, I don’t think she’ll mind. 🙂
A coworker and I were in my boss’ office as she checked her email this afternoon. “I might have to take a little road trip soon,” she said. “I got an email from someone I’ve known a while who needs my help with his device.” The story she told us is a little long, but I promise you’ll get the warm fuzzies at the end.
Last spring, my boss, T, got called in to jury duty. During a recess, she was sitting in a Dunkin Donuts and working on programming a communication app on the iPad for one of her clients. Suddenly, a scruffy-looking man came up to her and started talking to her using his own communication device. “What are you doing with that iPad?” he asked. She explained to him how the app worked and offered a tutorial. He seemed impressed, saying, “When my device breaks, I sometimes don’t have a voice for 3 weeks at a time.” (Remember, it’s a pain in the behind to fix a traditional communication device.) T offered him her business card and said, “If you ever want to try this out, stop by the clinic and we can teach you how to use it.” He accepted the card but explained that he wouldn’t be able to do that: he was homeless. Before they parted ways, someone who worked for a local paper had seen the interaction and asked to photograph it. T got a picture with him on her phone, too.
Well, that was the end of their interaction for a while. T began to go through a divorce and by the time it was settled, it was almost Thanksgiving. Her kids were going to their dad’s for the holiday, and it was her first Thanksgiving alone. “Well, I was really sad about it but I decided I had to do something. So I went online and ordered an iPod Touch. I went to Thanksgiving dinner, and then I drove around to every homeless shelter in the area.” T still had a picture of the homeless man on her phone and was determined to find him and give him the iPod, which she had set up with a communication app. She told a friend who worked for Apple about her venture, but her friend scoffed. “You’re never going to find him!”
She didn’t find him that day, but a few weeks later she received a call from a TTY (which is a device that many deaf people use to communicate over the phone). It was the homeless man. “I heard you have an iPad to give me?” T explained that she couldn’t get him an iPad, but she had a miniature version. He was overjoyed. Before she met up with him, T called her friend from Apple to tell her the good news and rub it in a little bit. “You have to hold on, I’m busy. I’ll call you back later,” her friend told her.
Thirty minutes later, the friend called back. “I have the whole Apple store on speakerphone. They couldn’t believe your story. The best part is that my manager wanted to do something for you. He bought an iPad with his own money and he wants your friend to have it.”
So, T and her friend met up with the homeless man at an IHOP to give him the gift. He was overjoyed, but also a little dubious. “This device is my old friend,” he said. “I don’t know if I can part with it.” But he gave the iPad a try, and a few weeks later sent my boss an email. “The iPad is my new friend. I can’t imagine living without it. It has given me a new voice.” T still meets him for pancakes occasionally to troubleshoot or run updates. The homeless man is now living in subsidized housing with his new voice.