iPad: Opening New Doors For Non-Verbal Communication

iPad Orangutan

We’ve heard it all. The iPad has been described as magical and wonderful. Many, like some older adults who may not be as computer savvy, use it instead of a laptop, because it does what they need.

It’s also been used as an educational tool, or by doctors in hospitals and by pilots and athletes. We’ve heard of the iPad being used to help non-verbal people with autism communicate more easily. Now it’s helping orangutans at the Miami Zoo communicate as well.

The App

The App being used is the same application designed for autistic children who cannot communicate verbally. It’s the perfect tool because like the children who use the app, the orangutan knows what it wants to say, but is unable to communicate it verbally. Though the reasons are vastly different, they face a similar barrier.

The application simply displays a range of objects onscreen. The user can then simply tap on the object to select it, effectively giving them a way to communicate with a person. This is shown by the orangutans’ ability to identify a picture of an object, for instance, a coconut, and tap on it when asked by the zoo keeper.


It’s About Choices

In the end, the zoo hopes to make it possible to give the orangutans choices. They can identify coconuts, bananas and other foods. Eventually, they hope to build off of that and let them choose what they want for lunch or dinner, likely helping to keep the monkeys happier in the process. After all, who doesn’t like choices?


How it Came to Be

According to a Wired report, it began when the orangutans were introduced to the iPad in order to desensitize them. The idea was to let them touch and feel the iPad without trying to yank it into the cage. Apparently, they caught on pretty well, and before the zookeepers new it, they were identifying onscreen objects with ease. Now they are starting to use it more and more.

In a slightly amusing note made by the article, it mentions that the two oldest orangutans in the group, 33-year-old Sinbad and 35-year-old Connie, are not crazy about the tablet. The folks at the Miami Zoo compare it to older parents who just don’t grasp technology or aren’t interested.


The Future

The article also goes onto mention that the zoo wants to set up a video conferencing system that will allow them to see the other animals at their zoo and zoos in other parts of the world. It’s a cool idea, and it’s interesting to see the tablet being used in ways that we’re sure not even Apple could have imagined.


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