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Many Helpful Smartphone and Tablet Apps Available for Case Managers and People with Disabilities

By John Morris, Ph.D.
Research Scientist, Shepherd Center

The rapid rise in the use of smartphones and tablets and the mobile software applications (“apps”) that run on them has created a large pool of assistive technologies that meet a broad range of needs for people of all abilities and occupations. There are more than 1 million apps on Apple’s AppStore and a similar number on the GooglePlay store for devices running the Android operating system. On Blackberry World and the Windows Phone Store, there are about 250,000 apps each.

Many of these apps offer impressive capabilities that provide critical assistance for things like:  information lookup, location and mapping, emergency communications, speech generation, cognitive rehabilitation, dexterity rehabilitation, caregiver support, calendar and planning aids, note taking and other memory aids, voice input and output, alternative controls for your mobile device and more!

The great number of mobile apps and the rapid pace of technology innovation can often leave consumers overwhelmed, or otherwise unaware of what’s available, what’s useful and what works well. Although this “discoverability problem” is well recognized, it has proven difficult to address.

One response is the so-called “curated lists” of apps for specific uses or needs. A simple web search for “best apps” or “curated list of apps” will generate lots of results for things like: 100 Best iPhone Apps, Best Apps for Teaching and Learning, Best Apps for Kids, Best Apps for Travelers and Best Utilitarian Apps. Or, you can search for something like apps for “dexterity apps,” “brain injury,” “speech and language” and more. Both the full presentation we gave in March 2014 and a shorter version of it are available above as a PDF downloads.

These lists can be useful, but they can become outdated over time. My Shepherd Center colleagues Ben Lippincott and Tracey Wallace and I have updated this presentation several times since we first put it together for an October 2011 conference. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to say that any list is based on a comprehensive review of all apps designed for a specific purpose.

Our presentation in many ways is similar to these curated lists. We’ve put together a list of apps that we have found to be useful for case managers, caregivers and people with disabilities. Though not selected from an exhaustive search of all available apps, the ones in our presentation have been used in clinical settings and/or have been tested by our team in Shepherd Center’s Crawford Research Institute.

We’ve also organized apps for case managers and their patients into several categories that can be useful:  1) Patient and Family Education; 2) Patient Self-Management; 3) Cognitive Training; and 4) Caregiver and Patient Wellbeing.

Additionally, at the beginning of this presentation, we discuss the terms: assistive technology, accessible technology and Universal Design. Related to this discussion is a slide that lists the types of inputs, outputs, controls, and automated actions that mobile apps might include.

This discussion of terms and app features helps us assess the usability and usefulness of specific mobile apps included in this presentation, as well as others that you might have found on your own. Additionally, it provides a framework for understanding the potentially significant role of mobile technology for enhancing the independence and social/economic participation of people with disabilities.

The world of mobile information and communications technology is a world of increasing access, assistance and engagement for all, including for people with disabilities or chronic health conditions, their caregivers and case managers. It’s not always easy to find solutions, and sometimes we have to make a concerted effort to create new assistive solutions using mobile technology. But the potential is great.

JOHN MORRIS, Ph.D., is a research scientist and program manager in the Crawford Research Institute at Shepherd Center. He also conducts research for the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies  (Wireless RERC), a federally funded research and development collaboration between Shepherd Center and the Georgia Institute of Technology. John received his master’s and doctoral degrees in government from the University of Texas at Austin. John is director of the Wireless RERC’s consumer research projects. His research focuses on consumer insights, design and usability, and accessibility of technology for people with all types of physical, sensory and cognitive limitations. Email John at

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.