Mobile Device Helps Teach Academics, Life Skills to Disabled Child

By Gracie Bonds Staples
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

London Mabie scrolls through a list of vocabulary words, stopping to enunciate one then moving on to the next from the latest

app on her iPad.

.”Banana,” she says. “Lunch.”

Spot reading words is just one of several skills the Woodstock fourth-grader has recently acquired using technology. She can

also recognize coins and assign them value and write her name.

“It’s still a little rough, but it’s better than it was,” said her father, Lee Mabie

London, 9, has a rare chromosomal disorder called Tetrasomy 18p, which means she is developmentally delayed. She has the

mental capacity and fine motor skills of a 4-year-old.

“Her skill set is really scattered,” said Liz Mabie, London’s mother. “Some things you would think should be easy are really

difficult for her, but other things that you think would be hard are actually easy. There is no rhyme or reason to it.”

Still, with the use of new touch screen technologies like the iPad, she is learning to write with a pencil and brush her

teeth, life skills her peers have been adept at for years now. In addition, that same technology puts the eight or so people

who take care of her — her parents, physical and occupational therapists, teachers — on the same page.

For years, educators have debated whether social media and computer technology can improve learning, especially for those

with disabilities.

Lee Mabie and his wife, Liz, say their daughter’s recent progress is the proof.

“We saw a huge acceleration in gaining life skills that had before taken her years to do using traditional methods,” said

Liz. “It engages her and is so much more interesting than sitting at a desk with flash cards.”

The concept of providing instruction via technology struck Lee Mabie personally.

Part of his job at AT&T is to develop products and services for people with disabilities, so he sees first-hand what’s coming

along and what’s working. In addition, he runs an advisory panel of advocates for people with disabilities and practitioners

such as special education teachers who work with them.

When the iPhone came out in 2007, Mabie immediately saw that it could benefit people with disabilities like his daughter. For

instance, traditional assistive communication devices that help non-verbal people speak can cost thousands of dollars. The

iPhone can offer the same capability for a fraction of the cost.

“The wheels started turning there,” he said.

By the time the iPad launched in 2010, London was in second grade and still hadn’t made much progress.

While most kids learn to write letters and numbers in kindergarten, London was unable to properly grasp a pencil, much less

write her own name. And while most second graders can read simple sentences, London could only recognize her name and she

needed prompts to recite numbers from 1 to 20.

One day while watching London struggle to hold a pencil during a writing exercise, Lee Mabie said it came to him that she

needed a more tactile way – think iPad – to accomplish the task. With a writing app, she could trace the letters of her name

with her fingers then transition to pencil and paper.

“That’s when I contacted her teacher and asked if we could do some experimentation,” he said. “It’s kind of snowballed from


The Mabies wanted to find out if the iPad could accelerate London’s learning and if, by using social media , they could keep

all of her teachers, therapists and the two of them better connected to increase collaboration.

“We also wanted to see inside her classroom and therapy centers to learn what approaches were being used so we could

replicate the same approaches and share across the team,” Lee Mabie said.

Technology would let them do that.

In August 2010, they began using the iPad in earnest thencreated a blog called The London Connection to keep London’s

teachers and other care-givers in sync.

“We started to layer on the technology,” Lee Mabie said.

Recently he launched a website,, to showcase the

technology being used with London and produced the first in a series of video instruction models to teach London how to

recognize and value coins, brush her teeth and build her vocabulary, which are accessible via mobile app to each of London’s


“The technology we use with London has allowed us crack the code in how to quickly teach her new skills,” he said. “It’s

affordable, accessible and holds the possibilities of benefiting other special needs children like our daughter.”

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