Could Google Glass Work for Someone with Autism?

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A boy with autism at Turtle Reef in Sea World San Diego.

First posted on Technorati as Could Google Glass Work for Someone with Autism?

Google Glass has been in the news quite a bit lately, with concerns about privacy, the "cool" factor, and some businesses already wanting to ban the thing before it hits mainstream.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, praised Glass for it's more socially acceptable use over smartphones.

Glass reacts to your eye movement, finger gestures on the side, or voice commands. The video Google provides is pretty compelling, with lots of exciting things being done and hands-free computing being done at the same time. 

But it got me thinking: could someone with autism use Google Glass? Could someone with a disability use Glass? 

Smartphones can be very enabling in many cases. Apple, for one, uses Voiceover to make it possible to use an iOS device if you are blind. And while Android doesn't seem to have the same technology built in, there are code projects that are available for download. Being able to interact with the device directly with or without looking at it is ideal. Can Glass do the same thing? 

A marketing professor at Gallaudet University (a University for the deaf and hard of hearing) presented the Google Glass demonstration videos to his Intro to Marketing classes. The response was almost unanimous: It wasn't deaf friendly. Anything that requires spoken word for interaction would be unaccessible to someone who communicates through sign language. That means that this current iteration of Glass at least would only provide minimum support for someone who doesn't communicate verbally. 

But could it be used by someone with autism? Smartphones and tablets have been adopted with gusto by the autism community, because they are intuitive to use and allow persons on the spectrum who cannot communicate verbally interact with their world. The capacitive screen allows for accuracy without an implement beyond the human finger, and the display is a natural place to look when "reading". 

Now take Glass. 

  • Glass uses eye-tracking technology, not a useful bit of tech for someone who has a hard time with eye contact as is common with those with autism.
  • Glass can use voice commands, but if you don't speak, it's not much use.
  • Glass can use finger gestures on the side, but it requires more fine motor skills than touching a tablet, and a direct correlation between what you see and what you do. While this is natural with the keyboard and mouse crowd, a tablet is far more useful in this regard, you are "touching" the "thing" with which you interact, not touching an interface point on the side of your head when the thing is in front of you.
  • Glass requires something to touch you. That alone is a deal breaker with a community that is known for it's sensitivity to sensory events. Speaking for my children alone, I think it would be difficult to get my eldest to wear it at all.

There would be a lot of hurdles to overcome in order to make Glass accessible to someone with autism. But once accessible, would it be of benefit? Honestly, I can't see a situation when using Glass would help someone with autism beyond displaying social stories in real time with an augmented reality (which would be awesome!). 

If given the choice, right now, I don't think I would recommend anyone get Google Glass for someone with autism, at least until the interface is worked out. And even then, only if an augmented reality app was invented with built-in social stories based on location were available. Given that as the killer autism app, it would be worth a look. But given a choice between a tablet and Glass? The tablet's versatility wins hands down.