In keeping with January’s health & fitness theme I’m taking a stab at some self-disclosure. I have a spinal cord injury with a host of related 14-karat diagnoses. I don’t use apps for the disabled, though, like those to help remind me to take my meds, find handicapped parking, get medical information or find online support communities. I don’t think anything on my iPad – including pictures – would hint that I have “special needs.” Nonetheless, iOS devices and apps have improved my health, both physical and mental.

I used to work for a major(ish) search engine and loved it. I made a decent wage, too. When they went belly-up I was recruited by a dream company, as first tier as it gets. But Canada has socialized medicine – something someone in my situation avails herself of often – and my husband is disabled too. He’s legally blind. Very. We joke it’s the crippled leading the blind around here – I’m allowed, you’re not and don’t we hide it well? We have a young son, live in a mortgage-free cottage in a wonderful little village with lots of community support. In the end, a move cross-country and below our Southern border proved imprudent.

That reasonable decision, however, left me in a bind that quickly became a stupor. Finding legit online work isn’t easy, much less something that accommodates the daily, often hourly, vagaries of my health. Nor does it come close to replacing what I was earning. When my son was in pre-school he was home enough to occupy a lot of my time, but when he started kindergarden full-time I fell into a mental malaise. If my leg muscles were atrophying from lack of use, my cerebral muscles were doing likewise from lack of social and intellectual stimulation.

Enter the iPad. In December 2010 I got one on what I now call iHanukkah. I received an iPhone upgrade too, but as much as I love it, smartphones are for people on the move. I am shut-in five to eight months a year so I use it for Slacker Radio, SMS, the camera and GPS. For me, the iPad was the transformative device.

I am an art nut, a history obsessed bookworm, talentless musician, and I used to indulge my backpacking wanderlust frequently. Discovering apps like Monet HD, Art Authority, Six Strings, Paris: DK Eyewitness and one revelatory digital book, Virtual History ROMA made my synapses salivate and reignited my passions – albeit in sedentary form.

I discovered styluses, capacitive brushes, and amazing art apps like procreate and Zen Brush that let my creativity flow. I loaded iBooks, Kindle, Zinio and PressReader – all with scalable fonts – and my mental muscles started to flex. I awakened to find a new way to use my creative writing background. There were no reviews of $9.99 Roma when I spotted it upon its debut. That’s a lot of coin on a disability pension, but temptation won and at first tap my eyes popped. I wrote a review myself. And then another. One was picked up by a review site, a couple of gigs followed and ta-da! I’m a bonafide blogger.

I am not out hiking because of my iPads and apps, nor do I break fewer bones nor get fewer infections. I have great apps that could help, like iMuscle for physical therapy and My Medical for health tracking, but I am organizationally impaired and forget (read skip) PT. But the use of mobile technology has allowed me post reviews from every local hospital, at home lying prone in bed and, in the summer, poolside. I can’t say I make even 1/2 of what I did before, but the freelancing is starting to add up – enough that I started my own iOS review and giveaway site.

I feel better. My mental health is improved, which is important when fighting any illness and linked to successful pain management. I have self-esteem and above all I am a role model to the squishy red-head in the pics who is now eight. As he sees me testing and tapping from dawn often to new dawn, 6 days a week, he learns that there are no real dis-abilities, just different abilities. Cliche? Maybe, but if one year with this tech can change my life so much, the future holds wondrous possibilities for access and inclusion for every kind of special need. Now all I need is an app to cure appaholism!

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If you have special needs and an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad with their apps help you in unexpected ways, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.