Skip to content

Follow Friday With Tom Dekker Of ihabilitation

Posted in Delivering Access

Happy Friday Everyone! You’ve made it through another busy week and the weekend is almost here. I don’t know about you, but I plan on having a restful and relaxing weekend. Now, that Friday is here, it also means that its time for another weekly edition of Fedora Outlier’s Follow Friday (#FF) interview series. Who have I chosen to interview this week? You’ll have to grab a cup of coffee and read on to find out.

Recently, I was introduced to a new word. A term that was coined by this week’s guest. A play on words which makes perfect sense to use in the 21st century. Are you curious to find out what the word is?

The word of the day is iHabilitation! Tom Dekker who teaches assistive technology for the Toronto based agency Balance for Blind Adults, came up with the word by pure accident and is now determined to make it a household name within the blindness community.

Come join me as I talk with Tom Dekker and find out more about iHabilitation.

Brie Rumery: For our readers, please tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Tom Dekker: Currently, I work for an agency called BALANCE for blind Adults in Toronto. My official job title is Digital Independent Living Skills Facilitator, which means that I support both staff and students to implement digital technologies in any that might increase one’s ability to live more independently. I have worked with assistive technology since 1980, and more recently, graduated as a VRT (Vision Rehabilitation Therapist). I am also working on my iHabilitation project – tactile diagram books and audio/video podcasts for Apple products, especially applications that facilitate more independent living.

BR: Where did the term “iHabilitation” come from?


TD: I guess, originally, the term “iHabilitation” was a bit of a play on words, more than anything. Once it got out there that I was providing free instruction on iDevices through BALANCE, I remarked that the Rehab teacher seemed to be morphing into an iHab teacher. But the more I thought about it, I realized that the world of iDevices really is a kind of habitat or environment, and that habilitating to that environment really does involve a very special skill set.

BR: I know that you are fascinated with assistive technology. Why is it so important for the blind and low vision to learn how to use iDevices?

TD: This is the first time in history where accessibility is totally included in a mainstream technology. Therefore, our ability to utilize it has to make us much more mainstream, just by default.

BR: What are your feelings in regards to organizations and agencies that provide services for the blind?

TD: So often it is difficult to tell whether the primary focus of an agency is to provide services and resources to its disabled constituents, or to provide high-salaried management positions for the non-disabled people who work there. If disabled people had to live and die by the dictums of some agencies, we would be far worse off than we already are. Most problems we encounter as people with disabilities really have precious little to do with the disability itself, and far more to do with the attitudes of the public, and most of all, the decision makers in the positions of power who “know what’s best for us”! People are far better integrated in countries where people with disabilities actually control their own organizations.

BR: What type of resources do you offer that makes iHabilitation so unique?

TD: First of all, our books really help people to function in a more visual way, which makes it easier for them to interact with and learn from other users. Second, we focus on video as well as audio, so that anyone involved with blind people can watch the video and thus, see to assist the blind user with aspects of the learning process that might be missing, i.e. how to do the gestures or navigate the screen by touch.

BR: What challenges or difficulties have you had to overcome in regards to accessibility as a blind user?

TD: The biggest challenge has been society’s general failure to realize that inclusive design from the bottom up helps everyone in the end. Thankfully, the real snowball of change in this regard is starting, ever so slowly, to begin “rolling down the hill”!

BR: What are ear-hand coordination and the “over the shoulder” teaching methods that you use and are they effective?

TD: As for ear-hand coordination, it’s more something that happens, rather than a teaching method. As students explore the diagram with one hand, and the phone/iPad with the other, they begin forming positional relationships among things on the screen. Thanks to muscle memory, they become more and more able to put a finger down accurately on a given object. Working with the book and the phone helps you to “hear where you are”, and over time, the fingers just go right there, more and more quickly.

Hand-over-shoulder just replaces hand over hand, which we found to be a bit impossible with the touch screen. Also, the drawing on shoulder eliminates the need for a lot of conversation, which is great, when the student is actually trying to concentrate on listening, not only to their own device, but often to mine, as I demonstrate how an app works.

BR: Why do you feel the need to use Twitter as a social networking platform and who are some of the people you follow?

TD: Twitter is great because you can have so much control over the people or organizations you follow. I follow lots of adaptive technology types so that I can stay in the know about what’s coming along. I also follow quite a few musician folks who use the latest music creation technology. Plus, I follow quite a few movers in the area of social media to learn about social networking to promote resources that we will develop as we go along.

Tom Dekker’s innovative teaching methods and years of providing adaptive techniques for individuals wanting to learn how to use an iDevice is why the team at Fedora Outlier, LLC follows him and iHabilitation.

Please feel free to contact Tom at his website:
E-mail: and definitely make sure to add him to your list of followers on Twitter: @ihabilitation

It is our mission at Fedora Outlier, LLC to provide the best services and resources to the blind, deaf-blind and low vision community. We provide top quality Apple consulting, teaching and support to anyone who has the willingness to learn. Come see what Fedora Outlier, LLC has to offer. It may just change your life forever!

Font Resize