There will be many tributes today and in the days to come to Steve Jobs, the iconic Apple co-founder who passed away yesterday at the age of 56. He'll be praised for his vision, for his leadership charisma, for inspiring speeches, for bringing personal computers into our households, for transforming the way we listen to music and watch movies and expect cartoons to feel. I'm typing this on my MacBook while listening to music on my iPhone, in a house with four other Macs and a wealth of iGadgets, so no arguments from me about any of that.
But for parents of children with special needs, his biggest legacy will be the way that the iPod, the iPhone, and most especially and gloriously the iPad opened up doors for our children, providing them with a way to communicate, a way to connect with the world, a way to be cool in the eyes of their peers, even -- least of all, but a lifesaver nonetheless -- a way to amuse themselves in waiting rooms.
While others gather Steve quotes to share, or tributes from great minds in tech or business or politics, I thought I'd gather some words from bloggers who can testify to the way Jobs, through his vision and the products he ushered into being, opened up a whole new and wonderful world for children like ours.
"Apple's iPad gives my son independence he's never had before; Apple's iPad: Year One video, which Steve introduced at the Apple iPad 2 launch in March, showed the entire world that people with autism need only the right opportunities and tools to show how much ass they can kick. Rumor has it Mr. Jobs particularly liked the autism segment of the iPad video. It's nice to think that one of our boy's achievements has been to meet those lofty standards." -- Shannon Des Roches Rosa, on Squidalicious
"There are countless children like C and Pudding, who 'think different' and now have the ability to communicate, to connect, even to escape from the longest hauliest of long-haul flights thanks to this technology. Who knows, perhaps they may one day be those adults who push the human race forward. It may not have been his original intention, but Steve Jobs' vision created the tools for these people. The ultimate square pegs in round holes. Staring at an empty canvas and seeing a work of art. Sitting in silence and hearing a song that's never been written. This was his legacy: bridging our worlds. I think Steve Jobs must have been crazy enough to think he could change the world, because he did. He changed ours." -- Spectrummy Mummy
"Charlie warms up slowly to new things and first left the iPad to gather dust. I showed him the music and photos and how to type into the search box on the YouTube app -- and then, one day we saw him poking, swiping, tapping on the iPad screen with his long fingers. For the first time, here was a device that he could use entirely on his own, to listen to music and see photos. The touch screen, the size of the iPad, the vividness of images on the display, the auditory qualities: All are perfectly suited for him. That is to say, the design of the iPad was exactly what Charlie needed and could independently, naturally figure out how to use." -- Kristina Chew, on Care 2
"I hadn't ever seen Max use his pointer finger like that, no small feat for a child with cerebral palsy whose hands and fingers tend to be stiff. The iPad motivated Max to isolate his finger and maneuver it. Soon enough, he'd learned to use a lighter touch on the screen and he'd zoom around the iPad. He also discovered YouTube and Lightning McQueen videos, another life-changing event for him." -- Ellen Seidman, on Love That Max
"Until the iPad Makenzie did not use her arms/hands for much. Now she touches the screen with her pointer finger to show us she knows shapes, colors, numbers, and letters. She can play games, read books, listen to music, and much much more! -- Makenzie's Miracle
"Most of all, I appreciate Steve Jobs because he has given my nonverbal daughter a voice. Lily may never speak in a traditional manner, simply opening her mouth and using her words. But because of Steve Jobs, I don't have to worry about Lily never being heard. And for that, he has my eternal thanks." -- Lana, on Along Came the Bird
"It may be a stretch to say Steve Jobs invented the iPod Touch or most of the technologies contained in it. But Steve Jobs certainly put it in my son's hands, both by making it a sub-$200 device (and in our case, giving it away free with a laptop) and by helping to create an ecosystem of software applications for people with disabilities -- perhaps especially communication disabilities." -- Tim Carmody, on Wired
"BJ uses his donated IPad to communicate receptive and expressive needs/wants. It helps us understand BJ and offer him a tool to help with emotions he is feeling and the voice that he can't yet express them with. BJ has so much to say -- and thanks to Mr. Jobs' idea, he's developing the voice to say it. The IPad gives us a peek into the the BJ we know is there, but who can't find his way out ... yet." -- evette 521, on the Readers Respond page
"The iPod is his conversation starter ('Hey, Bud - what are you listening to?'). It is his shelter from the storm. It is his socially acceptable and entirely private way to restore local coherence when the world gets overwhelming, allowing him to replay brief snippets of songs or sounds bites, over, and over, and over again, as he reclaims control when his world is too unpredictable, as he restores his own sense of internal order when his external environment seems in chaos. For Bud, it's a life-saver - and a gift that only Steve Jobs could give." -- MOM - Not Otherwise Specified
"We never thought a CEO of a corporate would care. He did, he didn't have to, but he diverted resources to make a difference to just one person, the difference between dependence and independence in a number of important ways." -- Naked Lunch
"The way my lil boy can navigate his way through the Apple touch products is just... amazing to witness. It is so completely instinctual, that he picked it up within just a few days of having being introduced. His fine motor skills are amazing, his speech is coming on as he tries to copy what's being said in the videos he watched... he's even figured out how to put his favourite songs on to dance to. Not to mention now knowing when he needs some quiet time and taking the iPad up to his room to have some alone time. It's given him some independence in a way I never thought would be possible!" -- Marylin, on SoftThistle
"Steve Jobs was a visionary, an out-of-the-box thinker and a remarkable leader. I think his legacy will not be about technological innovation as much as his transformation of the way we connect to one another, the ways in which we open up new horizons for both those who would boldly step into the future as well as those for whom, perhaps, there was once no future." -- Niksmom, on Maternal Instincts
"Steve Jobs interacted in some way with Every. Last. One. Of. Us. And in so doing, he changed the face of ... well, everything. But that's just the beginning. What his tools did, do and will continue to do for people with autism? Language, connection, escape, freedom, access. I don't know where to begin." -- Jess, on A Diary of a Mom
"Without Steve Jobs, Gracie might not be calling me Mummy. He truly changed our lives. Rest in Peace Steve, we will miss you." -- hammiesblog, on Autisable
I'll add more quotes as I find them, and if you've found or written a blog post on the subject, please leave a link in the comments. Apple is urging those who want to send their respects to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and it would be great to see strong mention of the value of Jobs's work to individuals with special needs and their families among those tributes. If an iPad has changed your child's life, you can also attest to that here on the Readers' Respond page for "How Does Your Child Use an iPad?"
For more on how iPods and iPads are helping kids with special needs, read or contribute to these articles:
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images