What Is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology (AT) is the application of any technology to a human disability to improve access, function, or independence. This applies to technologies designed specifically for a disability as well as to the application of existing technologies to new uses or populations.

Categories of AT include power wheelchairs, ramps, vans, reading devices, speaking devices, writing devices, educational software, computer access tools, specialized utensils, special bath or toilet equipment, accessible kitchens, hand dexterity aids, environmental controls, door openers, adapted sports equipment, robotic limbs, even sailboat controls for quadriplegics or bikes that blind individuals can safely ride.

Specialists in AT are called Assistive Technology Professionals (ATPs) who adapt and apply existing technology to persons with a disability, or they may specialize in the invention, production, and distribution of devices. ATPs can be therapists, special educators, or engineers before they get involved with AT. Certification is provided by RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America.

AT is important for special education departments in schools and colleges because consideration of the AT needs of a student is mandated by law. AT is important to employers, contractors who build public buildings, and transportation officials because of the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. AT is important to the medical community because it is a natural extension of the rehabilitation disciplines to consider when a person receiving services needs special equipment to return to or to maintain independent living.

Finally, AT is great for everyone. We have noticed how much AT designed for people with a disability can help non-disabled people do things too. The idea that a new product or facility should be usable by anyone is called "universal access."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

School Assessment Season

School assessment season is in full swing, as the ones requested for Fall 2009 are done, and more are waiting for Winter 2010. This year we got a late start due to a delay in the contracts department with the contractors who do assessments. These assessments do not cost your school district anything. They are funded by a grant from the Idaho State Department of Education.

To request an assistive technology assessment for a child in or under 12th grade, go to the link to IATP in the leftt margin and from there click on the link for "school based services". Anyone on the student's IEP team may complete the application, including a parent, but it is a good idea to let the other team members know that you are applying, since they will be part of the process.

Pre-school children with physical disabilities may also qualify. If your student does not have an IEP, contact Nora Jehn at 1-800-IDA-TECH with your request for an assessment.

So what happens next? A certified ATP will be sent to your school to conduct the assessment. In the case of students who are home schooled or are pre-school aged, the assessment will happen in the home. This person will interview team members, observe the student, and do some practical testing to see what technologies hold the most promise. The primary goal is to provide equal access to the curriculum or to prepare for transition from home to school and from school to adult life. Within two weeks you should get a detailed report with information about the technologies likely to help, and how to go about obtaining and implementing them. You can get additional training for your team too.

Idaho has been blessed to have a goodly number of highly qualified people to do assessments throughout the state. To get a current list of the ATP's you can call Nora Jehn.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

North Idaho Device Library Update

If you are a user of Idaho's assistive technology device libraries, you can appreciate how important it is to keep track of the thousands of items that are available for loan to teachers, professionals, and families. We just went through the North Idaho AT device library and threw away everything that either no longer works, or is too old to be useful to anyone. For example, no one seems to want to borrow keyboards or mice with 15-pin connectors or PS2 jacks anymore!

A new inventory is done, and if you want a copy, you can make a comment on this posting and I'll get it to you. Be sure to leave your email address.

Christmas came early, as we just received some of the new items from IATP for this year. We have replaced the special access keyboards and mice with USB models and now have an integrated touch screen monitor so you don't have to use the clip on touch screens to test those applications. We've also updated our software collection so that you and try a more current edition of Dragon Naturaly-Speaking or even Kurzweil thumb drive edition.

I'm still waiting for the new toys, but there should be one or two if each kind of modality for trials with the smaller kids. The old toys have served well, but most of them had to go to toy heaven.

So nice to be able to demonstrate a working product instead of showing a broken one and doing it "pretend"!!

The North Idaho A.T. Device Library is located within Coeur d'Alene Hand Therapy & Healing Center at 2448 Merritt Creek Loop in Coeur d'Alene, in the Riverstone Development. You can reach the office at 208-664-2901.

Keep Looking Up,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Moving to Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Area

This is a bittersweet move for me as I leave the Idaho Center for Assistive Technology next week to re-unite my family in Spokane, but if you don't have family, what benefit is a great job?

I'm returning to my former work as a contractor for the Idaho AT Project while I look for something closer to full-time in the Spokane/North Idaho area.

The happy part of this tale is all the great stuff I learned as a full-time ATP working along side of Kathy Griffin, the AT "guru" of Idaho and all the knowledgeable folks who make up the AT community in Southern Idaho.

It has been a challenging first year of operation as an independent non-profit after disaffiliating from United Cerebral Palsy last January. Best wishes to the ICAT staff and my replacement as the loaning library coordinator, Dan Dyer.

Keep Looking Up!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wheelchair Vacation Computer Camp June 10-12

The Idaho Center for Assistive Technology is hosting a wheelchair vacation computer camp for ages 8-18. Kids will learn how to use multimedia software, tell a digital story, publish their own blog, or create their own art masterpiece.

They will explore software for learning and games, expand areas of personal interest, try out adapted keyboards and mice, maybe even create their own virtual world.

Dates: June 10-12
Time: 9AM to 3PM
Where: 5420 W. Franklin Rd. Suite A, Boise, ID, 83705
Fee: $35.00
Registration Deadline: June 1, 2009

T-shirts, snacks, and Friday lunch provided.
To register call ICAT at (208)377-8070

Alternative and Augmentative Communication Camp, June 8-12

"Advancing Adventures in Communicating" AAC Camp presents a wonderful opportunity for AAC users between the ages of 5 and 20 to experience the thrill of traditional summer camp activities. Rock climbing, swimming, and arts & crafts are just some of the highlights that create an unforgettable experience, while expanding the social communication skills of campers.

Trained Idaho State University students in the area of Augmentative Communication and Licensed Speech Pathologists will help foster improved social communication in a 1:1 counselor to camper ratio.

A collaborative partnership between St. Luke's/Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Services and the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and Education for the Deaf, ISU-Boise center hosts this camp.

Dates: June 8-12
Time: 9AM-3PM M-Th; 9AM-12PM Friday
Location: Idaho State University Boise Center,
Bridger Building 12438 W. Bridger Drive Boise, ID 83713
Fee: $70

For more information or applications, contact Anne Kuhlmeier at 208-706-5775 or email akuhlmeier@ierh.org.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Reading Access with a Mobile Telephone


This year's Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, better known as the CSUN Conference (CA State University at Northridge), was a showcase of many great new devices for people who use assistive technology.

My pick for the best new technology at the conference this year goes to knfb Reading Technology, Inc. They have produced two different reading systems that are packed into a Nokia mobile telephone. The first one is called kReader Mobile. You can take a digital photograph of printed matter, such as a newspaper, and the phone will convert it to e-text and read it back to you out loud while it displays the text and highlights each word. You can control text size, contrast, and reading speed. This model is targeted to people who can see but have difficulty reading for other reasons.

The second version is called the knfb Reader Mobile, which has been configured with blind users in mind.

These systems work on either the Nokia N82 which sells for $500, or the Nokia 6220 which sells for about $350. The retail price of the software is $995.00, or a package that includes the phone is $1600. This is a working cellular telephone, but the phone contract is not included in the purchase price. These phones do not recieve internet.

It should not be a surprise to learn that the development team was led by Ray Kurzweil, one of the best recognized names in the industry.

Keep Looking Up!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Free Computers for Kids and Non-Profits


Every once in a while I run into a resource that seems like finding buried treasure. Computers For Kids is a non-profit based in Boise that takes in computers from businesses that are buying new ones and wipes them clean. They install a basic functional software package and then send them out to students and non-profits. Most students can get a fairly new desktop PC. Juniors and Seniors in High School may qualify for a laptop.

If you have a student who needs a computer, they can get an application at the address above.

Sometimes students who need a computer with specialized programs to overcome learning disabilities have access to that at school, but can't afford to get one to do homework on. With school schedules the way they are, they don't get enough time on the school computers to finish their work. This is a great way to overcome that. Homework can go onto a memory stick and taken home, or it can be emailed or loaded onto a Google Document if they have web access at home and at school.

Over in the left hand margin of this page, you can click on "Mike's Favorite Links" and find some free programs that can be downloaded to make a student's computer accessible for a variety of disabilities. The only cost involved would be if the student needs to have internet or email access, and those are available at around $10/month for phone modem access to an ISP. Many students can earn that much just doing chores.

Keep Looking Up!