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."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Voice-Access for Gamers


I ran across this site for voice control for gamers on the ATA listserve. The author is a quadriplegic who has solved a number of computer access problems, including how to enjoy computer, online, and console gaming without the use of hands. He also has chin and tongue controllers.

All this just in time for Christmas.

Keep Looking Up!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Big Move to UCP

I'd like to thank my colleagues at the Idaho AT Project for helping me land a full-time position with United Cerebral Palsy of Idaho as the Coordinator for the Assistive Technology Lending Library, and as a consultant for AT assessments. I can't tell you how great it is to be working with Kathy Griffin, ATP, our Program Director and a walking encyclopedia of AT. You can contact me toll-free at 1-888-289-7133 (8:30-4:30 MST), or via email: mmann@ucpidaho.org.

And here is a big preview of what's to come in 2009. United Cerebral Palsy of Idaho is going to become an independent non-profit organization! This will allow us to provide services in a larger region than in the past. Stay tuned for our new name and website.

Keep Looking Up!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Low Reading Level, High Interst E-Books for Free


A common problem for students who are delayed in reading is that books written in simple language are written for a much younger audience. Books that interest them are too hard, but books they can read aren't very interesting. I give credit to Nora Jehn of the Idaho Assistive Technology Project for finding this great website. They have hundreds of stories for teens at very easy reading levels.

Keep Looking Up!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Assistive Technology for Math


The Idaho Training Clearinghouse has just added an online audio-visual presentation I prepared for the Idaho AT Project called "Assistive Technology 4 Math". This 30-minute presentation reviews some of the many resources for teaching and learning math for those students who struggle for whatever reason. Be sure you are ready to take some notes, this is a resource-rich presentation that covers beginning concepts to higher math, and how to get professional help with a student when you need it.

Keep Looking Up!

Friday, October 10, 2008

New Use for an Old Product

The Virtually Indestructible Keyboard, $24.99

This keyboard was designed for medical labs and wet environments. It is a flat flexible keyboard sealed in silicone that we sometimes recommend for people who drool. I don't particularly like using this keyboard myself because the action of the keys is "squishy" and slows me down, but it has come in handy for some clients because of its extremely low profile.

I did an assessment for a woman this week who is preparing to return to work after an injury to her neck and brain. After trying out all the latest ergonomic keyboards, I set her up with this one, because the keyboard is only a few millimeters thick, and she could rest her arms on the desk to reduce fatigue in her neck. The big surprise was that with this keyboard, she was able to type without looking at her fingers for the first time since her injury.

Apparently the "squishy" feel of the keys provided her with enough additional tactile feedback for her to feel where her fingers are on the keyboard better. For people with head injuries, extra feedback can make a real difference.

Keep Looking Up!

Monday, October 6, 2008

AT Expo in Pocatello Oct. 28-29, Holiday Inn

Here's the Agenda:

Tuesday Oct 28
8:30 Introductions
Ron Seiler, IATP Director
8:45 Intro to Assistive Technology for Children with Learning Disabilities
Mike Mann, ATP
10:00 AT for Students with Cognitive Impairments
Ron Seiler, IATP Director
11:00 Panel Discussion: Idaho AT Reutilization Project
Dean Neilson & Valeria Johnson, LIFE, Inc.
Ron Seiler, IATP Director
Sr. Anthony Marie Greving
Area Agency on Aging
1:00 AT For Math
Mike Mann, ATP
2:15 Universal Design for Learning
Ron Seiler, IATP Director
3:30 Adjourn

Wednesday, Oct 29
8:30 Introductions
8:45 Demonstration of Word-Prediction Software
Kathy Griffin, ATP, United Cerebral Palsy
1:00 AgrAbility Training for Physical and Occupational Therapists
Kathy Griffin, ATP, United Cerebral Palsey
2:00 Disability Services: Eastern Idaho Technical College & Idaho State Univ.
Irene Jones and Todd Devries
3:00 Adjourn

If you want a seat, contact 1-800-IDA-TECH or www.idahoat.org.
Keep Looking Up!

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Writing Support Keyboard


The "Fusion" by Advanced Keyboard Technologies, Inc.costs $239.00 and is a significant upgrade from the popular "Alpha-Smart" and "Neo" line of keyboards in use in many schools. I just got mine for the demonstration center, and I know the teachers in the schools I'm visiting are going to want this.

This is a lightweight, battery powered keyboard with an LCD screen that supports large fonts, word highlighting, text-to-speech, and word prediction. It also has a typing instruction program in it called "Perfect Form" for students who do hunt and peck typing.

Files can be saved onto a compact flash memory card, and there is a cool flash to USB adapter so you can move files to a computer that has no flash drive. If your printer has an infrared port, you can print directly without any kind of hookup. This is a real time-saver, and there are no parts to lose.

Having word-prediction and text-to-speech in a portable keyboard allows a student who uses these technologies to move from room to room through the school without needing computer access in every classroom. This is a big deal for students in Junior High and High School who rely on these assistive technologies to access the curriculum.

Keep Looking Up!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Training Materials for Naturally-Speaking


If you are new to using Dragon Naturally-Speaking for speech-to-text, I found a free downloadable resource developed at the University of Edinburgh. This page offers training scripts for teachers or students, broken down into 10 sessions. There are also summary sheets you can download and print to place next to the computer for each session for training.

Suppose you want to train Naturally-Speaking for a student who can't read? Scripts of the reading passages are also on this site. Download the passage, then use a screen reader to read it out loud with manual sentence breaks. Your student can listen by headphone and repeat each sentence into the microphone to complete the required passage of reading.

Keep Looking Up!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tech. for Multiple Sclerosis


This is a great new find I saw in Momentum magazine, a publication of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The information is adapted to persons with MS, however I found it to have a lot of value for a large variety of disabilities. I think anyone dealing with weakness and fatigue would find this site helpful for learning about technology that can help for activities of daily life.

Keep Looking Up!

Review: Dragon Naturally-Speaking v9.5

I just loaded my new version of Dragon-Naturally Speaking, a product that converts speech to text on your word processor and allows you to control your computer by voice. It is available from www.Nuance.com or www.Amazon.com for about $100.

Some of my colleagues had difficulty loading version 9, but apparently the problem has been fixed in version 9.5. If you have version 9, you can call Nuance technical support (the first call is free), and they will email you a link to download version 9.5.

When I installed it, I could not complete the installation until after I did a full computer shut down and restart. Then the installation worked OK, but I would have preferred a message to let me know to do that, I just got lucky and tried it.

Dragon v9.5 has new tutorials that work well, and it goes through all your "My Document" files to pull the vocabulary and style of writing you use, so it needs less training. You still have to read well enough to train the program with the short reading passages provided, so it may not be workable for children who can't read well enough to complete that. You also have to speak clearly enough for the computer to understand what you are saying, so I wouldn't trial it with a student who is difficult to understand or hear.

One more thing: Dragon 9.5 was extremely slow at first, until after I went into my System Tools and did the Disk Cleanup and Defrag chores. Find that from the Start menu in Windows under Accessories. After a much overdue clean and defrag, the program did work at a reasonable speed.

Keep Looking Up!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get Free Stuff!

There is a lot of free stuff for assistive technology on the internet, if you know where to look. Some companies offer free downloads of usable programs in the hope that you will upgrade to the full paid version. Some sites just want to share. To find my list of free downloads, go to ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY RESOURCES in the left column, and click on "Mike's Favorite Links". This takes you to Google Documents to my resource list. Scroll down to the letter "F" and you will see the "Free Download" section.

Keep Looking Up!

What Have We Learned Lately?


Dave Edyburn is Editor of Special Education Technology Practice (SETP), and has this webpage with links to summaries of the special ed. research that is most pertinent each year. If you do not have access to all the journals, or do not have time to read them, then you may benefit from going over Dave's annual summaries of the best research articles.

Keep Looking Up!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Tech Matrix


Teachers frequently ask for help choosing software designed to assist students with learning or other disabilities. There is a great new resource on the internet for helping teachers and AT professionals select software products that do all the right things for a student with a disability.
The matrix is easy to use. You can limit your search to products for math, reading, or other subjects. You can also refine your search to look for certain features. Products in your chosen subject appear along the top row. Features the products either do or don’t have are listed along the column on the left. A checkmark means that the program has that feature. This allows you to narrow your selections down to only those products with the features your student needs.

Just a reminder, “best practice” is still to try before you buy. Even if a program has the features a student needs, it doesn’t mean your student will be willing to use it. Many software suppliers will send you a free demo version of their product for trial use so you can try it with a particular student to make sure.