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."

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!