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, September 2, 2008

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!

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