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."

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!

No comments: