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."

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!

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