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, April 13, 2009

Reading Access with a Mobile Telephone


This year's Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference, better known as the CSUN Conference (CA State University at Northridge), was a showcase of many great new devices for people who use assistive technology.

My pick for the best new technology at the conference this year goes to knfb Reading Technology, Inc. They have produced two different reading systems that are packed into a Nokia mobile telephone. The first one is called kReader Mobile. You can take a digital photograph of printed matter, such as a newspaper, and the phone will convert it to e-text and read it back to you out loud while it displays the text and highlights each word. You can control text size, contrast, and reading speed. This model is targeted to people who can see but have difficulty reading for other reasons.

The second version is called the knfb Reader Mobile, which has been configured with blind users in mind.

These systems work on either the Nokia N82 which sells for $500, or the Nokia 6220 which sells for about $350. The retail price of the software is $995.00, or a package that includes the phone is $1600. This is a working cellular telephone, but the phone contract is not included in the purchase price. These phones do not recieve internet.

It should not be a surprise to learn that the development team was led by Ray Kurzweil, one of the best recognized names in the industry.

Keep Looking Up!

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