Assistive Technology is immensely useful for disabled individuals helping them in performing tasks that otherwise might have been difficult or impossible for them. It comprises mobility devices, like wheelchairs, walkers, and also hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers and other digital technologies.
For instance, people with limited hand function can use a keyboard with large keys or a special mouse for operating a computer, whereas blind people may use software that reads text on screen in a computer-generated voice, besides people having low vision can use software that enlarges screen content, and deaf people may use a TTY (text telephone). Meanwhile, in case of people with speech impairments, they can use a device that speaks out loud as they enter text via a keyboard.
Today there is a wide variety of assistive technologies available, offering the opportunity to virtually everyone to access information technology (IT). However, just having proper assistive technology doesn’t assure access to it, as the accessibility depends on the accessible design. It is vital to design and creates IT products in a manner that enable all users to access them, even those using assistive technologies.
How is this technology helping disabled learners?
Well, Assistive technology can be classified as a device or a system providing people with practical solutions to everyday life activities. It promotes higher independence and safety by enabling people performs tasks that they earlier faced difficulty doing or failed to accomplish on their own. Few of the examples comprise of:
- Helps in daily living: It can be modified eating utensils, dressing aids, page turners, adapted books, pencil holders and adapted personal hygiene aids,
- Sensory aids for hearing/vision impaired: It can be done via visual alerting systems, Braille, hearing aids, magnifiers, large print screens and speech/telecommunication output devices.
- Seating & Positioning aids providing body support: It can be adapted seating, cushions, wedges, standing tables, cushions, positioning belts, and braces.
- Mobility aids: It enables people to move within their environments via modifications of vehicles for travel, scooters, canes, walkers, crutches, electric/manual wheelchair.
- Recreational aids: This allows them to participate in cultural/social events and sports, like adaptive controls for video games, cuffs for grasping paddles/racquets, seating systems for boats, and audio description for movies.
- Home/workplace modifications: It is done through structural adaptations that reduce or remove physical barriers such as lifts, ramps, automatic door openers, bathroom changes and expanded doorways.
- Alternative/augmentative communication devices: These assist people having speech impairments or low vocal volume to communicate like communication software, speech generating devices, and voice amplification aids.
- Prosthetics & Orthotics: These can be augmentation or replacement of body parts with artificial limbs or other orthotic aids, like braces or splits.
- Computer access aids: These consists of modified/alternate keyboards, voice to text software, light pointers, switches activated by voice/sound/pressure, head sticks, special software, and touchscreens.
- Environmental control system: These are helpful to people in controlling a number of appliances like switches for appliances, such as TV/telephone, and these get activated by breath, eyebrows or pressure.
Who adopts assistive technology?
There is huge opportunity lying in assistive technology, in fact, Wiki states that Assistive technology is umbrella terms which include assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities, and it even comprises of the process used in selecting, locating and using them. It is worth noting that a lot of fragmented activity is taking place in this arena, with it having huge potential and scope. The domain is rich in terms of opportunity and awaits right assistive technology solutions to disrupt it.
Meanwhile, talking about its adoption, now it actually depends on the technology, the use, and the user. However, mainly this technology is used by following organizations, who get them developed and pay for them:
- Employers: They use assistive technology owing to its reasonable accommodation to enable an employee to perform essential tasks assigned to them at their jobs.
- School system: They use this technology for general school education learning materials and also technology specified in an IEP.
- Rehabilitation & Job training programs: They adopt this technology to help people get jobs.
- Private health insurance: They adopt certain assistive technology when a doctor prescribes it as an essential medical or rehabilitative device.
- Government programs: Well, here state Medicaid agencies, social security or veteran’s benefits adopts certain assistive technology in case a doctor prescribes it as an essential medical device.
What are the in-demand assistive Solutions?
Equal opportunities are everyone’s rights and thus it becomes essential to offer adaptive solutions to the individuals dealing with various disabilities. With assistive technology services, individuals are provided with the ability to participate in work and social situations more effectively and actively. Meanwhile, there are a number of assistive solutions in the arena, varying from:
- Assistive Technology Training
- Workplace Accommodation
- Hearing Disabilities
- Visual Disabilities
- Communication & Education
- Computer Access for Physical Disabilities
Let’s understand how they help:
- Assistive Technology for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired
The software is programmed for deaf and poor-hearing ability people with programming capabilities for assistive listening devices comprising of direct audio inputs, frequency modulation, room-limited infrared systems and induction loops. Assistive listening systems and smart hearing aids are also programmed with noise reduction algorithms, automated settings control based on environmental conditions (like wind & other feedback), remote controls, and Bluetooth compatibility to access phones’ calling & media audio.
- Assistive Technology for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The blindness & low-vision assistive technology solutions comprise of smart magnifiers, GPS devices with descriptive audio navigation, talking & braille watches, text-to-speech readers and spatial-aware mobility aided with IoT functionality (wheelchairs & smart canes). Multilingual screen reading software is developed with advanced resolution and color-contrast setting, and then there is voice-command computer software for internet browsing, document management, device integration and easy installation. The services include interfacing braille displays, embossers, keyboards, printers with desktop & mobile OS.
- Assistive Technology in the Classroom
Creating software systems, hi-tech assistive devices are programmed for usage in special education classes as well as for individual students having learning disabilities. The appropriate writing & reading solutions crafted with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines in mind include speech-to-text programs & text-to-speech programs for mobile devices and desktops, Visual Scene Display (VSD) platforms and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software.
- Assistive Technology for Communication
In this scenario Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) applications and embedded device software are developed, thus providing communication solutions to those who suffer from cognitive illnesses & learning disabilities (ALS, TBI, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, autism). Software for speech-generating devices (SGD) is designed with customizable selection sets, direct & indirect access methods (comprising of switch access scanning) encoding options, predictive text, digitized & synthesized speech outputs, and accelerated communication protocols.
What is the Role of ATIA in Assistive Technology?
Well, AITA is a non-profit membership organization consisting of sellers, manufacturers & providers of technology-based assistive devices and services. The AITA members actively provide assistive technology for an array of disabilities:
- Deafness and hard of hearing
- Blindness & low-vision
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Web accessibility
- Cognitive disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Mobility impairment
- Communication disorders
- Mounting systems
- Computer access problems
- Augmentative and alternative communication devices (AAC)
The AITA Conference which has been taking place annually, since 1999, displays products & services for this community for assistive technology – it varies from users to educators to industry and government professionals. Moreover, ATIA also sponsors working groups through which its members work to advance industry standards as technology progresses. They make efforts to find new ways of spreading information about those advances to the public and professionals. They also develop online webinars that provide continuing education regarding assistive technology for practitioners and interested members of the public.
ATIA members have exceptional talent, knowledge, and experience that proves valuable in meeting unique requirements of people who require assistive technology. With their broad experience, they are able to adapt their products to individual situations, thus helping local practitioners come upon one-of-a-kind solutions for customers with disabilities.
Meanwhile, ATIA members are not mainly involved in prosthetic devices (artificial eyes and limbs), transport products (wheelchairs & motor vehicle adaptations) architectural products (specialized ramps, lifts, elevators, grab bars), and hearing aids.
Know more about assistive technology products & services offered by ATIA members exploring their websites, listed in the ATIA Membership Directory.
Assistive Technology Mobile App Features:
There are a number of IT service providers around the world making constant advancement in Assistive Technology & its solutions, offering mobile apps for this purpose. A range of auxiliary technical solutions have been developed and they boast off easy-to-use design, intuitiveness, & accessibility. In fact, the apps can be easily used by people with disabilities who can enjoy the new and exciting features.
Hearing: There are a number of ways to provide ‘visualized sound’ to offer a new experience to users whose hearing is weak or lost. Once the hearing aid is worn, the users can enjoy features like Mono Audio, Sound Balance, Flash Notification, Adapt Sound, Turn off All Sounds, and Create Vibration to help in check on incoming messages and ensuring the users don’t miss the sound notifications.
The features include
- Sound Balance
- Turn Off All Sounds
- Mono Audio
- Adapt Sound
- Flash Notification
- Hearing Aid Compatibility
- Create Vibration Patterns
Vision: The innovative features allow to read with great ease and get most from the device in almost any situation, even when screen can’t be clearly seen.
The features include:
- Colour Adjustment: Adjust or fine-tune the colors to increase readability.
- Negative Colours: One can find and selects an optimal display for their eyesight.
- Magnification Gesture: Allows to zoom in or out easily by simply tapping on the screen.
- Font Size: It can be set as per what suits your vision.
Dexterity: In case it is difficult for you to use several gestures required by your device, control them with an intuitive interface. The settings can be accessed easily through the convenient and streamlined user experience.
The features include:
- Assistant Menu
- Press and Hold Delay
- Easy Touch Mode
Interaction: Often users make unintended touches on the mobile screen, the app allows to control the tough response in a particular area. Thus, it makes touch control more accurate on the device and helps the user do more things with the device by simply touching it once.
More: No need of touching all the menus step-by-step to make a change in device settings. As it is easy to answer or end a call and display or execute shortcuts by pressing the hardware button.
- Answering/Ending Calls
- Show Shortcut
- Manage Accessibility on multiple devices
Ultimately, the software and mobile app development service providers in the arena of Assistive Technology are responsible for analyzing the needs of consumers with disabilities, assist them in selecting appropriate assistive technology for the consumer’s needs, and provide training in the use of the selected device. Find the right service provider who can understand your requirements and provide solutions accordingly.