What Is Assistive Technology?
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, assistive technology is “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” The goal of assistive technology is to increase an individual’s access to school, work, or other activities of daily life. For individuals with vision impairments with or without additional disabilities, assistive technology is an essential component of daily life. The majority of products and activities in the world today are designed for people without vision impairments, or without specific attention to the needs of those with vision impairments. Therefore, many people with vision impairments will need specialized or modified equipment or materials to participate in activities equally with their sighted peers. Students require specific instruction in the realm of assistive technology in order to understand their particular AT needs and in how to access the various options in their assistive technology toolkits.
What Is an Assistive Technology Device?
It can sometimes be challenging to begin conceptualizing the items or equipment encompassed in the realm of assistive technology. When we hear the term “assistive technology device,” we are often inclined to think of something high-tech (i.e. an iPad with accessibility applications or a video magnifier). Although devices like these are important AT solutions for many students, AT can also be a solution that is quite simple or low-tech.
Below are several examples of assistive technology devices that can assist students in school, at home, or in the community:
Assistive Technology for Accessing Information:
This refers to high or low-tech devices used to help a student to access either printed or electronic information. This can include:
Slant boards Telescopes
- Handheld magnifiers
- Video magnification such as the Ruby from Freedom Scientific: http://www.freedomscientific.com/Products/LowVision/Ruby
- Computers with magnification capabilities
- Accessibility apps for screen magnification on IOS devices
- Braille embossers
- Braille displays, such as the Focus 40Blue from Freedom Scientific: http://www.freedomscientific.com/Products/Blindness/Focus40BrailleDisplay
- Tools for building or producing tactile maps or graphics
- Tactile object symbols for individuals with complex needs
Scanning/reading software such as the KNFB Reader app: http://www.knfbreader.com
Assistive Technology for Communication:
This refers to any technology that assists a student with expressive or receptive communication. These may include:
Written communication devices:
- Computers and printers
- Slate and stylus
- Braille Notetakers
- Accessible tablets
- Dictation computer software, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Nuance: http://www.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm
Assistive communication for those with hearing loss:
- TTY services
- Braille/sign language communication devices and software for the deaf-blind, such as the Humanware Apex Communicator package: http://www.humanware.com/en-usa/products/deafblind_communication_solutio...
Communication assistance for individuals with multiple disabilities:
- Tactile or visual object symbols
- Augmentative/alternative communication devices, such as the Go Talk Communication Device from Spectronics: http://www.spectronics.com.au/product/gotalk-communication-device-series
Assistive Technology for Daily Living
This refers to devices that help support independent living skills and participation in everyday activities, including:
- Braille labelers
- Audio labelers such as the PenFriend from RNIB: http://shop.rnib.org.uk/new-rnib-penfriend2-voice-recorder-labeller.html
- Clothing labels
- Bump dots
- Color identifiers
- Money identifiers, such as the Looktel Money Reader app: http://www.looktel.com/moneyreader
- Product identification devices for canned goods, etc.
Time and schedule devices:
- Braille and talking watches
- Accessible alarm clocks
- Accessible calendars
- Voice recorder devices for appointment reminders, such as Reminder Rosie: http://www.reminder-rosie.com
Health management devices:
- Accessible thermometers
- Accessible prescription labels
- Accessible blood glucose meters, such as the Prodigy Voice Glucometer: http://www.prodigymeter.com/health-care-professionals/diabetic-supplies/...
- Accessible scales
- Liquid pouring assistant, such as the Audible/vibratory Liquid Level Indicator from RNIB: http://shop.rnib.org.uk/audible-vibratory-liquid-level-indicator.html
- Accessible scales
- Modified knives or kitchen utensils
- Accessible measuring cups/spoons
- Accessible cards/board games
- Beeping/jingling balls for sports games, such as this basketball with bells from Maxiaids: https://www.maxiaids.com/basketball-w-double-bells-only
- Accessibility features for films/television programming
- Accessible music players
Assistive technology for travel and environment
This includes devices and modifications that promote independent travel of individuals with vision impairments with or without additional disabilities, including:
- Tactile maps
- Accessible GPS
- Navigation apps, such as BlindSquare: http://blindsquare.com
- Audible pedestrian signals
- Truncated domes
- Accessible ATM’s
Assistive Technology and Transition
As students prepare to leave high school and transition into adult life, it is essential that they, their families, and their education teams also begin to consider their assistive technology needs. The transition goals of each student combined with her current needs will help to determine what types of assistive technology will be useful to the student moving forward. Students should develop proficiencies in the use of assistive devices that will allow them to gain or maintain independence or that will promote their well-being.
- A student with low vision who plans to move on to employment in a retail store may need a handheld magnifier to look at product tags or considerations on how to make a store’s cash register accessible.
- Another student with complex developmental and communication needs planning to move into day programming with a supported work component may benefit from communication devices to express his needs or make choices in the workplace.
- A student who is totally blind and planning to move on to post-secondary education will benefit from learning assistive technology that will allow him to access printed and electronic material in and outside of the classroom.
Although assistive technology does not completely eliminate the challenges presented by a vision impairment or other disability, it can level the playing field so that individuals with vision impairments with or without additional disabilities can participate more fully in the same activities of their sighted peers. As described above, there are assistive devices to promote independence and well-being in nearly every component of life, from work to leisure. Students who have access to and education in some of the assistive technology options that meet their specific needs will be empowered to expand the realm of what is possible in their own lives both in the present and as they plan for their futures.