Glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, canes, walkers are all devices that help a person do something better than he/she could without them. We don’t usually think of these aids as “assistive technologies,” but they certainly assist with a better quality of life and more independent living.
The term assistive technology usually refers to tools or devices used by a person with a disability. For example, a person who is blind or visually impaired can use devices like digital talking book players that read books aloud at the press of a button. Other devices display refreshable braille. These tactile devices have a row of cells consisting of pins that move up and down to display characters. The characters feed into the devices from sources such as a computer, braille notetaker, or mobile device. Refreshable braille displays read one line of text at a time and need to be “refreshed” for the next line of text to be displayed and read with finger tips. Think it’s amazing? See it in action!
With mobile devices such as the iPad, the line between mainstream devices and assistive technologies blurs. The iPad is a mainstream device that has built-in features that make it accessible, like VoiceOver. Further, more and more assistive apps are being built, like Read2Go, that make the device even more accessible to people with a range of disabilities, from visual impairments to physical disabilities. Assistive technologies can assist with many different life functions, from GPS navigation for blind people to augmentative and alternative communication systems for individuals with communication disorders. Imagine knowing words but not being able to say them; however, if you press a button representing your thought, the device speaks for you.
Is Bookshare an AT? Not really. It’s a library of accessible books that are read on assistive devices, computers, and/or mobile devices. It provides content that flows into an assistive device. However, the free ebook readers offered by Bookshare are assistive software applications.
The role of the AT coordinator in a school district is to ensure that students with disabilities have the appropriate assistive technology to function as independently as possible and succeed in school. In a pilot program in 2011, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) turned around the lives of many students with low incidence disabilities by pairing the appropriate assistive technologies with students. These students gained independence, earned better grades, and moved from separate placements to inclusive classrooms. The District helped these students learn how to use their AT to prepare them for the transition to college and a successful life.
Does using AT stigmatize a student? Some students may fear that it will, but it shouldn’t. After all, AT is like a pair of glasses. The students in the DCPS pilot talk about how much their assistive technology has helped them. Assistive technology enables independence, academic and professional success, and a sense of self-worth.
What can you do to help others understand AT?
- Discuss AT with your students. Have them make a poster or write an essay about all the ways technology assists us. What are all the assistive technologies we use us? Who can come up with the longest list? Post it as a comment on this site.
- Invite a speaker with a disability or one familiar with disabilities to your school to talk with your students about AT.
Next week, we’ll post a blog written by a high school student about his use of AT with his thoughts on the stigma. Stay tuned.