|WHAT IS ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY? |
There is no simple definition for assistive technology (AT). Assistive technology can be a very complex and multifaceted field, yet in some cases be a relatively easy and creative problem solving process. AT can have numerous definitions, depending upon the population, the desired outcomes, the type of technology used, and the experience and orientation of the consumers and professionals involved.
- Any item, piece of equipment or system that helps bypass, work around or compensate for learning difficulties.
- A definition of assistive technology may be a system of no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech tools and strategies that match a person's needs, abilities, and tasks.
- As a tool to assist in the accomplishment of tasks that would be difficult or impossible to complete without assistance using only the available resources in the available time.
- Assistive Technology is "any item, piece of equipment, or product system whether acquired commercially of the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities."
(Individuals with Disabilities Education ACT (IDEA) 20, USC, Ch 33, Section 1401 (25) US
These definitions are generous in its language in that it opens many possibilities for what assistive technology can be. A definition does not imply that assistive technology must include computers, or that it must be expensive, or that it can only be prescribed. The definition permits assistive technology to only be restricted by our own creativity and imagination.
The potential application of assistive technology is greatly enhanced through a strong foundation of knowledge coupled
with creativity and problem-solving strategies.
The "consumer" would certainly include the individual user and possibly family members. The range of professionals involved considering AT may include; Teachers, Educational Consultants, Learning Disability (LD) Specialists, Educational Assistants, Speech Language Pathologists (SL-P), Occupational Therapists (O.T.), Early Interventionists, Employment Counsellors, Rehabilitation Counsellors, Rehabilitation Technologists, AT Consultants, Disability Specialists, Support Workers and Advocates.
The benefits of assistive technology crosses age, disability and or health challenges. From young children to seniors, a person may face a range of possible physical and or cognitive challenges. Some examples are: a Learning Disability (LD), Blindness or Low Vision, Hearing loss, Speech Impairments, Mobility Impairments, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Cerebral Palsy (CP), a Developmental Disability, Autism, ADHD, PDD, Brain Injury and so on.
In General, any technology that enables someone to do something they otherwise couldn't, can be termed as "Assistive Technology", facilitating access and achieving previously unreachable goals. Individuals challenged by a disability can benefit from technology in many facets of their personal life; education, employment, recreation and social. AT can help individuals increase their independence, build self confidence and self esteem, improve the quality of life, and break barriers when providing the tools for possible employment and educational opportunities.
Assistive Technology as applied to persons with disabilities can often be referred to as "adaptive technology" , usually in the context of computer related accessibility. However, computer access can be referred to as "Access Technology". While "access technology" and "adaptive technology" essentially have the same implied meaning, adaptive technology functions to provide access to computer systems. Assistive technology, in a broader sense, is a technology that helps someone participate in his or her environment through adaptation and accessibility whether it be computers, environmental access and control ("electronic aid") or Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
An Appreciation for Assistive Technology Applications Requires an
Understanding of Both the Disability and of Technology Being Considered
A challenge often experienced by many consumers entering the world of technology and disability is making sense of the large amount of available information and finding orderliness in the often times conflicting information. Learning the differences between various products, costs, approaches to specific problems, or strategies is dependent upon a foundation of basic knowledge regarding some of the factors that many forms of assistive technology share. Organization of basic information is crucial to interpreting new products and distinguishing products from one another.
Assistive and Adaptive Technology Represents Both a Process and Product
"Technology is a tool that serves a set of educational goals, and if we don't think about what we want the technology for first, we end up with technology-driven solutions that have very little impact in the lives of children and in our educational system." Linda Roberts, Director of Education Technology, U.S. Department of Education.
By understanding the basic goals of assistive technology, good planning and outcome practices, the resources available and the elementary aspects of the technology, the novice with assistive technology can quickly transition to become an effective user or promoter of these concepts and strategies.
RANGE AND SCOPE OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
What Is A Functional Limitation?
A functional limitation is any physical, mental or sensory condition that prevents a person from caring for him or herself while communicating, working, playing, or simply functioning in an environment where other people can function normally. Limitations can range from a difficulty in interpreting information, to blindness and hearing loss to the inability to move all or part of one's body. Fortunately, functional limitations need not keep any individual, regardless of age or type of disability, from developing their potential and leading a full and productive life. Advances in technology has made it possible for people to meet the challenges of their environment and become independent and productive as possible.
Appropriate assistive technology applications are intended to decrease the functional limitations of a person with a disability, potential outcomes can include some of the following categories:
Adaptive Play: This includes the use of commercially available battery operated toys/activities to allow young children and adults to experience control over their environment despite severe physical restrictions, motor control deficits and developmental disabilities.
Switches: Single and potentially multiple switch access methods can allow the person with even the most severe disability to achieve control over many different aspects of their environment, including play, communication, education, environmental control, mobility, and perhaps employment.
Environmental Controls: Devices and technologies (Electronic Aids) designed specifically to allow a person to experience better control of their environment can increase one's independence and ability to perform routine tasks.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): AAC includes any technology application that results in the improvement of a person's communication with individual, in-groups and even by way of telephone. AAC involves maximizing of specific language concepts and strategies to enable the non-verbal person to more actively interact with their environment.
Sensory Disabilities: Many forms of assistive technology can enhance our sensory interactions by modifying the means by which information is received to accommodate our sensory limitation, or by re-routing the information to a form where other senses can be involved.
Alternative Learning Strategies: Somewhat similar to sensory disabilities, alternative learning strategies can be developed for individuals with specific learning deficits. By capitalizing on the strengths of the individual, computer based adaptive learning hardware and software can enhance the overall learning experience.
Adaptive Computer Access: Computers can be adapted through a variety of methods to enable alternative input control or output required by the person with a disability. These adaptations may be in the form of additional hardware, software, or a combination of the two. Most computer operating systems today allow for customization of the computer control process to accommodate nearly any special needs of the individual with a disability.
Bud Rizer, Ed.D. Dir., T.K. Martin Center, Janie Cirlot-New, MS, CCC/SLP Aug. Comm. Specialist, Jill Ethridge, BS, OTR Adap. Computer Specialist