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Overview of Assistive Technology and How It Can Help Individuals With a Disability?

In this article, I will define assistive technology for you and explain how it can help people who need to use it, due to their disability.  Let’s get started!

The United States federal government defines assistive technology as; “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 individuals with disabilities.” 

What does this mean?  Let me explain by providing you with some examples.  If someone is totally blind and would like to read, but does not know braille, that person will need technology that can read out loud.  One such example is commonly referred to as a dedicated “reading machine.”  Reading machines are traditional, common pieces of assistive technology.  This is a device that is designed by a manufacturer with simplicity in mind.  Think of it as an appliance.  It is a system that can read printed and electronic information out loud to the individual.  The device typically has a very easy-to-use keyboard interface.  The keys on the interface usually have raised images and or Braille dots to explain their function.  If one wanted to read a printed letter, the person would place the document on the scanner and then press the “scan and read” key.  The device would scan the document with the scanner and then read the document out loud to the individual.

There are other devices that you would typically not consider being assistive technology, such as a smart phone.  However, when equipped with the right app, a smart phone can be considered a valuable piece of assistive technology.  In the previous example, the individual would need to load a scanning app onto their smart phone.  Now, to get the smart phone to read out loud, the individual will need to turn on the text-to-speech app that is installed with the smart phone operating system.  When both apps are installed and operating, the individual would load both apps.  Then, the person would scan the document with the scanning app.  When the document is processed by the scanning app, the person would activate the text-to-speech application to read the document out loud.  Such a system can be a little harder to use; however, it can be very effective and valuable.  Also, this system may not have the feature set that a traditional reading machine for the blind would have as part of its feature set.  In a future blog article, I will review device apps versus more traditional, full-featured assistive technology devices.  I will also discuss FREE assistive technology versus assistive technology that one would purchase in another future article.

To summarize, let us refer to the federal definition for assistive technology.  If the device or system is a dedicated system such as the “reading machine” or if it is a scanning and text-to-speech app on a smart phone or other mobile device, and if it, “is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities,” it is considered assistive technology.  I understand if this sounds confusing, especially with my two examples, the dedicated reading machine versus the mobile device apps for scanning and text-to-speech.  As you browse the site, you will realize that there are many different types of assistive technology.  My goal is to help you understand the purpose of assistive technology and help you choose the right technology to perform various tasks.  If you do have questions, do not hesitate to contact me through the contact form.  I am looking forward to hearing from you.