Assistive technology allows students with a range of disabilities to access their education. Some high-tech tools include audio books for those with mobility and sensory issues; keyboard adapters to prevent mistyping from tremors; speech recognition software for those who cannot type.
Other examples of assistive technology are computer software that enables blind persons to hear on-screen text; enlarged text programs; and computer-based personal emergency response systems for seniors who live alone.
For people who struggle to read, assistive technology tools can be a lifeline. From text-to-speech software to audiobooks, these tools help students work around their reading disabilities.
Other types of AT can be used to help people who have mobility or cognitive issues. For example, a simple device called a one-button computer allows users to perform tasks by pressing only one large button.
Speech recognition software is another popular tool for people with mobility or cognitive challenges. For instance, MathTalk software helps students with learning disabilities and ADHD with complicated math vocabulary by converting spoken words to written ones. Other devices, such as a Tobii Eye Tracker, convert the human gaze into a hands-free mouse for computer users. This tool is especially useful for students with physical disabilities and motor impairments.
Optical devices, such as magnifiers, help people with vision disabilities work around their limitations. Apps like text-to-speech technology translate written text into audio, or screen-reading devices help people with blindness and low vision see digital content on their computer or smartphone screens.
For d/Deaf and hard of hearing learners, technology solutions can include closed-captioning apps and video conferencing software that facilitate sign language communication. Speech recognition software such as Dragon and add-ons like MathTalk help students whose sensory or physical disabilities preclude keyboard use, and eye-tracking hardware from companies such as Tobii turns a learner’s gaze into a hands-free mouse pointer.
To learn more about assistive technology tools, ATIA members and Alliance Partners offer a variety of online professional development opportunities, including live and recorded webinars. Click here to explore upcoming and archived webinars.
Assistive technologies can provide software and applications to help people with disabilities use computer systems. These tools allow people to access electronic information by converting it into voice (text-to-speech) or Braille (refreshable Braille displays). They can also include features originally developed to support disability needs such as zooming and text enlargement.
Students who use assistive technology take more notes in class and complete their school work more independently. This helps them to feel empowered and confident in their abilities, boosting motivation, self-esteem, and productivity.
AT tools can also benefit the wider workforce by reducing workplace stress and helping people to stay in work longer, cutting down on absenteeism and saving businesses money. But if it’s not the right fit, it can cause frustration and lead to disengagement.
Generally speaking, assistive technology includes any device, software, product or system that helps an individual with disabilities or restricted mobility to perform a task in ways they can’t without it. Examples range from speech-generating devices used by people with limited speech capabilities to robotic exoskeletons for paralyzed individuals.
Another example is text-to-speech software like Speechify, which converts written text into audio format to help students and learners with dyslexia or reading disabilities. Personal emergency response systems, also called telecare or telehealth, are an assistive technology application that monitors and alerts caregivers and family members of potential medical emergencies, such as falls or low blood pressure.
Learn more about assistive technologies through ATIA webinars, including live and archived presentations. Click here to explore upcoming and past webinars.
Assistive technologies break down barriers for individuals with unique learning needs. Often, the same tools that help disabled students learn better, such as speech-to-text software or computer trackers that manipulate a cursor with head movements, can also improve the performance of those who don’t have any disability at all. (Parette & Scherer, 2004).
For example, computer accessibility features like screen reader software and voice recognition can give any student an advantage, regardless of their ability or lack of it. In addition, schools can create flexible classrooms that encourage mobility with tools such as standing desks, wobble stools and exercise balls. To ensure that their digital products are accessible to all students, libraries should look at the free online resources and programs available such as AbleData and JAN, or contact Apple’s Accessibility Programs for further assistance.