Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities

Recently a staff member at Goodwill shared an article on how the iPod Touch can be used as a support tool for people with autism. It made me curious about what other opportunities and advances in technology were available for people with disabilities. Here is what I discovered; not only is technology helping people with autism adapt, but helping people with other developmental disabilities and people with traumatic brain injury (TBI) as well.

The use of technology can help meet the needs of both groups, whether by compensating for non-technical skills or by making technology itself easier to use. Daily living tasks for many people with disabilities can be difficult; especially those requiring memory. Mainstream devices can be used to help in the following ways:

• My Li’l Reminder, a key-chain like device that can record up to 60 seconds of audio and can be retrieved as a reminder of to-do items or other important information.
• Talking watches, or watches designed for blind individuals, can be used as discrete portable reminder systems.
• Photo phones can be used to associate a picture with a speed-dial number to help users remember who they want to call.
• The Planning and Execution Trainer (PEAT) is a customizable handheld device that assists individuals with scheduling.
• First Then Visual Schedule is an app for the iPhone/iPad/iTouch that aides individuals with basic daily living activities. A picture library is included, and descriptive audio can be added to items.

For some people who have disabilities using a computer is difficult and requires an alternative or additional form of technology. Strategies can include:

• Email2phone, a service that convert emails into voice mail, so that users can retrieve messages in an audio format without needing to use a computer.
• Celery and Presto are two services that allow email messages to be received via a fax machine. Celery also permits users to write out a reply, fax it, and have it delivered as an email attachment.
• TaskArchitect is a mainstream software program that breaks down steps of a task using an outline format which can be concerted to a flow chart and is easier to follow. It is free to download.
• It is still in development but at the Georgia Institute of Technology an In-Vehicle Assistive Technology is being designed at as a way to provide real-time assistance to drivers with TBI. This system would provide positive feedback when the driver indicates that they have performed critical tasks such as checking the mirrors, and tracks performance for the benefit of evaluators.

With the help of assistive technology people with disabilities are given greater independence by being able to perform tasks that they were formerly unable or had great difficulty accomplishing. Since it came out, I was never a big fan of the iPhone or its counterparts, but now I am beginning to see all of the ways in which such devices can really improve the quality of living for people with disabilities and it makes me excited. To learn more check out this article: http://abilitynet.wetpaint.com/page/iPhone,+Ipod+Touch+-+Accessibility+%26+Apps.

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