Assistive technology is technology used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform or improve functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.
Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies. Through the use of assistive technology people can keep working or regain employment. Assistive technology in the work place can range from a simple pointing device to a sophisticated screen reading program.
Commonly Used Assistive Technology for ICT
- Software used by blind or visually impaired people to read the content of the computer screen. Examples include JAWS for Windows, NVDA, or Voiceover for Mac.
- Software that allows users to control the size of text and or graphics on the screen. Unlike a zoom feature, these applications allow the user to have the ability to see the enlarged text in relation to the rest of the screen.
- Software used by people with various types of learning disabilities that affect their ability to read text. This software will read text with a synthesized voice and may have a highlighter to visibly show the word being spoken.
Speech input/Voice recognition:
- Software programs used by people with difficulty in typing to have an alternate way to type text and also control the computer. Users can give the system some limited commands to perform mouse actions. Users can tell the system to click a link or a button or use a menu item.
- Alternative keyboards are available for people who cannot use a typical design keyboard. There are keyboards that are ergonomic to prevent repetitive stress injuries, large key, small key, one-handed, on-screen, braille and customizable.
Refreshable braille display:
- A mechanical workstation that displays a line of Braille characters by raising and lowering the dots (pins) dynamically. Braille devices with capabilities of small computers incorporate Braille displays. These devices can be used to take notes, calculate numbers, or to interface with other devices such as public information kiosks.
Difference between Accessible Technology and Assistive Technology
Assistive technology is a technology that’s been specifically designed to help a person with a disability to perform a task. For example, a screen reader on a computer can help a person with a disability to read a job posting. Assistive technology is usually a piece of technology (software or hardware) designed to perform a specific task.
Accessible technology is a technology that’s been designed with the needs of many different users in mind. It’s technology with built-in customization features so that the user can individualize their experience to meet their needs. Assistive technology alone does not guarantee access for people with disabilities because websites and software such must be designed with accessibility in mind in order for people for the assistive technology to work. Many of the accessibility standards specifically require interoperability with assistive technology.
Assistive Technology as a reasonable accommodation
The reasonable accommodation requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar laws often involves providing an employee with assistive technology. In many cases, the employee will be familiar with the specific type of assistive technology needed because of their personal use. There are also free online services such as AbleData and JAN (Job Accommodation Network) designed to provide information about assistive technology in the workplace.
There are many aspects to successful implementation of assistive technology as a reasonable accommodation:
- Appropriate evaluation of AT needs with input from the employee;
- Selecting the best vehicle to obtain it (i.e., purchasing, leasing, etc.);
- Installation, fitting and/or customization;
- Maintenance, repairs and/or replacement; and
- Training and technical support.
Sources of funding
Most programs that directly fund the cost of assistive technology are limited to individuals with disabilities. Employers need to plan for the cost of providing reasonable accommodations through including it as a line item in the budget. Establishment of a Centralized Accommodation Fund (CAF) has been identified as a best practice for ensuring that the actual or perceived cost of an accommodation doesn’t serve as a barrier to hiring talented employees with disabilities.
For people with disabilities:
Students may obtain assistive technology through an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or by making a request under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Students and employees with disabilities each state has a Vocational Rehabilitation Agency that provides training and resources including assistive technology for clients with disabilities. Another possible resource for people receiving Social Security disability benefits is the establishment of a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), which sets aside income to fund work-related costs such as assistive technology. Employees receiving SSI or SSDI are also allowed to deduct work-related expenses from gross income, thereby enabling them to buy assistive technology and remain under the income eligibility limits.
There are many other special funds, foundation grants, loan funds and other possible sources for obtaining assistive technology. They are included in relevant resources listed below.
“Tools and Techniques” provides an introduction to assistive technology and strategies used by people with disabilities for access, Web Accessibility Initiative, W3C.
Wikipedia article on Assistive Technology is informative and very broad in scope.
The Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research has an online course, “Introduction to Assistive Technology”.
“Assistive Technology as a Reasonable Accommodation”, Sara Ferguson, Center for Disability Rights.
“Best Practices in Establishing a Centralized Accommodation Fund”, Louis Orslene, JAN (Job Accommodation Network.
“Ten Ways to Fund Assistive Technology Purchases”, Harris Family Center for Disability and Health Policy, Western University.
“Obtaining Assistive Technology through Your Employer”, Disability Rights California.
“AT Resources Funding Guide”, Assistive Technology Industry Association.