“For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier.” “For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.” - IBM training manual

What is Assistive Technology?

What is “assistive technology” anyway?

If you have never heard this term, you are not alone. The textbook definition of assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, product system, or software that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.  Ok, that’s great, but what is it anyway?  Let’s start with a few examples:• Liz, who is blind, uses her iPhone to find her favorite can of Pringles from a grocery aisle. • Jason, who cannot speak, uses pictures and a pointer to ask for an apple. • Savannah, who cannot hear, uses a captioning telephone to wish her uncle a happy birthday. • Mae, who is unable to use her arms or hands, uses her voice to change the channel on her tv. • Ricky, who has trouble walking, uses a rollator to get his mail every afternoon. • Parker, who cannot read, uses screen reader software to listen to a book for his report. • Walter, who injured his back while serving his country, uses a sit-stand workstation to day trade stocks. • Connie, who has trouble with her memory, uses her smartphone to add a reminder to take her medicine and feed the dog. • Sara, who cannot see very well, uses a magnifier to thread a needle for her t-shirt quilt. • Adam, who cannot hold toys, uses a large button with a switch to activate a barking toy dog. • Mary, who cannot bend her knee to walk up steps, uses a portable ramp to get into her home. • Robert, who has illegible handwriting, uses an iPad to dictate his class assignments.

 

As these examples demonstrate, assistive technology is often seen as a great equalizer for those with disabilities.  It can provide the bridge from can’t to can, changing lives, and opening up a world of possibilities that may not have existed before.

What does this have to do with the STAR Center?

Did you know that the STAR Center was one of the very first assistive technology centers in the US?  Assistive technology was a key component in the beginning and has continued to be a part of STAR’s daily services for almost three decades.  Assistive technology focuses on innovation and problem solving, making environments accessible for individuals with disabilities.  Some of our assistive technology devices at the STAR Center can be as simple as a rubber pencil grip (low tech), as complex as an eye-gaze communication system (high tech), or somewhere in between (e.g., ergonomic keyboard – mid-tech). The Star Center serves over 160 clients every year in our assistive technology department. Take a look at some of the types of disabilities that benefit from the services the Star Center provides.

Disability Diagnosis in Assistive Technology Physical 32% Cognitive 8% mental health disability 15% Other 12% Learning Disability 10% Vision 23%

What are the goals of assistive technology clients?

 

50% of AT Clients use our services to prepare or find accommodations for the workplace. 40% of our clients use our services to prepare or find accommodations for school. 10% of AT clients use our services to make life at home more comfortable and independent.

What must be considered when choosing assistive technology?

When figuring out the best assistive technology for each person, there are several factors to consider.  Typically an evaluation is conducted by a team of trained professionals, often including an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), to ensure that the best fit is made and the most appropriate technology is recommended.  We have several Assistive Technology Specialists at the STAR Center who work together in a team approach to figure out how assistive technology can make life easier, or even possible, for individuals with disabilities.  When conducting evaluations, we consider factors such as those identified in the Human Activity Assistive Technology (HAAT) Model.

But what does this REALLY look like?

Check out the case study below to see what factors might be considered when choosing the best assistive technology for an individual.

Human: Andy is a retired Navy veteran who has started to lose his vision. The arthritis in his hands is also getting worse. Andy enjoys studying scripture, cooking, reading, and spending time with family, especially his grandkids. He has recently become depressed due to his vision loss. Activity:Andy is having trouble reading his Bible, recipes, books, and newspaper. He’s also unable to see pictures of his grandkids. It has become increasingly difficult for Andy to hold items (e.g., utensils, toothbrush) and to turn pages in his bible due to his arthritis. Assistive Technology: A Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Desktop Magnifier is recommended for Andy to enlarge print documents and photos. A universal cuff is recommended to help Andy hold items, and a rubber fingertip thimble to help him turn pages. A company rep will deliver and setup his CCTV and provide training. Context: Andy spends most of his time at home with his wife. He decided to put the CCTV in his kitchen because the lighting is best in there, and it would be easiest to read recipes from there. Andy decided to get two universal cuffs, one for the bathroom and another to keep in the kitchen.

Andy’s depression improved once he realized that losing his vision and having arthritis did not mean that he lost out on life.  Assistive technology opened his eyes and gave him a helping hand when he needed it the most.

If you would like some more information about assistive technology or know someone who may benefit from an evaluation, contact the STAR Center at 731-668-3888 or info@star-center.org.


About the Author : Allison Shipp

Allison was the Director of Vocational Rehabilitation Services at the Star Center. She has over two decades of experience working directly with individuals with disabilities, and earned her Ph.D. in rehabilitation counseling and special education from Auburn University. Allison is married with two children; she also lives with her mother-in-law, two dogs, one cat, and a 20 lb rabbit. She enjoys road trips, spending time with her family, ancestry research, and contemporary Christian concerts.

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