I have never really had any experience with assistive technologies prior to taking the Managing Technological Change class last semester. While completing the final project in this class, I explored some assistive technologies for a fictional 21st Century Media center that a group of us were creating. To be honest, the only assistive technology I have ever heard of before this experience was a TTY telephone attachment that a co-worker uses my office. The only reason that I even thought about exploring the technology was because it was part of the rubric for the assignment to include assistive technology in the design. I took one Special Education class as an undergraduate, but that is really the only experience I have had with persons with disabilities besides the hearing impaired woman that I work with. I am not a classroom teacher and am actually a corporate trainer, so this subject has not really been one that I have spent a lot of time thinking about.
I am glad that I had the opportunity to explore the subject a little further and learn more about what assistive technologies are available and also how they can be used in the classroom (or work environment).
I learned from the first site, Assistive Technology to Meet K–12 Student Needs from the North Central Regional Educational Library (http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/methods/technlgy/te7assist.htm), that there are actually two types of assistive technology, “no” or “low” technology that does not require electronic devices and then there is also “high” technology that can be quite pricey and does require some sort of electronic system.
Another big shock to me was that are some common use items are considered assistive technologies and I was not even aware of it. I was also not aware of the ways in which they could help children with disabilities. Mostly they are the low technology technologies. Some examples (which of course make sense when presented with the items) were eye glasses, books on tape, stickies notes, highlighters, pictures, photographs, typewriter, and hearing aids. Though, I have never used these items for the purpose of assisting children with special needs.
This site would serve great as a reference and also for some ideas if you were faced with certain disabilities as a teacher. I like how there were lists of various assistive technologies broken down into a particular disability. Of course some of these items appeared on more than one list that could be helpful with multiple disabilities.
I have been thinking about how I could apply this to my work environment. I do not work with anyone who has any disabilities besides the woman who is hearing impaired. She does have a TTY to assist her with phone calls. She can read lips so she really functions pretty well without the help of any assistive technologies besides the TTY. Some of the other options I looked at on the list for hearing impairments are not needed and would be a problem even if we did because of the cost associated with them. The only other application of these technologies I could see myself using in my current situation would be some of the low assistive technologies for vision impaired. I work in an office with an older generation who are starting to need reading glasses and starting to hold papers farther out from their face than in years before. I could see magnifying glasses helping these folks. I could also use the concept of large print books in the reference materials that I create and also use larger fonts on presentations that I create. Another option is making the icons and screens a little bigger on their PCs.
I am sure that over the years in my career I will run across a need for a more indebt analysis of these technologies and it will be nice to have a point of reference to start. (Funny a few hours after writing this, someone asked me if we could order magnifying sheets from the office supply store. I answered by saying, “Did you know that these are considered “Assistive Technology”?
The second site having to do with Assistive technologies I reviewed was called Section 508 (http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=87). This had some mediocre information. The site showed pictures of various assistive technologies along with a brief description of the device. The information also included which disabilities the devices aid. This site is a government site and it talks about how the government will provide assistive technology for its workers with disabilities set forth by the Rehabilitations Act amendments of 1988 where the government would now require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. I think that teachers and technology coordinators could use this site to get an idea of what technologies are available for which disability. The site was very old in technology standards (2002) though so it could not be used as a sole reference for those searching for the latest assistive technology but, used as a stepping stone or a place to start.
The last site that I reviewed was a Microsoft site on Accessibility (http://www.microsoft.com/enable/today.aspx) This site was set up really nice. It even included a video highlighting assistive technologies along with lists of their available technologies, demonstrations of the technologies, tutorials and training sessions. There were also links to case studies and articles. This site was by far had the most information and would serve as the best reference to a teacher who needs a high level assistive technology. It also highlights physicals centers that Microsoft has throughout the US that provide live demonstrations of the various technologies. They even have computers set up on various versions of Windows at these centers. I think that one aspect of assistive technology that has to be remembered (that Microsoft has hit upon,) is the teachers need to know how to use the technology correctly for it to be effective. Microsoft has done a great job of making resources available to make that happen. This site was the a sure keeper. This would be the starting point for me if and when I ever need to explore this topic further.
Accessibility Today. Retrieved 6/15/2009 from website: http://www.microsoft.com/enable/today.aspx
Assistive Technology to Meet K–12 Student Needs. Retrieved 6/15/2009 from website: http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/methods/technlgy/te7assist.htm
Section 508. Retrieved 6/15/2009 from website: http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=87