Assistive Technology: Where We Stand Today

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A study funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research found that 8.4% of the American labor force suffers from health problems that impact job performance and productivity. That means 1 in 12 working age men and women cannot work to the best of their abilities, and the number has been rising since 1981.

Work limitations can take many forms, ranging from physical, sensory and mental—oftentimes in combination. As technology has evolved, so has the workplace and how people communicate and spread information. The personal computer has advanced from a novelty into a necessity for a large portion of working age adults (and will become a necessity for the growing retired population shortly). As such, assistive computer technology, which refers to any piece of technology that makes interacting and using a personal computer easier, is a necessity for many individuals. This post will go over a few examples (there are countless others) of assistive computer technology to illustrate how individuals with disabilities can harness these assistive technologies to use personal computers independently.

Alternative Input Devices

Alternative input devices refer to products that allow individuals to control their computers without the use of a standard keyboard or mouse. Examples include:

  • Alternative Keyboards: offer larger or smaller sized keys than a standard keyboard, alternative key placements, and keyboards that can be used with one hand
  • Joysticks: can control cursor on screen by hand, feet, chin, etc.
  • Electronic Pointing Devices: can control cursor on screen without use of hands (alternatives include eye movements, nerve signals, or brain waves)
  • Wand and Sticks: Usually worn on head, held in mouth or strapped to chin to press keys on keyboard

Braille Embossers

Braille programs translate text into Braille for the visually impaired.

Light Signaler Alerts

Light signaler alerts are used by individuals who have hearing impairments. They flash a light to alert users when a new email is received, for example.

Screen Readers

Screen readers verbalize the text on a screen, graphics, control buttons, and menus. These devices are most often used by individuals with vision impairments.

These are just a few examples of existing assistive technology. The good news is that the future of assistive devices looks bright. As the reliance on personal computers continues to grow, both companies and individuals will need to adapt to ensure Internet access. Legislation and regulations relating to web accessibility are on the rise—we are well on the way to standardizing accessibility guidelines to ensure equal access to information and the web for all.

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