Discover the top tools every assistive technology professional should know to ensure they can empower individuals with disabilities.
5 tools every assistive technology professional must know
In a rapidly evolving world where technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing the lives of individuals with disabilities, assistive technology professionals are at the forefront of facilitating independence, accessibility, and inclusion. These dedicated experts leverage cutting-edge tools and solutions to empower those with diverse needs, bridging the gap between limitations and opportunities. In this article, we will explore five indispensable tools that every assistive technology professional must be well-versed in. From software applications to innovative devices, these resources are not only essential to their work but also instrumental in ensuring a more inclusive and accessible future for individuals of all abilities.
What is assistive technology?
Assistive technology (AT) refers to any device, software program, or system that aids individuals with disabilities in performing tasks they might otherwise find challenging or impossible. These can range from low-tech tools like pencil grips to high-tech devices like speech recognition software. The ultimate aim is to enhance the capabilities and quality of life for those with impairments.
The importance and challenges of assistive technology
Assistive technology tools play a pivotal role in bridging the gap for individuals with learning disabilities, low vision, dyslexia, ADHD, and other challenges. They not only make everyday activities more accessible but also offer greater independence in special education and mainstream education programs. Despite its significance, a lack of awareness, training, or funding can sometimes limit the availability and usage of AT.
Types of assistive technology professionals
The field of assistive technology has grown significantly over the years, driven by a shared commitment to improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Within this dynamic and diverse sector, there are various types of professionals, each specializing in unique aspects of assistive technology deployment and support, including:
- Special education teachers: These professionals specialize in teaching students with a range of disabilities. They are well-versed in using various assistive technology tools, from screen readers for the visually impaired to word processing apps that help dyslexic learners.
- Occupational therapists: They recommend and implement assistive technology to help individuals with disabilities perform everyday tasks. This could include recommending voice recognition tools or alternative keyboards for those with mobility impairments.
- Rehabilitation engineers: These experts develop or adapt assistive technology devices and systems. They might design software programs for auditory learners or modify wheelchairs to be more ergonomic.
- Speech-language pathologists: Professionals in this field address communication challenges. They often use speech to text software and other high-tech tools to assist those with speech or language impairments.
- AT consultants: These are specialists who assess individual needs and recommend appropriate assistive technology solutions. For example, for students with autism, they might suggest specific educational apps on tablets.
5 tools every assistive technology every professional must know
In the world of assistive technology, where innovation meets empowerment, professionals play a pivotal role in shaping the lives of individuals with disabilities. These dedicated experts are the architects of accessibility, harnessing a diverse toolkit of tools and solutions to bridge the gap between limitations and opportunities. Here are the top 5 assistive technology tools every professionals should know about.
Text to speech (TTS)
Text to speech technology has been a transformative force in the lives of individuals with visual impairments or dyslexia. Screen readers like JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver, as well as third-party text to speech apps such as Speechify, are the unsung heroes that bridge the gap between the digital world and those who rely on auditory information. By converting digital text into spoken word, they provide a lifeline to users, enabling them to access and comprehend content on web pages and software applications. With TTS, the written word becomes an audible experience, opening up a world of information, education, and entertainment to those who may otherwise struggle to access it.
Speech recognition software
In a world where typing on a traditional keyboard may be a challenge, speech recognition software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Microsoft’s built-in options on Windows becomes a liberating tool. This technology empowers individuals with mobility challenges or dyslexia by allowing them to control their computers and dictate text through voice commands. Users can draft emails, browse the web, or even interact with software applications simply by speaking, breaking down barriers that may have once seemed insurmountable.
Magnifiers and magnification software
For those with low vision, magnification tools are indispensable. Software like ZoomText, accompanied by physical magnifiers, plays a crucial role in enhancing accessibility. These tools enable individuals to enlarge content on screens and make printed text more readable. Whether it’s reading documents, exploring images, or navigating websites, magnification software and devices create a visual environment that caters to the unique needs of individuals with low vision.
As the digital world continues to evolve, braille displays have become a lifeline for individuals who rely on braille as their primary mode of reading. These tactile devices, when connected to computers or mobile devices, convert digital text into braille, rendering information accessible through touch. In an increasingly digital landscape, braille displays serve as a vital bridge, ensuring that the blind and visually impaired can keep pace with the digital age, from reading e-books to browsing websites and interacting with various digital content.
Standard keyboards, with their small keys and traditional layouts, can pose significant challenges for individuals with mobility issues or conditions like arthritis. Enter alternative keyboards, a diverse category of devices designed to cater to specific needs. Whether they feature larger keys for easier typing, alternative layouts for efficiency, or innovative control methods such as head movements, these keyboards break down the barriers that traditional input devices might present. By customizing the way users interact with their computers, alternative keyboards empower individuals to remain connected, productive, and engaged in a digital world that might have otherwise been less accessible.
Honorable mentions – More assistive technology tools
The world of assistive technology is vast and ever-evolving, especially with advancements in smartphones, laptops, and other mobile devices. These tools, when used effectively, have the power to drastically improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, ensuring inclusivity in all spheres of life. While we have covered the top 5 assistive technology tools every professional should know, let’s explore a few more honorable mentions that can help build a more inclusive and accessible future.
High tech assistive technology
High-tech assistive technology encompasses advanced electronic devices and software designed to empower individuals with disabilities by providing enhanced functionality, accessibility, and independence. These technologies often incorporate cutting-edge features to address a wide range of needs. Here is a list of high-tech assistive technology tools:
- Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices: AAC devices are electronic tools that help individuals with speech or communication difficulties express themselves. They may use symbols, pictures, or text to speech software to facilitate communication.
- Eye gaze systems: Eye gaze technology tracks eye movements and enables users, including those with severe physical disabilities, to control a computer or communicate by selecting on-screen items through their eye movements.
- Environmental control systems (ECS): ECS allows users to control various aspects of their environment, such as lights, appliances, and thermostats, using a computer, tablet, or specialized remote control. This technology is invaluable for individuals with mobility impairments or certain medical conditions.
- Customizable software interfaces: These are software solutions that allow individuals to create personalized user interfaces tailored to their specific needs. These interfaces often include simplified menus, touch screen options, or voice commands.
- Smartphones and tablets with accessibility features: Modern smartphones and tablets come equipped with built-in accessibility features, including screen magnification, voice commands, and tactile feedback, making them versatile tools for individuals with various disabilities.
- Braille displays and notetakers: High-tech Braille displays and notetakers feature refreshable Braille cells that can convert digital text into Braille, offering individuals with visual impairments a means to access digital content.
- Smart glasses: Smart glasses equipped with cameras and visual recognition software can provide real-time object and text recognition, offering individuals with visual impairments greater independence in navigation and reading.
- Sensory aids: High-tech sensory aids, like cochlear implants or tactile feedback devices, aim to restore or enhance sensory experiences for individuals with hearing or sensory impairments.
- Educational software and learning tools: Specialized educational software and apps are designed to accommodate diverse learning needs and can be tailored for individuals with cognitive disabilities, autism, or other learning challenges.
- Talking calculators: Beneficial for those with visual impairments, these devices announce numbers and calculations audibly.
- Note-taking apps: For learners with ADHD or dyscalculia, apps like Microsoft OneNote or graphic organizers help structure thoughts and manage tasks.
- Closed captioning and listening systems: Crucial for the auditory impaired, these tools provide text descriptions of audio content in videos or amplify sounds in public places.
- Word prediction software: Tools like Co:Writer assist those with writing challenges by suggesting words as they type.
- Mobile and web accessibility tools: Chrome and Firefox extensions, Android, iOS, Windows and Mac settings, and other software ensure web pages and apps are accessible to all, adjusting fonts, colors, or offering text to speech.
- Timers and reminder apps: Timers and reminder apps, often available on smartphones and tablets, assist individuals with cognitive impairments, memory challenges, or time management difficulties.
- Audiobooks: Audiobooks make literature and information accessible to individuals with visual impairments, dyslexia, or reading difficulties, fostering literacy and knowledge acquisition for all.
Low-tech assistive technology
Low-tech assistive technology refers to simple, often non-electronic, devices or tools that can be used to enhance the independence and capabilities of individuals with disabilities. These solutions are typically easy to use, cost-effective, and can be particularly helpful for those who may have limited access to high-tech assistive devices. Here are some examples of low-tech assistive technology:
- Communication boards: Communication boards are paper or laminated boards with symbols, pictures, or words that individuals with speech or communication difficulties can use to point to or indicate their needs and thoughts. They are especially useful for non-verbal individuals or those with limited speech.
- Picture exchange systems (PECS): PECS is a system that involves using laminated pictures or symbols to help non-verbal individuals with communication. Users can exchange or hand over the appropriate picture to convey their needs or desires.
- Braille slate and stylus: Braille slates are portable tools that allow individuals who are blind or visually impaired to write in Braille. They consist of a slate with perforated holes and a stylus that creates raised dots on paper, allowing users to produce tactile Braille text.
- Pencil grips: Pencil grips are simple rubber or foam attachments that can be added to standard writing tools, such as pencils or pens, to improve grip and control. These are particularly beneficial for individuals with fine motor skill challenges.
- Visual schedules: Visual schedules are visual representations of a sequence of activities or tasks. They help individuals, particularly those with autism or cognitive impairments, understand and anticipate what comes next in their daily routines.
- Color-coded organizers: Color-coding can be a simple yet effective way to help individuals with cognitive or memory challenges. Using colored folders, sticky notes, or labels can aid in categorizing and organizing tasks or materials.
- Highlighters and reading guides: For individuals with visual impairments or reading difficulties, using highlighters and reading guides can make it easier to focus on and track text while reading. These tools can enhance text comprehension and retention.
- Adaptive eating utensils: Adaptive eating utensils, such as weighted or specially designed forks and spoons, can help individuals with mobility or coordination challenges feed themselves more independently.
- Wrist and ankle Weights: Wrist and ankle weights are low-tech aids used to provide proprioceptive sensory input, aiding individuals with sensory processing disorders or attention difficulties in improving focus and body awareness.
- Page turners: Simple devices like page turners or rubber grippers can help individuals with limited hand strength or dexterity turn pages in books, magazines, or other reading materials.
- Mobility aids: Mobility aids provide balance and support for individuals with various mobility impairments. There are different types of mobility aids, including standard single-point canes, wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, mobility scooters, prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons, and leg braces and supports.
Speechify – # 1 assistive technology
Speechify is a text to speech (TTS) software that converts digital text into spoken language. Thanks to its optical character recognition (OCR) technology, it can even read aloud text from images. In other words, you could use Speechify to turn hard-copy text into audio files. This helps users who struggle with visual impairments, eye strain, or difficulty reading. Listening rather than reading can also help those with ADHD to stay focused and engaged.
What makes Speechify so helpful is its wide variety of natural-sounding voices, languages, and accents, ranging from English to Russian, which you can use to personalize your listening experience.
Speechify can be used through its website, Chrome extension, or mobile device apps, so you can listen regardless of which device you’re using.
Try Speechify for free today.
What are the 7 common applications for assistive technology?
The seven most common applications for assistive technology include Speechify, Proloquo2, EquatIO, ModMath, Bookshare, Seeing AL, and Book Creator.
What is the most common assistive technology?
The most widely used types of assistive technology include text to speech software, Braille, magnifiers, screen reading software, and large print materials.
What is the most common assistive technology for people with a visual impairment?
The most common assistive technology for people with visual impairments is Braille, screen readers, magnification tools, voice recognition, speech recognition technology, and text to speech software.
What is the most common assistive technology used in the workplace?
In the workplace, you can find assistive technology such as adaptive keyboards, note-taker apps, word prediction apps, text to speech software, and screen readers.