As a student with cerebral palsy, I use technology on a daily basis for schoolwork and leisure activities. Technology plays an important role in my world. In school, I use an iPad for assignments of all kinds (worksheets, essays, etc.); I do about 80 percent of my schoolwork on the computer, while I do 20 percent by hand or by having somebody else write my thoughts on paper for me.
Assistive technology can range from a laptop to a complex AAC (augmentative communication) device for someone with ALS cerebral palsy autism or a number of other challenges that can affect a person’s ability to communicate; these devices can help a person with a disability in a number of different ways. Just because somebody can’t talk or looks different on the outside doesn’t mean that they aren’t vibrant and smart on the inside like everybody else. Assistive technology can help a person show just how smart they are. When a person gets these types of devices, suddenly things become much easier, and in most cases it increases the user’s independence.
CC licensed Flickr photo kindly shared by Jurvetson
Even devices such as the iPad (as I’ve mentioned) can be used as a form of assistive technology if they can be adapted to suit the person’s needs. These are decent alternatives to devices that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars, and, being popular among all walks of life, they often have several applications or programs available that are geared toward people with special needs of all kinds.
There are lots of ways to interact with devices intended for assistive purposes. Of course, there is always using your hands, but what if someone cannot use their hands and/or legs? You can use an adaptive switch that is triggered with a designated part of your body, such as the head, or an arm, or toes. You can also utilize a technology know as “eye gaze,” where a camera can track even the most subtle eye movements and then translate them into the mouse’s cursor movements. A new and upcoming technology works from a dot of light on the user’s forehead that tracks head movements and moves the mouse cursor similarly to the aforementioned eye gaze technology. Harold J. Johnson wrote a great post here at LockerGnome a while back about Christopher Hills, a young man who interacts with the world with the help of a switch that he controls with his head. Here’s a video from that piece, but you really should read it in its entirety if the subject at hand interests you: When You Share Your World, the World Shares You.
Adaptive equipment — available in just about every size you might imagine — includes things like wheelchairs, walkers, and standers. These can be used for the practical purpose of getting around or to assist in recuperative therapies, and they can range from the simple to the very complex. Consider, for instance, your standard, manual version of the wheelchair and the power wheelchair, which is controlled by a joystick or switch. The latter will, of course, be the more expensive option, but many manage just fine with the basics.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope this serves as a humble introduction to how a person with disabilities can use technology to access the world around them.
Can you think of more, or do you have any questions? Please leave a comment below!
Grace Dow is a Massachusetts teenager who loves technology, books, school, and Tae Kwon Do. She can be contacted via teddybeargracedow99 AT gmail.com.